My dad, Dr. Cayetano E. Barrera III, president of the Tejano Monument Inc., along with members of its board of directors and many supporters throughout the state, are elated that the end of this legislative session should mean the end of legal hurdles for placement of the Tejano Monument on the front lawn of the Capitol grounds in Austin.
The Tejano Monument tells the story of countless Spanish—Mexican pioneers who influenced the development and history of Texas and ensures they will not be forgotten.
My dad’s historical road to erect the Tejano Monument began with his passion for history, research and education and his personal experience.
Cayetano E. Barrera III followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a family physician. His first steps were taken in Mission, where he remembers attending school as a young boy when segregation was still practiced in the lower grade levels. My grandfather realized he could do nothing about the situation, so he sent his children to the Holding Institute, a private school in Laredo where segregation did not exist. There, my dad experienced a place where all children were encouraged to do well and to attend college.
Later, my dad returned to Mission for high school. He was disappointed to see that many of the counselors discouraged or ignored Mexican- American students who wanted to go to college. The extent of counseling he received involved his counselor pointing to a bookshelf of college catalogs.
Fortunately, my dad knew he wanted to go to college to become a doctor since the age of nine. He attended Baylor University in Waco, receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a minor in biology. In 1959, he was accepted to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas where he received his M.D. degree in 1963. He married my mom, Yolanda de la Garza of Edinburg, in 1962. After graduation, he completed his internship at Sacramento County Hospital with a family practice residency at the Stanislaus County Hospital in Modesto.
In January 1966, my dad was drafted into the U.S. Army. After basic training, he was assigned to the 12th Evacuation Hospital at Fort Ord, Calif. In September 1966, he was sent to South Vietnam where the 12th Evacuation Hospital supported the 25th Infantry Division and the 7th M.A.S.H hospital. Following his tour of duty in Vietnam, my dad was assigned to be post surgeon at the Umatilla Army Depot in Hermiston. He was discharged from the Army in 1968 and moved his family to the Valley where he started a family medical practice in McAllen and continues to see patients.
Community Involvements and Awards
In the Valley, my dad became involved in the community and interested in his family tree, a hobby he inherited from his uncle, Jose Barrera. South Texas history intrigued my dad and led him to volunteer with many organizations. He is the current chairman of the board of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and president of Tejano Monument Inc. He is also chairman of the board of Rio Bank in the Rio Grande Valley.
In 2005, my dad was named ‘Physician of the Year’ by the Texas Academy of Family Physicians for outstanding accomplishments and dedication to medical education and patient care. Over the years, he has served as president of several organizations.
My dad joined the UTPA Historical Collection Advisory Board in 1972 and held the office of president for 25 years. This experience influenced him greatly in his endeavor to uncover more local history. After years of research, my dad realized that much of the Tejano history was left out of Texas history books. He began giving talks to groups throughout Texas, like the Daughters of the Republic of Texas at the Alamo, the San Jacinto Battle Symposium and various local clubs and organizations. He is not only known as a practicing physician, but also as a South Texas and regional historian with a passion for informing people about the long overlooked history of the Spanish-Mexican heritage in Texas.
The Tejano Monument
One summer day in 2000, while my dad was attending a medical conference in Austin, he decided to visit the Capitol and walk the grounds. Suddenly he noticed something he had never realized before. He told my mom he needed to walk the grounds one more time.
“Out of 31 statues on the Capitol grounds, there was not one depicting the Spanish or Mexican settlers from Texas who have explored and lived on this land since 1519,” my dad said.
He immediately called his nephew, Richard Sanchez, who at the time was chief of staff for Rep. Kino Flores of Mission. My dad asked Richard to verify his discovery. Richard conducted research and called him back, telling him that indeed there were no statutes on the grounds honoring the Spanish-Mexican heritage of Texas. This led to my dad’s most challenging historical endeavor, to honor the first pioneers of Texas, the Tejanos, on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.
In February 2001, with the help of Rep. Flores, state Sen. Mario Gallegos and historian Andres Tijerina, legislation was enacted to erect the Tejano Monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds.
“I think most people were a little shocked to find out that a monument depicting the Spanish-Mexican heritage of Texas had never been thought of,” my dad said.
In a story in the Laredo Morning Times, reporter Tricia Cortez quoted Flores. “I was nervous because I was not sure how the Legislature was going to respond. Surprisingly, there was no opposition whatsoever. This monument should have been here many, many decades ago. The Capitol has monuments of other Texas heroes, but not one of us. We Tejanos, Latinos, Hispanos, Chicanos, whatever you want to call us, have carved out the history of Texas. Our roots are imbedded in every part,” Flores said.
Cortez later wrote, “Rick Crawford, executive director of the State Preservation Board, which manages the Capitol building and grounds and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, said he did not know why Tejanos have long been excluded from the Capitol grounds.”
Last year, my dad was the guest speaker at the Battle of San Jacinto Symposium in Houston. On his drive to Houston, he took the Old Spanish trail passing Corpus Christi, Goliad and Victoria. He started at the Rio Grande and crossed Santa Gertrudes Creek, Nueces, San Antonio, Guadalupe, Colorado, Brazos de Dios Rivers and ended near the La Santisima Trinidad River that eventually empties into the Bay of Galvez or Galveston Bay. My dad recognized that Spanish—Mexican pioneers named all these landmarks and rivers.
“Thousands of our school children as well as American and foreign tourists go to our Capitol to learn about our history. Today, you would not have a clue as to where these Spanish names came from,” my dad said.
Cathy Gorman, a journalist with the Texas Observer, writes about her experience of introducing her Massachusetts-born children to the Texas Capitol. “Before we even left the ground floor, the kids learned that Mexico was an easily conquered nation and that the two most important figures in early Texas history were both white men. No mention of the important roles Tejanos played in the Texas Revolution.”
“Few Texans know that over a thousand Tejanos died fighting for Texas independence from Spain and Mexico before the battle of the San Jacinto, on the Texas side,” my dad said.
The $1.6 million Tejano Monument, sculpted by Armando Hinojosa of Laredo, will consist of 12 life-size bronze figures spanning from the 1500s to the 1800s. Half of the monument will be on a large granite mound and the other half on the ground, with five plaques telling the Tejano history.
“We’ve researched and verified that everything on the monument is of historical accuracy to its era, from the jacket, bridle and chaps, to the horse being a mesteno (mustang) and not a thoroughbred. There will also be a vaquero (cowboy) and a Tejano couple with a baby,” my dad explained.
“Currently there are several bills that have been filed with the Texas Legislature to place the Tejano Monument on the front lawn of the Texas Capitol,” my dad said. “These bills will be voted on by the end of this legislative session in May and are expected to pass.”
The hope is that soon everyone who visits the Texas Capitol will learn the story of those Spanish and Mexican settlers who explored here, lived here, fought here and died here. Their story will be told on the Capitol grounds.
For more information, visit www.tejanos.com.