A robust group of descendants of some of San Antonio’s earliest settlers are hoping to honor their ancestors’ contributions to the city with a monument in the heart of downtown.
Mari Tamez and the Canary Islands Descendants Association are in the early stages of planning and fundraising to implement five large, bronze statues near Main Plaza commemorating the Canary Island history in San Antonio. Tamez, president of the 175-member organization, and Dr. Alfonso Chiscano, honorary member of the organization and a native of the Canary Islands, are leading the $750,000 effort to implement statues of a Native American person, a Spanish presidio soldier, a Spanish friar, and one male and one female Canary Islander in front of the Bexar County Courthouse.
Tamez is one of numerous San Antonians who, in the wake of the city’s Tricentennial celebrations in 2018, wants the story of her ancestors to be honored.
Many people in and outside of San Antonio believe that the city was established around the time of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, Tamez said, but the Canary Islanders settled in the area more than 100 years earlier and founded the municipality of San Antonio.
“It’s about time that these individuals were recognized for their contribution because there are no murals or statues or any type of significant recognition of their contribution [in San Antonio],” she said. “This is an opportunity to do just that – recognize.”
The monument’s location near Main Plaza – formerly known as Plaza de las Islas – is significant since the Canary Islanders established their village – San Fernando de Bexar – church, and government building there. Bexar County Heritage & Parks Department Director Betty Bueché, who has been working with Tamez, said the County is open to allowing the monument on Courthouse grounds, but is waiting for the association’s plans to be solidified before they present the proposal to Commissioners Court. The County also is open to covering the implementation costs for the statues.
“Main Plaza is where the Canary Islanders settled around,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “I hope [the association is] successful in raising the money they need for it.”
Tamez, Chiscano, and their organization have only made a small dent in their fundraising efforts, Tamez said, and are seeking donors, especially Canary Island descendants, to help contribute. Each statue costs $150,000 to make, so they hope to raise at least $300,000 over the next few months to pay for two statues to be implemented by May 2018.
“The statues represent truly what a Tricentennial gift to the city would be,” Tamez said. “We hope people can recognize the value [of the statues] when we talk about the beginnings of San Antonio.”
Chiscano, who came to the United States from the Canary Islands more than 50 years ago, traveled to his homeland last month to meet with dignitaries and officials and ask for their assistance with fundraising. They did not specify how much they will donate, but Chiscano said they agreed to contribute to the cause.
“It’s because they know it’s part of their history,” he said.
The Association also has invited Canary Island officials, historians, and others to come to San Antonio in March 2018 for a weekend of celebrations, historical reenactments, mass, and seminars about Canary Island history and culture. The weekend coincides with March 9, the date when the settlers arrived in San Antonio in 1731.
The commemorative monument proposed for San Antonio was designed by Laredo artist Armando Garcia Hinojosa, who has completed several major sculpture pieces including the large Tejano Monument at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. The five statues symbolize the four communities that came together in the 1700s to establish what would become San Antonio, Tamez said.
“We envision the Native Americans, who were already here, and the soldier symbolizes [that] when Spain identified this was the location they wanted to claim for Spain they put out their presidio, a garrison where they could protect the territory,” she said. Later came the Spanish missionaries and, of course, the Canary Islanders ordered by the Spanish crown to settle in San Antonio.
“[I thought], in order to give credit to … what those people were able to put together, to produce a municipality, we should have some kind of commemoration to them,” Chiscano recalled about when the idea for the monument first came to be.
“If you don’t have a municipality, you don’t have a city. Part of being a city is to celebrate or to commemorate who founded the city government, the municipality, the City Hall.”
If the effort reaches fruition, it will be the first monument in San Antonio dedicated to the city’s Canary Island history. It would complement an official Texas Historical Commission marker outside the County Courthouse that commemorates the contributions of the Canary Islanders for establishing the first municipal government in 1731.
In 1959, Chris. M. Jasso – whose mother-in-law was a Canary Island descendant – won second place in a local Downtown Development contest for his idea to expand La Villita to include a monument honoring the 16 Canary Islander families who came to the city. But, for whatever reason, the plan never materialized.
Tamez hopes this go-around, with robust support from descendants and their families, will be different. There are 175 members of the Canary Islands Descendants Association, Tamez said, but she encourages everyone to complete their family genealogy to see if they, too, are descendants.
Whether someone is related or not, paying homage to the city’s Canary Island history is long overdue, she said.
“These people were doing the hard work of being farmers, ranchers, merchants, soldiers, and mayors, and really building a true community,” she said.
“Especially when it is the Tricentennial, we’d find it shortsighted not to recognize the very, very beginning by honoring those four founding communities who did the hard work.”