Receive our most important stories in your inbox every morning.
About 100 members of the public and dignitaries gathered at Brooks on Wednesday morning to dedicate Sun Mountain, a new public sculpture by Cruz Ortiz honoring the late legislator Frank Tejeda.
The dedication ceremony began somberly, with a Marine color guard offering tribute to Tejeda, a decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran who died in 1997 of brain cancer at age 51. Tejeda was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Silver Star for his service in the Vietnam War, then went on to represent the South Side, first in the Texas House of Representatives, then in the Texas Senate, then as U.S. representative for the 28th Congressional District.
While Tejeda was in Congress, the eventual closure of the Brooks Air Force base was announced. Although he was unable to stop the closure, Tejeda rallied business and community leaders to rebuild the base as a new residential and commercial zone, through a partnership called the Brooks Redevelopment Authority.
At the corner of City Base Landing and Aviation Landing, Sun Mountain will serve as the gateway to a new light industrial park under development, said Leo Gomez, president and chief executive officer of Brooks.
“Every day when there’s a few thousand people coming to work in this part of Brooks, they will pass by this corner and hopefully be reminded of the man who made it all possible to begin with,” Gomez said.
As camera bulbs and lightning flashed inside and outside a tent erected to protect attendees from rainy conditions, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) acknowledged members of the Tejeda family as friends. Viagran recalled Tejeda’s “office” at the Southwest Military Road Sizzler restaurant, with papers strewn over his booth table and daughters nearby. Daughters Marissa and Sonia were present for the dedication, along with Tejeda’s mother, Lillie, and Marissa’s son Robert Frank Ximenes, dressed in his San Antonio Academy cadet uniform.
Introducing Ortiz, Gomez said, “As we thought about who the right artist would be, we knew that the Congressman would like it to be a South Sider, someone that not only understood him and his family and their values, but the values of the South Side. And that’s why we knew the right person to do that was Cruz Ortiz and his team.”
Ortiz said he considers Tejeda a hero, a role model, and “the ultimate representative” of the South Side. Ortiz told the crowd he tried to conceptually capture Tejeda’s presence in the sculpture.
“I thought, well, you know, there are no mountains on the South Side. Well, there are now. There’s a big one right behind me,” Ortiz said, gesturing to the light teal, shaped steel object behind him, “and his name is Frank Tejeda.”
After the speeches, Ortiz said the sculpture is “positioned for the sunrise during springtime, to where it casts a nice shadow on the concrete.” The concrete platform supporting the sculpture was also designed to “add more accents” to the overall structure and movement of light.
Ortiz said he also wanted to acknowledge the “small stories” of the neighborhood, where so many residents had their own stories of Tejeda’s life and legacy. He said he was honored to be selected for the commission, because he shares with Tejeda a goal of “human development” and cultural development alongside economic development.
“He understood the importance of participation, and owning his own narrative, and the narrative of his own people,” Ortiz said of Tejeda.
That narrative includes the history of the three Southside Air Force bases – Kelly, Brooks, and Lackland – and the community’s enduring pride, Ortiz said. “This entire community built a nation of aerospace. … I wanted to reflect that as well in the materiality of the artwork. It’s made of steel. It’s not going anywhere.”
Tejeda’s brother Juan Tejeda, a San Antonio conjunto musician, educator, and historian, was among those remembering the congressman.
“He meant so many different things to the Southside,” he said. “I think he meant the hope for a better future for our people and all people” and showed that Chicanos can succeed and “accomplish great things. He was very driven, had a hell of a will, and very disciplined. He had a great faith in our people.”
During her brief speech, Frank’s daughter Marissa said that her father told his fellow Washington politicians that his people would succeed despite the base closures. In his words, she said, “there’s not one place in the nation that has people that love their community more, and are harder workers, than the people of San Antonio.”