The-Alamo

There’s a lot of talk about tearing down statues these days.

But in San Antonio, preparing to celebrate its 300th birthday next year, plans are shaping up to create new statues as part of a monument to honor the city’s first families.

The memorial, proposed for placement on Main Plaza in front of the Bexar County Courthouse, would include five statues representing founding groups — a Spanish soldier, a Franciscan friar, a Native American and a Canary Islands couple.

The Founders’ Monument project began with the support of the Canary Islands Descendants Association, or CIDA, an organization devoted to historical research and education about the role of Canary Islanders in creating the first civil government in Texas, back when the land was ruled by the Spanish crown.

“They established the farms and ranches. They were the first merchants, the first mayor, city councilmen, even the first sheriff,” said Mari Tamez, president of the association, who traces her lineage back to Canarian Joseph Padron and Martin de Armas. “What better time than the Tricentennial to honor them, and the other founders?”

“So much money has gone towards preserving the Spanish Missions and the Alamo. The historic structures are important. But the missing component is the people. This monument will represent the main groups of people who created San Antonio.”

The first of the five statues, each estimated to cost around $150,000, is already in the works. Public fundraising is underway, and the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Tobin Foundation are considering grant applications.

With help from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Mayor Ron Nirenberg, supporters hope to have them ready by March, when a high-ranking delegation from Spain and the Canary Islands will be in town to mark the 300th anniversary of their countrymen’s arrival.

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A native of modern Tenerife — one of the Canary Islands — and longtime San Antonian, Dr. Alfonso “Chico” Chiscano, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, is the vice president and co-chairman of San Antonio’s Tricentennial Commission, the organizing body of SA300.

Chiscano, who lives near Alamo Heights with his wife, Mary Alice, has been a powerful force in building relations between the Canary Islands and San Antonio for decades. Now he is also a powerful advocate for the Founders’ Monument.

“For years, people have visited me in San Antonio from Spain and they always ask, ‘Chico, why is there no monument to the Canary Islanders here?’ Then I saw the new Tejano monument (by Armando Hinojosa) at the Texas Capitol, and I thought how wonderful it would be to have his work for our history.”

In conjunction with CIDA, Chiscano helped bring Hinojosa and Stevens Art Foundry into the project.

These days, the only visible reminder of the Canarians’ contribution is a state historical marker near the courthouse with the names of the heads of the 16 original Canarian families. Historians say it includes several errors.

The islanders arrived a few years after the Spanish moved in to colonize indigenous territory. Spanish friars on May 1, 1718, dedicated the area’s first mission, San Antonio de Valero (which would move twice, and eventually be known as the Alamo), near today’s downtown. Their mission was to convert and “civilize” Native Americans living in the area. Four days later, soldiers established a presidio, or fort – San Antonio de Bejár — on the banks of the San Antonio River not far away, to guard the mission and Spain’s interests in the New World.

In 1731, a group of 16 founding families arrived to set up the first formal civilian government in the region. Dispatched by Spain’s King Philip V, they traveled for almost a year —first, by ship from the Canary Islands, near the northwest coast of Africa; then another long trek by sea, then on foot and horseback, from Cuba to San Antonio. Arriving March 9, the 55 immigrants who had survived the trip, known as Isleños, began to settle into their new home. They built residences and planted crops, including cumin and cilantro, transplanted from native soil. In a few months, the framework of the villa – a church (San Fernando Cathedral) and government buildings — were laid out around the Plaza de las Islas, today’s Main Plaza. By July the new government – the first civil city government in the region – had been formed.

Most of the leaders (in fact, most of the emigrant Isleños) came from the island of Lanzarote, where famine and a mighty volcanic eruption in 1730 had forced many to seek new homes. They included the first mayor, Juan Leal Goraz, and aldermen Juan Curbelo, Antonio Santos, Juan Leal and Salvador Rodriguez. Today, a Museum of the Emigrants on the island of Lanzarote chronicles the journey of the 16 families.

Francisco de Arocha of La Palma island was the first city secretary. Vicente Alvarez Travieso, the first sheriff, hailed from Tenerife.

For more, visit cida-sa.org.

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