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Cast in metal, the five figures unveiled outside the Bexar County Courthouse on Saturday represent the cultural crossroads of early San Antonio: a Native American man, a Franciscan friar, a Spanish soldier stationed at the presidio, and a couple who migrated from the Canary Islands.
Descendants of those Canary Islanders joined with Native American groups and local officials to dedicate the monument to the city’s origins at a ceremony that drew well over 100 people to the site near Main Plaza, formerly known as Plaza de Las Islas because of the Islanders’ role in San Antonio’s founding.
“We are pleased that our ancestors decided to make that treacherous journey by sea and by land,” said Mari Tamez, president of the Canary Islands Descendants Association, the driving force behind the monument’s creation. “It was a true leap of faith.”
The Canary Island couple in the monument represent the 56 people from the Spanish territory off the coast of Morocco who arrived in San Antonio on March 9, 1731. They founded the village of San Fernando de Bexar, the first civilian colonial settlement in San Antonio outside the bounds of mission and military life.
First sculpted by Armando Hinojosa, a Laredo artist whose stone and bronze monument to Tejano heritage adorns the grounds of the Texas Capital, the founders sculpture was then cast by Stevens Art Foundry in Bulverde.
Speaking at the event, Hinojosa said Alfonso Chiscano, a local thoracic surgeon and advocate for knowledge of Canary Islander history, was the first to contact him about the sculpture. Chiscano immigrated to San Antonio from the Canary Islands in the 1970s.
Bexar County commissioners in October 2017 approved $375,000 in County funds for the sculptures and $68,000 to build the statues’ base. At that meeting, Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert noted the presence of people of African descent among the Canary Island settlers, a detail not often highlighted in stories about San Antonio’s past.
The Canary Islands Descendants Association and supporters raised the remaining $375,000, with donors including the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Tobin Endowment.
The ceremony was a modern celebration of San Antonio’s origins, with Canary Islanders’ descendants wearing traditional 18th-century clothing and the Order of Granaderos y Damas de Galvez, wearing Spanish colonial military dress and playing fifes and drums, presenting historical flags of Spain and the U.S.
It began with songs and prayers by the Tehuan Band of Mission Indians, who trace their history to Mission San José. They filled the courthouse square with their voices, rhythmic drumbeats, and the smell of burning sage.
After prayers by Tehuan Band member Gloria Pacheco Hernandez and Father David Garcia, administrator of Mission Concepción, Bexar County Heritage and Parks director Betty Bueché introduced multiple local and international dignitaries.
Visitors included Teresa Sancho Martinez, consular officer with the Spanish Consulate in Houston, and Luis Padilla, a vice-councilor with the Canary Islands government.
“Immigration has been and continues to be, in our days, an option to improve economic conditions,” Padilla said. “Generally, the most entrepreneurial people are also the ones that immigrate, looking for a better future.”