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San Antonio residents want to honor Hispanic veterans with monument

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Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 4:30 am

SAN ANTONIO — For four years, West Side residents have dreamed of building a towering monument to Hispanic military veterans as a way of paying them back for being underappreciated by history.

The proposed Hispanic Veterans Monument at Elmendorf Lake Park could become part of the ecosystem restoration planned there. But with an estimated construction cost of $2.25 million dependent on donations, the project also known as La Ofrenda (The Offering) has been slow-moving and faces challenges including public scrutiny.

Professionally prepared designs, which call for a 140-foot-tall tower laden with symbols including giant dog tags and Aztec eagles, must go through the city’s public art review process. Still, proponents gained momentum this month with a key endorsement from the Bexar County Commissioners Court.

The decades-old notion of honoring Hispanic veterans reignited in 2008 when the PBS documentary “The War,” by Ken Burns, largely excluded their contributions in World War II.

“This omission really was quite disappointing and really did serve as the catalyst for this monument,” said retired Marine Capt. Queta Marquez. She’s a leading advocate for the project that her mother, former council member Lourdes Galvan, instigated after Burns’ snub.

“It’s an offering from the perspective of the Hispanic community, to honor all veterans. It’s not racist. It’s not just about Hispanics,” Galvan said last week.

Since 2008, proponents have worked with artists, designers, engineers, construction experts and others to develop the plans for the steel structure that would sit partly on the lake’s main island and partly in water.

Adorning the tower would be three stainless steel eagles perched on moons, representing vigilance and the Aztec deity Huitzilopochtli. Atop the monument, inspired by nine-step Mayan pyramids, would be a medalla, with tentative designs showing Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Michael on its two sides. The 6-by-12-foot dog tags would bear the names of the five service branches.

Project artist Jesse Trevino, a Vietnam veteran who lost an arm in combat, is beloved for his large public works, including the 93-foot-tall “Spirit of Healing” on Christus Santa Rosa downtown and the 40-foot-tall “La Veladora” at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

The structure would be about 50 feet shorter than the West Side’s tallest landmark, the nearby chapel at Our Lady of the Lake University. Features could change as the plan advances, said Gabriel Velasquez, vice chair of the Avenida Guadalupe Association who assisted in the design. In the meantime, the task for advocates is capitalizing on growing support in the community.

“They’re committed to making it happen. Now we have to deal with the realities — there’s not a millionaire on the table,” Velasquez said. “It’s a tough process.”

Window of opportunity

Even so, proponents see a window of opportunity. For decades, residents have pleaded for Elmendorf park upgrades, contrasting it to the more-enhanced Woodlawn Lake Park. Residents also have been asking for a prominent monument or sculpture to be part of the park’s redesign.

Now the county, city, San Antonio River Authority and other entities are beginning a makeover of the park and Apache Creek.

On Aug. 7, Marquez told the Commissioners Court that she and others are mustering new support for the monument. “We’ve made some significant progress. We’re ready to continue this forward momentum,” she said.

Launched with a city grant of $50,000, the ad-hoc effort has benefitted from donated services of artists, engineers, marketing experts and others, she said.

“Veterans of Hispanic descent have a long and illustrious history of military service, from the American Revolution all the way through the current war in Afghanistan ... This would serve as the place for remembrance for those veterans,” Marquez said.

Commissioners approved a resolution supporting the proposed design and location. Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo called it a “good idea that’s had several lives.”

“The resolution we passed is designed to give them impetus ... That’ll help them to raise money, not just here and not just on the West Side,” Elizondo said.

Even with prominent backers, the monument must go through a public review process because it would be in a city park, said Felix Padron, director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

“They do need to go through that process before it gets implemented,” he said.

Galvan and Velasquez said they got a “thumbs up” in a 2008 meeting, when several city officials encouraged them to proceed with designs and planning. Before then, they took encouragement from the fact that Padron had touted the project as “futuristic,” a “modern sculpture of cultural and national significance,” and “a catalyst for future art in the Southwest United States.”

Velasquez said he looks forward to the public art review process, though timing wasn’t specified. The focus now is converting community interest into financial backing.

Without offering details, Velasquez said fundraising for the project is “progressing ... you don’t just go out and raise $2 million. It takes good energy directed in a good direction, and the end result is a confidence builder.

“The real question is, are we a city of doers or a city of bureaucrats?”

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