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Texas A&M-Kingsville honors four leading Hispanic alumni at Tejano Heritage Awards

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Texas A&M University-Kingsville honored four ground-breaking Javelina alumni during the university’s Tejano Heritage Award Banquet Wednesday, Oct. 6 on the university campus.

Author and professor Dr. Norma Elia Cantú, who earned her master’s degree from Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1976, was recognized with a Tejano Heritage Award. Cantú centers the life and culture of people along the Texas-Mexico border in her writing, such as the novels “Canicula,” and “Cabañuelas,” and she is considered an expert in Chicana/Tejana literature.

Cantú reflected back on her education at the university as she accepted the honor, referring to earlier comments made by Dr. Robert Vela, president of Texas A&M University-Kingsville, during the award ceremony.

“Like Dr. Vela was telling us in his comments, 85% is not good enough. You have to go 100%. And I learned that here at A&I,” Cantú said. “I knew that as an English major, I would have to work, not twice, but probably three or four times as hard to achieve my goals. And I did.”

Cantú closed her remarks with readings of her poems “My Mother’s Hands,” and the yet to be published, Sandra Cisneros-inspired “You Bring Out the Tejana in Me.”

Lilly Flores Janecek, a South Texas media trailblazer, was honored with a Tejano Service Award for her career as a leading print and broadcast journalist after earning her bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1976. Best known for her TV news reporting, Flores Janecek served as a reporter, morning and evening news television anchor and as the first female news director for the Corpus Christi ABC affiliate KIII-TV.

“This is home. This is where I grew up and I enjoyed it, while I was being educated,” Flores Janecek said. “It prepared me to go on and pursue a career in journalism. And I did it because I wanted to serve the community. That’s what we were taught here.”

Chicano artist César Martínez was presented with a Tejano Heritage Award at the ceremony, a few hours after an exhibit of his “Bato/Pachuco” works reopened the university’s Ben Bailey Art Gallery. Martínez became involved with the Chicano civil rights movement after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art education from Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1968. His works have been exhibited globally, and are a part of several museum collections, including the Smithsonian, the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston and the Mueseo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City.

“I’m glad this has nothing to do with my grade point average,” Martínez joked as he accepted the honor, going on to share memories of the key friendships that he made as a student at the university, and how they helped influence his work.

“This has been a long circuitous journey,” Martínez stated at the close of his remarks. “I’m humbled and I thank you very much.”

Dr. Rito Silva, who serves as Vice President for Enrollment Services and Student Affairs at Texas A&M-Kingsville, was recognized with a Tejano Service Award. Silva, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1990 and master’s degree in 1994 at the university, served as councilman and mayor of his hometown of Alice. He also emerged as an education leader in South Texas, working as a college administrator for Coastal Bend College, Lone Star College-CyFair, Del Mar College and Texas A&M-Kingsville. Personally, his passion for Tejano music led Silva to help establish the Tejano ROOTS Hall of Fame Museum in Alice, which showcases the achievements and cultural impact of Tejano artists on the music industry.

“After 32 years of being in higher education, last summer I was able to come back home to Javelina Nation. It has been an incredible, incredible experience for me,” Silva said. “To be able to work with the next generation of Javelinas? To me, that is a dream job.”

Silva recalled the educators that helped him during his college career at Texas A&M-Kingsville and how the university’s status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution helped to shape his own journey as an educator.

“A&I- and A&M-Kingsville, has been a Hispanic-Serving Institution for almost a century, changing lives in South Texas. I am proud of the mission this university has,” Silva said. “I want to work every day to fulfill that mission, to change lives like the professors and administrators I had did for me. I get to touch the lives of future Javelinas, to give them more opportunities to open doors and not only change their lives, but also the lives of their families, and for generations to come.”

The Tejano Heritage Banquet is part of Texas A&M-Kingsville’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. The event is sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Art, Communications and Theatre.

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