National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor
The National Hispanic Heritage Hall of Honor recognizes outstanding Hispanic leaders who have established a record of achievement and excellence in Education, Athletics, Business, Public Service, Military Service and Arts & Entertainment. The Special Recognition category has multiple uses, the most common being to honor a non-Hispanic individual who has chosen extraordinary dedication in the inspiration and support of young Hispanics.
All of our honorees present stellar role models for aspiring young Hispanics. Working with our Speaker’s Bureau and informal mentoring programs, our honorees commit to inspiring students to believe in themselves and strive for personal achievement. We emphasize that academic success is a path to leadership that should be used in service to the community. Our honorees are shining examples of the possibilities and power of success.
Former Basketball Player and Coach
Gerardo Márquez was born in August 1957 in San Antonio, as was his youngest sibling Rolando. His parents, José de Jesús and Margarita, along with his older siblings, Jesús, Yolanda, and Alma Rosa, had come from Mexico. Gerardo grew up in the Southside and attended Burbank High School. There, despite his father’s emphasis on academics over athletics, Gerardo excelled in basketball. The Burbank Bulldogs team had declined from the mid-’60s when Coach Jim Brandenburg (a 2010 HSFE Honoree) took them to the state tournament. Gerardo learned basketball fundamentals and the necessity for hard work from his coach, Earl Meyer, who helped re-energize the ’75-’80 teams. Gerardo graduated in 1975 and attended Trinity University, close by in geographic proximity, but distant in culture. Although his college adviser doubted Gerardo could succeed, he graduated in 1980 with a degree in Education. Read More
Gerardo started his education career at Fox Tech High School, where he taught PE, Health, and
Spanish; he assisted Roland López (a 2007 HSFE Honoree) in basketball and also coached
football and track. Fellow coaches Víctor Castillo (a 2007 HSFE Honoree) and Charlie Peña
demonstrated how to “get after it every day.” In 1988, Gerardo became the head basketball coach
at Edgewood High. He returned to Tech in 1990 as assistant basketball coach and took over in
1995. In 1997, he coached the Buffalos to the Class 4A state championship, the only state title
the school has won. He motivated his players from the inner city to work together and they
overcame the advantages in facilities and sports camps that the other schools’ players enjoyed.
Gerardo moved into administration after winning the State Championship because he had two
small children. He observed fellow coaches raising their children in the bleachers while putting
in late hours and he no longer wanted that life. He started as vice principal at Martin Luther King
Jr. Middle School. A year later he became the vice principal at John Jay High School (which
included the Science and Engineering Academy). In 2003, Gerardo became the principal at Jay.
His son, Gerardo Makani Loa, graduated from Jay Science and Engineering Academy in 2011.
In 2010, he became the first principal at Brennan High School, where his daughter, Adrianna
Kealani, attended, and he remained in that position until he retired in 2017. (Have you figured
out that Gerardo’s wife DeeAnne is Hawaiian?) Gerardo wanted to provide Brennan students
with an all-around education. He emphasized a secure and safe environment, the best extra-
curricular activities in Texas, and a college-going culture. By hiring teachers with a passion for
kids and their fields of study, Gerardo was hugely successful. Brennan had some of the area’s
lowest crime statistics. Among Brennan’s many achievements: cheerleaders who were national
champions 3 out of 6 years; a marching band that was a state finalist; girls and boys basketball
teams that played in the state tournaments 2 years; a football team that played in the state
championship game; volleyball and girls soccer players who became city champs.
Gerardo has been busy with travel to Hawaii. He wants to continue serving the community, by
returning to education or helping Habitat for Humanity, but he will make time to see Adrianna’s
basketball games at St. Mary’s U.
Francisco González Cigarroa, M.D.
Former Chancellor of the University of Texas System
Pursuit of Excellence as a Surgeon
Francisco González Cigarroa, M.D., a renowned pediatric and transplant surgeon, was born in Laredo, Texas in December 1957. One of ten children, Francisco is a third generation physician, whose father still practices medicine and whose paternal grandfather was also a general practitioner.
Francisco attended J.W. Nixon High School in Laredo. Upon graduation, he went to Yale University, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1979. He went on to earn his medical degree in 1983 from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Dr. Cigarroa credits his academic relationship with a professor of medicine when he was a third-year medical student at UT Southwestern Medical Center as enriching his life of service. Thanks to Dr. Michael Brown — a member of the research team with Joe Goldstein that won a Nobel Prize for elucidating the regulation of cholesterol metabolism — Francisco was inspired to pursue a career in academic medicine. Like his teacher, Francisco models excellence for post-doctorate, graduate, and undergraduate students, leading them to continue working to advance the fields of science and medicine.Read More
Dr. Cigarroa’s postgraduate training included a residency in General Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (1983-1991), where he became Chief Resident. In 2011, he was awarded the Massachusetts General Hospital Trustees’ Medal. At Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Cigarroa completed fellowships in Pediatric Surgery (1993) and Transplantation Surgery (1995).
With such impressive medical credentials already in hand, Dr. Cigarroa joined the faculty of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) in 1995, where he began as Director of Pediatric Surgery. Francisco is a nationally renowned transplant surgeon. As a researcher, he initiated surgical innovations that have saved countless lives. In 1997 at UTHSCSA, he was part of a surgical team that split a donor liver for transplant into two recipients, an adult woman and a 5-month- old boy. This was the first civilian split liver transplantation done in South Texas. In 1999, he led the surgical team that performed the region’s first successful small bowel transplant in a child.
Outstanding Achievements in the University of Texas System
Dr. Cigarroa was promoted and served as President of UTHSCSA from 2000-2009.
In 2009, Dr. Cigarroa focused more intently on education as the first Hispanic to be named Chancellor of The University of Texas System. As Chancellor (2009-2015), Francisco directed one of the largest public systems of higher education in the nation, a group of nine universities and six health institutions. Francisco’s signature achievement was his “Framework for Advancing Excellence,” designed to make the University of Texas System one of the top-ranked U.S. educational systems of higher learning.
In an address presented to the University Board of Regents on May 12, 2011, Francisco located “…the classroom, the laboratory, our hospital wards, and even the McDonald Observatory…” as the places “where students and teachers learn the lessons of the past, exchange great ideas, recognize the unknown, and create an inspiring community of learning and discovery necessary
for our future….”
Francisco further explained his motivation to improve the UT System: “In the 21st century, our universities and health institutions must be innovative, nimble, and adaptive because the world we live in is changing at an astonishing pace. Our demography has changed. Twenty years ago, the population of Texas was 17 million, but today it is more than 25 million and Texas is now  a majority-minority state. Over the past 20 years, the college-age cohort in Texas has grown 38 percent.
This ‘Framework for Advancing Excellence’ will be anchored in our unwavering commitment to four areas of impact: opportunity, economic prosperity, quality of life, and stewardship.
Opportunity: UT System is committed to ensuring that Texas students have access to not only affordable, but also the highest quality undergraduate and graduate education, allowing them to grow and succeed as lifelong learners who adapt to a changing world.
Economic prosperity: UT System is committed to fueling prosperity through producing degrees of great value, world-class research, patents and partnerships with business and industry, community engagement, and the economic impact of employment.
Quality of life: The UT System is committed to improving lives through a more educated population, cutting-edge research, and community service that provides meaningful solutions to everyday problems.
Stewardship: UT System is committed to delivering all of this in the most efficient and productive manner possible.”
The Framework, which included creating a medical school in Austin and in South Texas, was unanimously approved by the Board of Regents and has since received national acclaim.
National and State Leadership as a Medical Professional
Dr. Cigarroa’s outstanding service to the medical profession has attracted the attention of our nation’s leaders from all sides of the political spectrum. President George W. Bush appointed Dr. Cigarroa to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science in 2003.
President Barack Obama invited Dr. Cigarroa to serve as a commissioner for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans in 2010. Then, in December 2011, President Obama invited him to the White House to share his Framework with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
In January 2015, Dr. Cigarroa completed his tenure as Chancellor of the University of Texas System. The then 56-year- old surgeon returned to the state university medical campus in San Antonio and was named the Division Head of Liver & Pediatric Transplantation Surgery.
Today Dr. Cigarroa continues to perform liver and kidney transplant surgeries, teaches as the Ashbel Smith Professor in Surgery, and holds the Carlos and Malú Alvarez Distinguished University Chair at the same institution, now called University of Texas Health San Antonio.
He also serves as Regent’s Special Liaison to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its Medical School, inspiring future generations of medical professionals in Texas.
Dr. Cigarroa is a member of several prestigious societies, including the American College of Surgery, the Institute of Medicine, the American Board of Surgery and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also an honorary member of the National Academy of Science in Mexico.
On July 1, 2010, Dr. Cigarroa began serving an elected six-year term as an Alumni Fellow to Yale Corporation, the governing body of Yale University. He also served as the 2010 president of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas. In 2014, Dr. Cigarroa was appointed as a trustee of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
Currently, Dr. Cigarroa serves on the National Research Council Committee on Research Universities and on the American Academy Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Francisco and his wife Graciela, an attorney, have two daughters, María Cristina and Barbara Carisa.
Judge Mary Dolores Román became the first Hispanic woman elected in a countywide race as a District Judge when, in November 1992, she was victorious in her race for State District Judge, 175th Judicial District Court in Bexar County, Texas. This surprised most of the political crowd since Hispanic women had a difficult time winning a county-wide race. She was re-elected multiple times and served from 1993, presiding over several high profile trials as well as routine judicial encounters, until her retirement in 2016.
In an article published in San Antonio Lawyer in April 2010 the late Judge Andy Mireles described Judge Román as one of the hardest working judges that he knew and said she never wasted any time. “We came to the judiciary about the same time, and I have known her for a long time,” he said in November 2009. “She has been consistently fair and hard-working throughout her career.”
María Cázares, the court clerk for Judge Román at that time, said it is a joy to work in her court. “She is a very fair judge and, in my opinion, is very good asset to the community. She is fair across the board, but she also personally has a big heart and is very giving,” Cázares said.Read More
Judge Román was born in Victoria, Texas in November 1942 and moved to Corpus Christi at the age of five. Until that move, she spoke only Spanish, but quickly picked up English and was fluent by the first grade. “When I was growing up, we were very poor, and I thought I would be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. It never even occurred to me that I could be a lawyer.” She attended Incarnate Word Academy High School.
She married at age eighteen and lived in California for a few years. By twenty-eight, she had four children. She was working in a hospital, as Director of Volunteer Services, and began to attend a junior college at night. ”It took four years to do two years of junior college,” she said.
She came to San Antonio in 1979 and continued at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), graduating in 1980 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in management. “When I finished at UTSA, I was a single mother, and I wanted to go to law school. I knew it would be difficult, but I knew that I could,” she said. “I applied to St. Mary’s University School of Law and decided that if they did not accept me, then I would not go because I did not want to move my children.” Román said that it wasn’t always easy to get through school as a working single mother, but she prioritized and went on to obtain a Doctor of Jurisprudence from St. Mary´s in May 1984.
At the age of forty-two, Judge Román joined the District Attorney’s office, where for eight years, she found her work with family violence cases most rewarding. “It was such a great opportunity for me to fulfill my goal of working with women’s issues,” she said. There, as a prosecutor, she was promoted to Chief of the Family Violence Unit.
Before deciding to run for the bench in 1992, she did a lot of soul searching and praying. ”Judge Chavarría announced he would retire, and I wanted to run, but I did not feel comfortable running against well-known attorney Anthony Nicholas in the Democratic primary.” When she heard he had dropped out, with 30 days to go, Judge Román obtained the required signatures, paid the fee, and was on the ballot. She said Judge Rose Spector, and others, encouraged her and told her not to be afraid. Her husband Ricardo “Rick” Román, then an attorney and Branch Office Manager at Bexar County Legal Aid, whom she had married in 1986, also supported her race. “When I told him that I wanted to run for the bench, he didn’t even blink an eye. He just said, ‘well, what can I do to help?’ I could not have done it without him.”
In 2005, her husband attended his first ACTS (Adoration, Community, Theology, Service) retreat at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. He came back a renewed person. This so impressed Judge Román that she attended the Women’s ACTS retreat a few months later. She has served frequently as a team member since then, and as Director of the Women’s ACTS retreat in 2012. She continues her spiritual journey as a member of a small Christian community prayer group.
Creating Judicial Solutions
Judge Román’s true legal love is criminal law because of the impact it can have on our society. Being a public servant is a way to do something meaningful and help others. In 2002, Judge Román began working on implementing the felony drug court program, something that she is very proud of starting. “It can be a great vehicle to give someone who wants to change an opportunity to do so,” she explained.
Judge Román’s keen interest in improving services to underprivileged persons caught in the judicial system led her to serve on the boards of the PEACE Initiative (Putting an End to Abuse Through Community Efforts), the Battered Women’s Shelter, Visitation House, and Child Advocates of San Antonio. Today, she serves on the board of Cross Point, Inc., which serves men and women veterans, state hospital patients, formerly incarcerated men and women, and community members who need help with issues pertaining to homelessness, mental illness or disability, financial responsibility, and community isolation. Serving on the board of Cross Point continues Judge Román’s efforts to help empower individuals to become productive citizens.
In spring 2014, she launched the Esperanza Court program, designed to keep prostitutes off the streets by providing a two- to two-and-a-half-year regimen of intensive drug and alcohol treatments, therapy sessions, and other health and social services. The team works with 20 different organizations across San Antonio that provide a multitude of services – healthcare, therapy, education, job training, and even housing for those participants who are eligible.
Esperanza Court participants have a history of prostitution and are on probation. This state-mandated four-phase program, funded by a governor’s and a local grant, assists incarcerated participants to work their way up to more independence, eventually living and working on their own as long as they continue with their treatments. The Judge and her team work with defense attorneys to determine if the program is the right fit for each individual. Participating in Esperanza Court doesn’t necessarily mean an inmate is released from jail. Many incarcerated first phase participants are only allowed to leave for medical treatments.
Judge Román retired in 2016. Speaking at a December 2016 Esperanza Court ceremony, Judge Román praised the graduates and the 20+ other men and women still in the program for their courage and hard work. She said that Esperanza Court was “a daunting task” to create, but an important resource that can have profound effects on participants and their loved ones.
Judge Román continues her ritual of rising early to enjoy her quiet time in the morning. This is consistent with a private person who doesn’t care much for life in the spotlight. She considers herself blessed as an ordinary person who has enjoyed an extraordinary 24-year career.
Judge Román has four grown children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. She holds membership in many professional organizations, including the State Bar of Texas, the San Antonio Bar Association, the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association, the Mexican-American Bar Association, San Antonio Bar Foundation, San Antonio 100, and the Texas Women’s Forum.
José A. Castorena
Family Roots in Zacatecas, Branches Grow in San Antonio
My story begins in Mexico sometime around the 1800s. A boat from Spain arrived in Mexico, I’m told, carrying my family to a new land. Though I’m not sure what brought them there, I am grateful that their arrival would eventually cause me to be born in the greatest country on earth.
My family settled in the state of Zacatecas and became merchants. I believe that eight children were born to my paternal grandfather starting around 1898. As my father’s father and his brother were killed in the Mexican revolution, whatever history might have been passed down about our origins was taken from us. I supposed this story repeated itself over and over, as other children moved forward in life and many fled Mexico for the north.
During the 1920s, my family came to the United States of America. Housing and jobs were arranged for the newly arrived relatives by family already living here in the city of San Antonio, Texas. One of my aunts remembers that President Wilson was in the White House at the time. At that time, five Castorena siblings lived close to the downtown area on Elmira Street.Read More
During World War II in the 1940s, my father, Eusebio, was drafted into the U.S. Navy. Around 1949, the family moved to Callaghan Avenue downtown. My father returned from active duty service to that new residence, a home we still own to the present day. That same year, my paternal grandmother passed away without ever meeting us, her grandchildren.
Upon his return home, my father remembered a very strong and athletic girl he had met a while back in Mexico. This young girl, María, wed my father in 1949 in Piedras Negras, Mexico, and became my mother in 1952. I still have memories of my mother telling me about the great honeymoon he gave her. Our generation started to emerge with the arrival of my big sister María Guadalupe (Lupita) in 1950. Soon after me, María Teresa (Terri), Román, and our little sister, Rosa María (Rosie) all joined the family. In all we are five brothers and sisters.
My sister and I have a lot of great memories of growing up in the ’50s. We remember what a strong family we were. We children of immigrants, the first generation born in this country, started school in the late 1950s and early ’60s. But our world changed dramatically. We did not know much English when we started school, but we learned fast. Lupita and I were the first to do almost everything, with the others following our lead.
I remember that in second grade at St. Mary’s Grade School, I was constantly asked to provide artwork for various events and purposes. I explored this talent for art through eighth grade.
Central Catholic High School was already an old school when I entered in 1967. No other institution has had a more profound influence on me. I learned to compete, and discovered and developed other talents. I also met some of my greatest friends, people that I still stay in touch with to this day. Because I did not really push myself, I barely made it out in 1971. However, I did graduate, still one of my prouder achievements. For some reason, this high school graduating class had an unusual number of future architects.
Lifelong Dream to Become an Architect Comes True
Back then, the U.S. government was still drafting young men. During my first year at San Antonio College, I enlisted instead in the Texas National Guard, committing to six years. With this military obligation, I ended up being a psychology specialist in the Army.
Returning to San Antonio after several months of training, I enrolled again at San Antonio College for my sophomore year. I had matured enough to know I had little time to waste, and had to get serious. Then I got accepted to the University of Texas School of Architecture, which had been my ultimate goal for a long time.
At UT, I was forced to compete with some of the best minds in Texas. I learned how to get better organized and prepared for a really tough curriculum. It was even more difficult with my National Guard service to complete at the same time. But with a lot of hard work, I became the first in my family to earn a college degree. I still remember handing my father my diploma and watching the certain look of satisfaction on his face.
Now I was ready to get a job. By divine providence, luck, destiny, and good fortune, I managed to be hired by the greatest architect in Texas at the time, O’Neil Ford. Maybe not so much luck; I had worked one semester there as a student intern, which I suppose factored into their hiring decision. I had dreamed of working for the best architect in the state since freshman year, and I landed my dream job.
Working there was very competitive. I noticed that when time came to take a professional registration exam, my colleagues always seemed to pass the first time. This exam is still notorious for being difficult. I was told that fewer than 9% passed it in one try; but at our firm, more like 100% of the takers passed. I knew I had my work cut out for me.
My turn to take the exam finally came. Three years of internship, references, and an accredited degree are generally required to qualify to take the exam. In my case, however, I qualified with only two years of approved work experience. Next thing I knew I was off to Austin, Texas to sit for the written exam.
I had studied and prepared very well. I felt confident and a lot more relaxed than my friends. Following two days of testing, I waited several weeks for the results. One fine day, a letter arrived from the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners, with the box checked “PASS!” I was so relieved and proud all together at the same time. But I was still not a registered architect; I also had to pass the design test.
For this exam, you’re given a total of 12 hours to design and draw up a building design. The exam designers very carefully craft the building type and the exact nature of the design problem. So, off I went again to Austin, this time for one test that started at 8:00 A.M. and ran through 8:00 P.M. It is amazing just how fast twelve hours fly by, truly a great challenge to go non-stop and complete.
Again after a few weeks, my letter from the board arrived. This time the box check said something different: “PASSED, REGISTRATION SHALL FOLLOW.” The day I had dreamed about for most of life had finally arrived. I was now a registered architect! Still am.
Award-Winning Design for Pace Foods Headquarters
I had proven myself time and time again at my job by simply doing two things: completing all assignments and solving problems. One day as I was walking past one partner’s office, a hand grabbed my arm and I was put in charge of my first building project design for a very important client: Pace Foods.
Again, like taking the exams, the responsibility was mine alone to succeed or fail. No one can really help you with the very personal experience of design, other than offering counsel and well wishes. I did feel pressure; this was the first building I had ever designed professionally, and for a prominent San Antonio family’s business. As always, with hard work, not giving up, and lots of praying, inspiration finally came for a concept and viable design solution.
Next, I had to put this building concept into a set of construction documents for the contractor. After several months, my team was finished and construction time arrived. My building looked so good and worked so well, the client’s business greatly improved. Production increased and a renowned product in the city just seemed to get better and better.
This project did so well that it was submitted for a design award to the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Later that year we learned that we won. I was so proud of this achievement. Every now and then when I visit my old firm, I always take a moment to scan the walls filled with awards and find the one with my design project named, proving that I am officially an architect.
Designing Functional Public Buildings in Bexar County
As the ’80s ended, I went out on my own for a short time. Eventually, one of my bigger clients, San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA), hired me. I also married a beautiful girl named Yvonne Morin. By the early ’90s, married for a few years, I was named a senior project manager and stayed at SAHA through the decade. In 2004, I left to spend about a year as the Bexar County Architect, managing several projects.
I decided in 2005 that working again in the private sector would be much more fulfilling. I have been able to continue to provide service to the county on several public projects including designing courtrooms for the Bexar County Courthouse, an opportunity not many architects in the city ever receive.
In 2009, I acquired my third license, for sustainable design, which makes me a certified designer of green buildings. In today’s competitive market, these three licenses empower an architect to produce a more intelligent building. I am now glad that I worked hard to pass this additional licensing exam, despite being much older than when I was first tested. My age made no difference at all, desire and hard work again brought me important new credentials.
Today, I continue to work as an architect in private practice, making a difference for the built environment, especially school design. I look forward to helping make new schools better and safer for this generation of students.
As I look at the all the youngsters in school districts where our firm is working now, I cannot help but think back to when I was a student just like them. Though good fortune would sometimes come my way, most of all hard work and not giving up generated my career achievements. I hope today’s young people have the same desire in making their way to achieve their dreams.
Colonel María del Rosario Hernández Tijerina
Retired Army Nurse
From the Heart of the Westside
Retired Colonel María del Rosario Hernández Tijerina was born and raised in the ghetto of San Antonio, Texas. But she had never heard her “barrio” (neighborhood) called that until 1972, her senior year at Incarnate Word University (then still called College), when she was beginning her successful career as a nurse and a soldier. While visiting patients in the historic and culturally rich Westside, a professor informed her of the lowly status of the area where María, up to that point, had spent her entire life.
To María, however, this so-called ghetto was simply her home. Some of her earliest memories were of participating in elaborate “Posadas” at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, a parish founded to serve San Antonio’s Spanish-speaking population—many of whom, like her grandparents, fled civil war in Mexico to provide their children safety and the opportunity for a better life.
Beyond instruction in Catholicism and tradition, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word provided María and her two brothers an affordable, high-quality education. María has many fond memories of the strict sisters who taught at the school. Read More
After Our Lady of Guadalupe School, María spent a year at James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School where her homeroom advisor, Víctor Rodríguez (later a co-founder of HSFE), helped her choose courses that would put her on the path to college. With the support of friends from Cooper and Our Lady of Guadalupe, María found the transition to Sidney Lanier High School to be relatively painless. Again, María was fortunate to have teachers and advisors who, along with her parents, believed in her and in the importance of a solid education.
Of course, no education is complete without extra-curricular activities. For María, this included membership with the Blue Jackets, Lanier’s pep squad and drill team. The experience helped set her up for success in the military. María attributes her appointment as platoon leader while in basic training to the Blue Jackets’ dedication to discipline and precision.
In addition to all the hard work, María’s childhood memories include plenty of fun, much of which was distinctly “Westside” in nature. In fact, many locals fortunate enough to attend their regular performances still carry fond memories of her older brother Henry’s band, the Royal Jesters. María and her younger brother Andrés weren’t as old as most attendees, but Henry managed to both harmonize and keep an eye on his siblings. María also multitasked, looking after Andrés, while still managing to dance and enjoy the conjunto-influenced doo-wop.
Although María’s life in the military meant many years spent away from San Antonio, the Westside continued to hold a special place in her heart. When she eventually retired from the military after 27 years, she returned and built her home around the block from the small house her parents had constructed fifty years earlier.
Although María very much forged her own way, she has looked to her family, both immediate and extended, for inspiration, guidance and support throughout her life.
María’s father, Enrique Lara-Hernández, led by example. He arrived in San Antonio at the age of eleven and worked hard his entire life to provide for his family. His bicycle shop, situated on Guadalupe Street, was a staple of the Westside for nearly 40 years. During that time, María saw her father quietly run a small business while maintaining a spirit of generosity toward neighborhood children who could not always afford his services.
María’s mother, Eulalia Salinas, left Mexico when she was only four months old and spent a portion of childhood as a migrant laborer, picking crops with her family. She took pride in her work, boasting to her grandchildren she could outperform grown men twice her size “back in her day.”
As husband and wife, María’s parents not only instilled in their children a powerful work ethic, but a spirit of service to their family and community. Both were active with their church, volunteering with the local ministry. Enrique worked with an association providing burial funds for the uninsured. Eulalia’s services included hand-washing linens for Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. She was also an early member of the grass-roots organization, COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service), which pressured city officials to improve drainage on the flood-prone Westside.
Both her older brother and her older cousin Paula (Master’s in Education) stressed the value of education to María, a priority she passed down to her own children and, eventually, her grandchildren. As María pursued her vocational nursing license, her commitment to learning was tested in a particularly challenging pharmacology class. But her perseverance paid off. Not only did María pass the course, obtain her license and begin practicing as a Licensed Vocational Nurse by age 19, but she later taught pharmacology as a 1st Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps at Ft. Sam Houston.
Before joining the military, and encouraged by cousin Paula, María decided to pursue a career as a registered nurse. This meant enrolling at San Antonio College (SAC) and taking more advanced math and English courses. The admittance counselor discouraged her, citing low scores on her entry exams. However, instead of quitting, María aced her remedial classes and did well enough at SAC that she was able to successfully transfer to St. Mary’s University before applying to and being accepted to the nursing program at Incarnate Word.
While at Incarnate Word, María made two more life-changing decisions. She joined the Army Student Nurse Program and accepted a marriage proposal from San Antonio Southsider Lorenzo W. Tijerina. Her fiancé proved to be another strong advocate for her continuing education. In fact, as husband and wife, the couple were able to build successful careers in their chosen professions by supporting each other. Lorenzo is still practicing law and accounting, his offices now located where María’s father once built and repaired bicycles.
A Life-Long Commitment to Service
María joined the Army during the Vietnam War and had fully expected to be sent into that combat zone (where eight female nurses lost their lives, six by enemy action). She became a 1st Lieutenant in 1972 upon receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. Lorenzo, a veteran, helped her adjust to military life. She came to embrace military culture. She appreciated the clarity of purpose and the commitment to excellence, but it was the element of service that spoke to her the most. By example, her parents had taught her to put others before herself, to take care of her neighbors, to look out for those in need.
Although the United States’ withdrawal from the Vietnam conflict meant María would never be deployed, she went on to care for many combat-injured Vietnam veterans and soldiers in the first Gulf War. During various assignments at Fort Polk, Brooke Army Medical Center, Hawaii, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and 1st U.S. Army Recruiting Command, she was responsible for the care of hundreds of patients at a time. She also supervised and trained officer, enlisted, and civilian personnel and guided their careers. While in the Army she received a Master of Science degree in Nursing from George Mason University and completed the Army Command and General Staff College.
María achieved the rank of colonel (the second-highest rank possible for an Army nurse at that time) before retiring, and she did it while raising three sons—Larry, Sean, and Lorenzo (“TJ”). Her career of service didn’t end when she left the military. After retirement, María came home to the small house where she grew up to care for her elderly mother. And when her mother passed at the age of 103, María stepped up her involvement with COPS/Metro Alliance (currently serving as co-chair), the organization of which Eulalia was a member decades earlier. María also volunteers at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church’s Social Service office and serves with the Social Justice Ministry (COPS-Metro).
Retired Colonel María Tijerina continues her work with the grassroots organization, remains an active member of her neighborhood, and takes a tremendous amount of joy from caring for her grandchildren.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Opera Singer, Mezzosoprano
“Lynnen Yakes continues to delight memories ear and eye. Her performance was wholehearted, gleaming, various and disciplined. She is a performer riveting to watch and hear.” wrote globally renowned opera critic Andrew Porter for the New Yorker.
Lynnen expresses great pride in being a native San Antonian who grew up on the South Side in the Collins Gardens section off Nogalitos. She is the daughter of Frances Criado Yakes, who stressed the importance of God, Country, and a strong Education. She also had the love of her grandparents Julia Aldaco Criado and Marcus Criado, whose kindness for others, courage and hard labor anchored and enabled Lynnen to trust herself and take on life, gifts, and lessons.
Lynnen attended St. Mary’s Grade School where she found her love for piano in 3rd grade and continued to study while attending Incarnate Word High School. It was in her senior year that she found her love for Volleyball and was selected as a Texas First Team All-State Volleyball Setter and led her team to the state championship game in Houston. Upon graduation, she attended the Royal Academy of Music in London to study piano.
Other special interests have included competitive synchronized swimming, coaching, and choreography for 15 years. She also has a passion for growing and developing combinations of healing medicinal herbs and oils.
Lynnen claims her love of storytelling through music began with her piano studies. She couldn’t play a scale without a movie running in her head. Shortly after her London studies ended, Lynnen discovered that her voice was a much better medium to share her thoughts, vision and emotion.
Distinguished Career as a Leading Mezzosoprano
Lynnen packed her overalls and moved to New York City where she went on to earn BA and MA degrees in Vocal Performance from the Juilliard School of Music. She was the first place winner of the “Artist’s International Vocal Competition” and was sponsored in a solo Carnegie Hall recital debut. She was also awarded first place in the “New York Musicians Club” (Koussivitsky Music Foundation) and a winner of the “Walter Naumberg Vocal Competition” which again featured her in a solo recital at Carnegie Hall.
Lynnen has distinguished herself in a wide range of classical vocal repertoire from Baroque to Contemporary. A few of her leading roles have included:
- The title role of the Mother in Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at New York’s Lincoln Center (Conductor – Dino Anagnost)
- Dorabella in Mozart’s “Cos Fan Tutte” with Seattle Opera and the Colorado Opera Festival (Conductor – Gerard Schwartz – “Mostly Mozart” NY Lincoln Center)
- Grand Duchess in Offenbach’s acclaimed “Grand Duchess” with Dallas Lyric Opera and in Philadelphia (Conductor – Barbara Silverstein)
- Cherubino in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” with New York Grand Opera in Central Park Outdoor Opera Festival (Conductor/Artistic Director – Vincent La Selva
- Cecilio in Mozart’s “Lucia Silla” with California’s Long Beach Opera (Head Conductor & Director of Houston Grand Opera – Patrick Summers)
- Cat in Ravel’s “L’enfant e Sortilege” with Miami Symphony (Conductor – Michael Tilson Thomas)
One of Lynnen’s great mentors was the legendary Leonard Bernstein, a man of many talents including New York Philharmonic lead conductor and Composer (West Side Story, Candide, Mass, to name a few). As a young singer Lynnen was asked to understudy the wondrous Jean Kraft from the Metropolitan Opera as Susie in Bernstein’s final opera “A Quiet Place” with the Vienna State Opera (Leonard Bernstein conducting).
Storytelling and Life Lessons
Behind these impressive credentials Lynnen, like many touring musicians, has stories to tell. She says she loves listening to stories of people’s lives, including both good times and trying times, where great lessons are learned. Here’s the one she calls “Go with the drama and the trauma,” when she slid under the grand piano as she walked onto the stage of the Chicago Symphony to give a solo concert.
“That’s only a part of the story. The plane from New York couldn’t land due to fog the night before the concert. We landed in who-knows-where Indiana. I talked three businessmen into renting a car with me to Chicago. We drove for a few hours, telling each other things one would normally never tell anyone. Then they dropped me off at the ‘Hancock’ (as my itinerary said). I had no idea of the building’s significance: According to The Hancock Center web description, ‘…the pre-eminent address for local, national and international business. With its significant architecture, solid steel foundation and captivating views of four states….’ And the home of Oprah Winfrey.
“After I slid under the piano, I lay staring at the sound board, asking God ‘if you didn’t want me to do this gig — it’s called “the flu” or “food poisoning!” It could be so much simpler. What gives?’ Looking at my toes which had busted through my hose exposed under silver sandal heels, I calmly rolled over onto my tummy. By this time all applause had come to a screeching halt and horror spread across their faces. I said, ‘as the program reads, my first song is “COME AGAIN” by John Dowland. I have however decided to start with “FALL AGAIN” by Lynnen Yakes.’ Laughter relieved the tension and applause returned as I ever so awkwardly peeled myself off the floor. But what could have continued to be a horror turned into a heartfelt concert that I will never forget.
“I learned two very important lessons.
- Never EVER wear new shoes on a waxed stage floor.
- Keep a sense of humor and never make an audience feel responsible for you. An artist’s job is to be the messenger of truth and to create the platform within their medium to tell that truth based on their evolving perception. It is not always a pleasant truth but it is the gateway to empower each audience member and afford them the opportunity, through music, to experience their own perception of life based on their own very unique journey.
Opera has afforded me the permission to journey into my soul and embrace life for all it presents. Ego has no place in my playpen; it only creates walls between us. Most people attend arts and entertainment to feel for a moment what they cannot feel in their daily structured lives. It is such an honor to have been given a gift that allows me the freedom to wallow in my vulnerable walk of life. (And they call that ‘going to work?’ Ha. Ha)”
Operatic Director, Music Educator, Bed and Breakfast Proprietor
Lynnen is equally at home on stage as operatic mezzosoprano and in many other roles in music performance. She made her directing debut at Vassar College in 1996 with the production of Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” and returned in spring 2001 to direct Vassar’s Opera program. Lynnen has also broadened her horizons by teaching acting for the renowned Metropolitan Opera Basso, Jerome Hines Opera Institute; and directing operas throughout New York State.
After residing in New York City for 35 years, Lynnen returned to her home state and when looking on the map she actually bought the central part of the town of Shelby, Texas, population 200, near Round Top. She is the proprietor of “Shelby Historic Inns LLC,” with management responsibilities including being the maid and plumber for a Country Chapel and three full running Bed & Breakfasts.
Giving Back to Rural Nontraditional Music Listeners as a Mentor and Artistic Director
Lynnen is actively building programs in her rural Texas town to “pay it forward.” In this way, she honors and thanks all her mentors who, with unwavering support, gave her the courage to live a wondrous life of passion.
Lynnen spoke of needing this courage with Dennis Sentenac of the Fayette County Record, recalling one of her favorite appearances for 150 inmates of a women’s prison in Orange County, California. One of the incarcerated ladies interrupted her talk, and demanded on behalf of the entire group that she sing high notes. “They … were treated to a composition that takes years to master: Richard Straus’ ‘Componist Aria.’ … As the music progressed, the inmates started a crescendo of applause. … Propelled by the tumult, with abandon Lynnen Yakes laid down on her back and continued singing. …the unlikely newly-minted opera fans exhorted her to ‘do it again!’ And she did. …” Lynnen explains that they were awesome women whose refreshing response gave her back the unbelievable pure joy she felt many years prior when she started learning to sing opera and the tears of complete exhilaration after letting out her first real high note. As she left the prison the women from the performance were waiting for her and through the fence passed her a rose they had plucked from a bush within their fenced-in garden. She still has that rose, as it brings back that joy every time she touches it.
With the underlying purpose to serve others, Lynnen’s current projects include:
- Vocal Development and Performance for rural singers, including the blind
- Musical Vibratory Concerts for the Deaf
- Agriculture for the Blind
- “Wailin’ Warriors” for Veterans and their families to tell and write their stories with prominent composers and musicians, culminating in prison performances.
- Live indoor and outdoor Classical, Jazz, Country and Opera concerts.
“They can’t fire me – I OWN THE JOINT!” What freedom God has given me.
When all is “sung” and done, Lynnen Yakes claims her best opening nights were the births of her three children — all grown up — Jaron Marcus, Ziva Miro, and Yael Arden.
Oh YESSSSSSS and she still SINGS when time permits!!!!!