Mexican icon Antonio Aguilar, whose passionate rancheras earned him fame on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, will be honored with a bronze statue to be unveiled at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument in downtown L.A. on Sunday.
“I think Antonio Aguilar symbolizes not only that he was great artist in Mexico… but he also represents the American dream. He came here many times looking for work, trying to start a career and one time, we are told, he slept three nights on the benches there at Placita Olvera,” said Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, who helped spearhead the project to honor the man whose music is still enjoyed today.
Born José Pascual Antonio Aguilar-Barraza on May 17, 1919, the singer, film actor and producer passed away in 2007. Huizar said planning for the statue began soon after his death.
He told EGP that he and Teresa Campos Castañeda, owner of Teresitas Restaurant in East Los Angeles, got the ball rolling, brainstorming the best way to honor the late musician.
Teresitas specializes in cuisine from Zacatecas, the Mexican state where both Antonio Aguilar and Huizar were born.
“He was my countryman, a great man and he took our Mexican folklore around the word,” Campos Castañeda told EGP.
Campos Castañeda said she is thrilled and thanks God the idea for a statue has materialized.
The 13-foot tall statue on a 5-foot base of cantera, a stone from Zacatecas, will depict Aguilar on horseback, as he was often seen during his performances, a unique combination of concert and equestrian show. The statue will be located in Dolores Plaza, which faces Union Station on North Alameda and Los Angeles streets.
Huizar acknowledged that while the statue is a great tribute to the Mexican artist, for him it also represents the countless immigrants who come to Los Angeles looking for a better life.
In 1940 at the age of 21, Aguilar, not only slept on the benches of Olvera Street, he also played his guitar in the local restaurants in exchange for food, according to the University of Guadalajara Foundation.
It is an example of the fortitude that Huizar said should inspire all immigrants and hard working people.
“He didn’t have any money or much food, but yet he struggled and was able to make it, not just in Mexico, but here as well,” Huizar said about the man who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and its Mexican counterpart, the Paseo de las Luminarias in Mexico City.
In a way, Huizar said, the monument serves to “welcome immigrants and to remind us … that “we all continue to look for a better life and the American Dream.”
Aguilar had the opportunity to study aviation in New York City but instead chose to pursue a singing career. His singing classes enabled him to sing in the genres of popular music and opera, the foundation proposal states.
During the 1960s, Aguilar, known internationally as the “Charro de México,” performed with his famous wife, Flor Silvestre, and his two sons, here and in Mexico.
Huizar said the statue could possibly be the first of its kind of Aguilar in the United States, and possibly even in Mexico where there are only busts of the famous entertainer.
Aguilar’s statue joins three others at Placita Olvera, according Chris Espinosa, general manager of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. He said the process for erecting a statue at the historical site, is not easy.
“We are very particular about what we accept here… It is a difficult process. It has to be approved by the El Pueblo Commission, the Cultural Affairs Commission, and probably the Office of Historic Resources,” Espinosa said.
Espinosa suggested the statue could also be a new attraction for visitors.
Financing for the statue came from Sigue Corp, the University of Guadalajara, Serrano Clinics Medical Group and smaller donors. About $50,000 in city beautification project funds were used to prepare the site, according to Huizar.
While the statue will be unveiled on Sept. 16 as part of the Fiestas Patrias — festivities in honor of Mexican Independence Day and the start of Hispanic Heritage month — the unveiling also commemorates the 5-year anniversary of Aguilar’s passing by acknowledging his many contributions, Huizar said.
“This is a guy who not only made it big in Mexico but he played next to some of the biggest stars here in Hollywood—John Wayne, Ron Goodson—and he opened the doors for a lot of other Mexican artists,” Huizar said.
Aguilar’s wife, Flor Silvestre and his son Antonio Aguilar Jr. will perform following the unveiling ceremony. Singer Pepe Aguilar will also be present, but will not perform.
Sundays’ ceremony begins at 6p.m., and is free and open to the public. Olvera Street is located at 125 Paseo De La Plaza # 400, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
For more festivities this weekend see our Fiestas Patrias Calendar on page 6.