UTRGV ornament helps spread holiday cheer as part of House Christmas Tree at the Texas Capitol


Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; and Ramiro Peña, a graduate student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, showcasing a unique Christmas Tree ornament, produced by Peña, which is now part of the 26-foot Christmas Tree on display at the Texas Capitol.

Thousands of holiday visitors to the House of Representatives chamber at the Texas Capitol are getting a good look at what South Texas has to offer, thanks to a one-of-a-kind ornament now gracing the impressive, 26-foot Christmas Tree set up by state legislative leaders, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.

On Tuesday, November 30, the House Christmas tree was moved from Marshall Cathey’s farm in Denison into the Texas House Chamber, much to the appreciation of visitors from throughout the state.

As part of the tree’s Texas symbolism, each state representative was invited to commission a constituent to decorate an ornament that reflects the unique character of his or her district.

“There is no time like Christmas time in the Texas House,” said Julie Straus, wife of Speaker of the House Joe Straus. “The magnificent tree, combined with ornaments from every region, serves as powerful illustration of the state’s beauty, diversity and heritage. I encourage everyone to visit the Capitol during the holidays and experience the magic of the season in a uniquely Texas way.”

The House Christmas Tree will be available for viewing until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when the Capitol will be closed for the holidays, according to Capitol Police.

For Canales, whose House District 40 justifiably boasts an abundance of talented artists, Ramiro Peña, a graduate student working towards his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, was chosen for the honor.

“It was not an easy decision because the impressive list of outstanding artists in my House District and in the Valley is long and proud,” Canales explained. “In the end, Ramiro was a perfect choice because he also represents the creativity, bold vision, originality, skills, and independence that are hallmarks of his profession.”

Canales sought from Peña an ornament that would showcase the character of House District 40, which include portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco.

Peña’s skills, as well as his desire to promote his adopted home region (he is originally from Salinas, California, but now calls Donna home for him and his family) are clearly evident in the admirable images on the ornament that Peña crafted for the House District 40 Christmas Tree ornament.

“At the heart of District 40, the establishment of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the home to a School of Medicine which will transform future students in education, research, and healthcare, is depicted on the ornament by the landscape of the UTRGV Admission Building in Edinburg,” Peña described.

In addition, Peña’s visual creation promotes “the agribusiness of the area through the vast fields of cotton and orange trees (along with) the image of the Monarch butterfly, which represents the unique migration from Mexico to Canada,” Peña continued. “The Altamira Oriole sits atop a cotton plant demonstrating one of 500 birds species found in nine birding sites of the World Birding Center, including the one in Edinburg.”

UTRGV, whose main campus is in Edinburg, and which next fall will open the School of Medicine, also at the Edinburg campus, are located in Canales’ House District 40.

“I was so impressed with Ramiro Peña’s creation, which highlighted higher education and agriculture, which are very important aspects – and strengths – of House District 40 and Texas,” said Canales. “But I am equally impressed by Ramiro and his wife, Alma, because they represent the tremendous values of integrity, hard work, courage, and achievement that make up the character of the people of South Texas.”

Ramiro Peña was born in Salinas, California in 1970. He works predominantly in painting and ceramics. Ramiro is graduate student and working towards his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He currently works at the International Museum of Art and Science and lives in Donna with family. With his wife's Alma loving support and encouragement from his two children, Noah and Valeria, he is able to pursue his passion and love of art.

Canales, who shares credit with his wife, Erika, a business owner, for his successes, said he was moved by Ramiro Peña acknowledging the powerful roles that a spouse or other loved ones play in a person’s life.

“With my wife’s encouragement, I decided to take that leap of faith and come back to school,” Peña said. “It was a difficult decision, because I had my doubts,” Peña told Vásquez. “At the time, Alma (a first-grade teacher in Weslaco) was making more money than I was and told me it was time for me to go off and get my degree. She told me, ‘I will support you.’”


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