"Justice is Our Creed and the Land is Our Heritage"
January 19, 2015 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Chicano land-rights activist Reies Lopez Tijerina passed away today at the age of 88.

Tijerina led the fight to regain the land rights of Hispanics in northern New Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s. His organization, the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, sought to return land grants -- parcels of land given to Spanish-speaking residents of New Mexico by leaders of Spain, Mexico, and New Mexico Territory -- to the descendents of the original grantees.

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed by the United States and Mexico in 1848, ended the Mexican-American War. It ceded much of the land that is now the American Southwest -- all or part of present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming -- to the United States. But the treaty was also designed to protect the land and property rights of Spanish-speakers in the new American territory. These promises were never kept. The Hispanics of northern New Mexico (and southern Colorado) were defrauded of their land by Anglos. Courts unfamiliar with or hostile to Spanish or Mexican land law regularly ruled against Hispanic land grantees. The loss of land -- especially the loss of communal grazing, hunting, and gathering land -- weakened and impoverished the rural communities of northern New Mexico.

Tijerina and the Alianza fought for land rights in court and through protests. In 1966, the Alianza occupied Echo Amphitheater in the Carson National Forest -- public lands that had once been part of a large land grant. Descendents of the original grantees handed out travel visas to surprised tourists, and "arrested" two forest rangers that tried to stop the occupation, arguing the rangers were trespassing on Hispanic lands. The next year, Tijerina gained the national spotlight when he and several other members of Alianza led an armed raid on the Rio Arriba County courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, to free jailed Alianza members and arrest the local DA (who was also Hispanic -- many mainstream Hispanic leaders in New Mexico opposed the Alianza) who had ordered the organization's meetings disbanded and its members arrested. Two people were shot.

Tijerina and the Alianza forged strong ties to other leaders and organizations in the Chicano movement, particularly Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales and the Crusade for Justice in Colorado. The two men and their organizations participated in the Poor People's Campaign in 1968, traveling from the southwest to Washington, D.C. to advocate for economic and social justice.

Some other links:

"Quest for a Homeland" from PBS Chicano! documentary (18:08)

Latino USA segment on Tijerina (19:22)

Essay on the mixed reactions New Mexicans and historians have had to Tijerina's legacy

They Called Me 'King Tiger' -- Tijerina's autobiography
posted by heurtebise (3 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I hadn't realized he was still alive -- he was a generation older than many of the key figures in the movement, so I guess I had (ignorantly) assumed he had passed away already. Tijerina was both important and intensely polarizing, as well as a complicated individual. The footage of the takeover and standoff is itself an arresting historical document, and interesting to compare with more recent armed standoffs.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:43 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to add one thing, the obituary and all of the biographical sketches about him that I have read talk about what a powerful orator he was (which is very much supported by the documentary footage) -- Tijerina was a Pentecostal preacher before he became an activist, and you can clearly hear that in both the cadences of his speeches and in how he framed his moral arguments. It's not surprising that he was invited to speak at the 1968 Washington event, with all of the parallels between him and King.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thank you.
posted by wuwei at 9:16 PM on January 19, 2015

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