Chicano movement leader Reies Lopez Tijerina dies at 88

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Chicano activist Reies Lopez Tijerina dies at age 88.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Reies Lopez Tijerina, a champion of Chicanos’ land-rights claims and the leader of a group that raided a northern New Mexico courthouse nearly 50 years ago, has died at age 88. In 1967, Tijerina and followers raided the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla to attempt a citizen’s arrest of the district attorney after eight members of Tijerina’s group had been arrested over land grant protests. During the raid, the group shot and wounded a state police officer and jailer, beat a deputy, and took the sheriff and a reporter hostage before escaping to the Kit Carson National Forest.

The raid sparked excitement among Mexican-American college students who identified with Tijerina’s message of Latinos’ displacement, and it led to years of court battles around land grant claims. Like other civil rights activists in the 1960s, Tijerina put personal risks aside when he led efforts to mobilize Chicanos on the land ownership issue, she said.

That was a very unpopular and very dangerous thing to do,” she said. “He is very much considered a major figure in Chicano — not just Chicano — but for civil rights for this nation.” Attorney Rees Lloyd said he first met Tijerina when Martin Luther King Jr. invited Tijerina to speak at a 1968 protest in Washington, D.C., against poverty. “The man was a giant,” Lloyd, who became a friend and adviser to Tijerina, said of him. “The man was an orator of tremendous power because he spoke from the heart.” As Albuquerque continues to see public demonstrations over a rash of police shootings, activists said they are looking to New Mexicoís history of resistance and protests to draw attention to what they say are major problems within the police department. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File) Tijerina, the only major Chicano movement activist who served time in prison, was widely admired and despised as the former leader of the Alianza, a militant citizens group in New Mexico that sought to repossess old Spanish land grants in the Southwest. Dennis Bixler-Márquez, director of Chicano Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, said Tijerina has often been equated with other major Chicano leaders such as farmworker organizer César Chávez in California, Chicano activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales in Colorado and La Raza Unida Party founder Jose Angel Gutiérrez in Texas. Castillo of three of the four coreligionists standing united, fists up and hands clasped together, remains emblematic of the zenith of the Chicano movement.” Howard Campbell, a professor of anthropology at UTEP, described Tijerina as “a legendary figure who symbolized the desire of millions of Mexicans and natives of the Southwest for self-determination, i.e, freedom from domination by Anglo-Saxon Americans,” Tijerina’s critics often privately labeled him as anti-Semitic and as a self-centered opportunist who they said is at risk of being judged harshly by history if his words, thoughts and actions are closely examined.

La Raza Unida’s Gutierrez edited and translated Tijerina’s autobiography, “They Called Me King Tiger: My Struggle for the Land and Our Rights,” which was first published in Mexico in Spanish. “He did what Malcolm X and the Black Panthers only talked about. Tijerina contended in the book that federal officials and New Mexico’s most powerful judges, lawyers and political leaders, as well as law enforcement, harassed him and his family for many years because of his land-grant activism and often-militant stances.

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