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 Pentecostal preacher turned activist who led a violent raid of a northern New Mexico courthouse nearly 50 years ago, died Monday. Family representative Estela Reyes-Lopez said Tijerina, who helped spark the radical Chicano movement, died at an El Paso, Texas, hospital, of natural causes.

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. Tijerina, who had been battling a number of illnesses, including a heart condition, had to use a wheelchair in recent years but still occasionally gave speeches. 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. In 1963, Tijerina founded La Alianza Federal de Mercedes, an organization that sought to reclaim Spanish and Mexican land grants held by Mexicans and American Indians in the Southwest before the U.S. 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.” It also placed Tijerina as one of the leaders in “Four Horsemen of the Chicano Movement,” which included Cesar Chavez of California, Corky Gonzales of Colorado, and Jose Angel Gutierrez of Texas.

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. 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. While some New Mexicans denounced Tijerina as a “con man, a swindler, a born rabble-rouser and a bully,” others portrayed him as “a dedicated defender of his people, someone who, despite the violence of the courthouse raid, was a sincere promoter of peace and equality for all,” Oropeza wrote.

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