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.

FILE – In this Feb. 2, 2012 file photo Chicano Movement leader Reies Lopez Tijerina, 85, speaks at an event at the New Mexico Statehouse in Santa Fe, N.M.

Tijerina, the Texas-born son of migrant workers who became an evangelical preacher, rose to national prominence after leading a band of two dozen men, brandishing rifles and pistols, as they burst into the Rio Arriba County courthouse on June 5, 1967. Family representative Estela Reyes-Lopez said Tijerina, who helped spark the radical Chicano movement, died at an El Paso, Texas, hospital, of natural causes. They wounded two lawmen and took a sheriff’s deputy and a journalist hostage – all in the name of restoring Spanish and Mexican land grants to those who Tijerina and followers said were the rightful owners in New Mexico and the Southwest. “He opened the eyes of a lot of people to land grants in northern New Mexico,” Lorenzo Flores, an activist in Las Vegas, N.M., told the Journal on Monday. “His passing leaves a void. … Reies was trying to show that we are part of an international treaty. 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. He believed in what he was doing; he believed in the ultimate victory of human decency, that discrimination and other injustices would be overcome.” To say Tijerina was a polarizing figure is an understatement, said Lorena Oropeza, associate professor of history at the University of California at Davis. “People either hated him or loved him. In 1967, Tijerina and armed followers raided a courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, N.M., to attempt a citizen’s arrest of then-District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez over Hispanic land rights issues. 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.

Morales said he began attending Tijerina’s meetings in Albuquerque and elsewhere in the mid-1960s after hearing Tijerina on the radio, and that he once served as Tijerina’s bodyguard. Tijerina and Alianza followers argued that Anglo settlers and the federal government had conspired to rip off thousands of acres of ancestral lands that belonged to Hispanics in the Southwest.

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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