Reies Lòpez Tijerina’s spirit will not be forgotten and will live on in our hearts, minds and history
By Herman Baca
In the late 1960’s Cesar Chavez, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Jose Angel Gutierrez and Reies López Tijerina were known as the Four Horsemen of the Chicano Movement. With the sad news that Reies Lòpez Tijerina has passed at the age of 88 in El Paso, Texas, on January 19, 2015 only one of the Four Horsemen remains…Jose Angel Gutiérrez.
To those of us in the Chicano Movement who had the privilege of knowing and working with Tijerina, El Tigre del Norte or King Tiger (who I knew since 1970) his passing is another reminder that; “A historical era is slowly, but surely coming to an end.”
In U.S. history Tijerina will always be known for his struggle to reclaim the lands stolen from Mexicans and Native Americans after the U.S./Mexico War, and will forever be remembered for his daring armed raid in 1967 of the Tierra Amarilla courthouse in rural northern New Mexico.
To Chicano Movement activists, Tijerina will be remembered for his courage in doing what he had to do at Tierra Amarilla. Tijerina paid the price, being the only major Chicano leader to be imprisoned (for 2 years) in federal prison for his political beliefs.
Like Pancho Villa, Tijerina was chased by U.S. troops for his raid on Tierra Amarilla. Tijerina along with Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales worked to establish relationships with Afro-Americans leaders such as Malcom X, Maulana Karanga, Elijah Mohammed, Jessie Jackson, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (ironically Tijerina died on King’s birthday) in the Poor People’s Campaign.
However for Chicanas/os in the U.S., the greatest historical contribution that Tijerina left, that he will always be remembered for, was his struggle to raise and address the historical issue of the land grants covered by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the U.S./Mexico War in 1848. After one hundred and sixty-seven years, the historical land grant issue raised by Tijerina at Tierra Amarilla is still unresolved, and in 2015 remains a point of contention between the shrinking white controlled political system, and the increasing Chicano population.
The great African-American revolutionary Malcom X stated, “Land is the basis for all revolutions.” A political concept that Tijerina understood fully. With the massive increase in population of persons of Mexican ancestry in the U.S., that in the near future will make us the majority populations in southwestern states such as California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, etc., the historical land grant issue raised by Tijerina will intensify.
With the passing of Cesar Chavez, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Bert Corona and now Reies Lòpez Tijerina, and other Chicano leaders serious political questions are raised for the millions of persons of Mexican ancestry in the U.S. as to who, and how the historical issues/problems that afflict our people will be addressed and resolved? History will have to answer that.
Tijerina is owed a great historical debt from Chicanas/os and Mexicanos for his life-long militant historical struggle for self-determination, respect, dignity, freedom, justice, and protection of our people’s human/civil rights. Reies Lòpez Tijerina spirit—like Cuahtemoc, Hidalgo, Morales, Juarez, Villa, Zapata, Magon brothers, Corona, Gonzales, Chavez and many others that died in the struggle for our people—will not be forgotten and will live on in our hearts, minds and history.
The struggle continues – Que Descanse Reies Lòpez Tijerina en Paz!
Herman Baca is a resident and business owner in National City and the longtime President of the Committee on Chicano Rights.
This article has been edited for clarity and readability.