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Your faculty and staff news since 1965
April 18, 2005
Volume 40, Number 9

Tijerina papers at CSWR open to researchers

By Karen Wentworth

TijerinaWhen land grant activist Reies Lopez Tijerina visited Zimmerman Library in search of new information or historical documents, UNM Political Archives Director Rose Diaz recalls inquiring when he was going to leave his papers to the library.

In 1999, he decided to do just that. When archivists at the Center for Southwest Research set up a small ceremony to commemorate Tijerina’s commitment to donate his personal papers, there were death threats. “It was my first indication that we were dealing with something that was maybe out of my expertise,” Diaz remembers. “That gave me a real sense of this person’s place in New Mexico history, if 40 years later, or 35 years later, there was still this anxiety about a public presence, his public presence and the people who followed him.”

Tijerina’s papers are now part of the Collection for Southwest Research which houses the personal papers of a range of New Mexico political figures.

Tijerina came to New Mexico in 1956, at the invitation of Los Hermanos Penitentes, a lay Catholic brotherhood, to observe the life and conditions of Northern New Mexico.

There was already a deep simmering anger among long-time Hispanic inhabitants of the state, many of whom had ancestors who lost lands after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed between the United States and Mexico in 1848. In it, the U.S. had promised to honor land grants assigned by the Spanish crown. In reality, land speculators came up with a variety of schemes to “legally” wrest control of the land from the Hispanic families living on the land, causing major land transfers from one group.

In 1963, Tijerina formed the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, which grew to present a challenge. Members began to hold information meetings, twice occupying the Echo Canyon amphitheatre, that were disrupted by a local district attorney. Tijerina decided a citizen’s arrest was the only recourse against him. During a confrontation at the Rio Arriba County courthouse on June 5, 1967, a state police officer and jailer were shot and wounded and two hostages taken. The raiders eventually turned themselves in.

Tijerina was found not guilty of the charges related to the courthouse raid, but eventually was convicted of charges stemming from the occupation of the amphitheater and sent to a federal prison in southern New Mexico.

During the 1960s and 70s the Alianza made a concerted effort to document the heirs of the original Spanish land grants, and these records form a major part of the collection that is now open to the public at the Center for Southwest Research in Zimmerman Library on the UNM campus. Also in the collection are FBI records on the organization and Tijerina, trial transcripts and copies of his diaries beginning in the early 1970’s.

Diaz points out there are missing portions from the Alianza records. The Alianza offices were bombed twice in 1969 and Tijerina’s home in Coyote was burned in 1994. The records she and volunteers from Political Archives were able to recover had been stored in a hand-dug underground bunker near Tijerina’s home.

The documents have been cleaned and cataloged and an index is available online at http://libxml.unm.edu/oanm/nmu/nmu1mss628bc.htmla.

Tijerina lives now with his third wife Esparanza, in Minachoan, Mexico where they continue to speak out on indigenous land issues.