Campus News - October 15, 2001

Tijerina archive aids research, offers insight

By Carolyn Gonzales

The name Reies Lopez Tijerina gives rise to a spectrum of responses. Some view him as hero – a visionary who gave new life and blood to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Others revile him, seeing him as the villain who raided the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse in Northern New Mexico in 1967. However he’s seen, his activism has secured a place in New Mexico’s contemporary history.

The UNM General Library acquired Tijerina’s archive in 1999 and work began this past summer to make it available to researchers who want to understand the man, the cause and the controversy.

While currently residing in Mexico, he made time this summer to work in Albuquerque with Rose Díaz, research historian for the UNM General Library. He helped sort through his personal papers and newspaper clippings, and identified photos from his extensive personal archive and the papers of the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, a grassroots land organization founded by Tijerina and his followers in 1963.

Catching up after 25 years, Tijerina (left) and artist Francisco LeFebre reminisce in front of a historical mural painted by LeFebre. The artwork is now part of Tijerina's archive.

Now in his 70s, Tijerina recalls details from his turbulent past with remarkable clarity. “That’s Abrán Sanchez,” recalls Tijerina peering at a 1965 photo. “He heard about the land grand struggle and Tijerina on the radio and he got up and composed a song – the most beautiful of all the corridos [ballads] written,” he says.

Throughout the summer, Tijerina systematically went through boxes of photographs. Initially, the staff hoped only to date and identify subjects in each photo. “Reies would tell me remarkable stories associated with each photograph, so we decided to audiotape the sessions,” says Díaz, who is also an oral historian.

Among the many memories shared by Tijerina were recollections of his 1968 gubernatorial bid. “Running was against my vision, my mission, but I did it,” he says, pointing to a photo taken in Oñate. “We started the campaign there because it was symbolic. It was the first capitol of New Mexico,” he says. Another photo from the same period portrays Tijerina with Mohammed Ali. “He is a good friend of mine,” he says with a mischievous grin.

Tijerina peruses a 1965 script from the “Voice of Justice,” radio show that aired daily on KABQ. “The purpose, the objective, the name of the program itself was to show that justice had not been served,” he says. The Alianza financed the show, Tijerina says, and governmental failure to abide by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was the focus of discussion. “It [the treaty] had been signed in the name of God and it should not be in vain,” he adds.

Tijerina said that separating the Alianza from himself would not be possible. “The Alianza grew out of, and represents, my search into how people are treated by those in power,” he says. Reflecting on his quest for justice, he says, “We traded justice for food stamps. We accepted powdered milk instead of justice. Matthew 5:5 in the Bible states ‘the meek shall inherit the earth.’ That’s meek enough, I think!” he says mustering the younger, evangelical preacher.

Tijerina has kept a daily diary since 1974 and his activities are chronicled on those pages. A student, Mario Encinias, traveled to Mexico in 1999 to copy the original diaries from 1974-1996. A copy of the diary will be available for research purposes at the library when the collection becomes available. It is but one of many important facets to this archive.

The breadth of the collection includes more than 25 newspapers – local, regional, national and international papers – that reported on Tijerina, the Alianza and related stories. Each article had to be identified by source, mounted and copied from deteriorating newsprint. “More than 11,000 articles from 1938-1993 have been copied thus far,” says Díaz.

The legal files presented a daunting task for Diaz and the project staff – two work-study students, Jacobo Baca and Sandra Martinez, funded by the Center for Regional Studies. Tijerina had five trials with a multitude of separate indictments. The FBI also kept an extensive file that Tijerina added to the archive this summer.

“Jacobo has done yeoman’s work on reconstructing the entire collection – especially the legal and FBI documents and the Alianza membership files, while Sandra has worked on the 6,000 page diary and reconstituting the Alianza’s financial records,” says Díaz, who adds that this summer help came from three volunteer high school students, Valerie and Samuel Armijo, St. Pius High School, and Paul Truman, Albuquerque High School. “They contributed 245 hours to assist the team with a variety of critical tasks to help move the collection along, ” says Díaz.

In addition to coordinating student work and identifying photos with Tijerina, Díaz coordinated assignments of the extensive newspaper archive and compiled the vast correspondence files. Work still to be completed includes creating a database for the Alianza membership – representing 8,000 members, assembling various organizational records from Alianza spin-off groups, compiling information on the 1960s Poor People’s Campaign, Alianza Annual Conventions, the National Brotherhood Awareness Conferences and reviewing the extensive audio and video tapes in the collection.

“We have the task of making this collection useable by researchers – to anticipate their needs. We are very excited about the future research possibilities for this collection, however, to make the approximately 100 feet of material publicly accessible will take about two years to complete. When completed, the research materials will be available through the library’s Center for Southwest Research and the inventory will be included in the Online Archive of New Mexico. The completed archive is the peak of a 35-year relationship between Mr. Tijerina and the University of New Mexico General Library and adds one of New Mexico’s most colorful and controversial figures to the collection. Personally and professionally, the opportunity to work with Reies, for me and the students, has been the highlight of the year,” says Díaz.

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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