SANTA FE, N.M. — Reies Lopez Tijerina, a champion of Chicanos’ land-rights claims and the leader of a group that raided a northern New Mexico courthouse nearly 50 years ago, has died at age 88.
Family representative Estela Reyes-Lopez said the prominent activist died Monday at an El Paso, Texas, hospital, of natural cases. Nephew Luis Tijerina also confirmed the death.
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.
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.
Reyes-Lopez, spokeswoman for the social-justice advocacy group Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, said Tijerina belonged to the organization.
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.
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.”
Tijerina is survived by his wife of 22 years, Esperanza, and eight of his 10 children, Reyes-Lopez said.