I had not realized that the historic Chicano figure Reies Lopez Tijerina had passed away until i received this note–sent to several people–from my friend Bill Gallegos (a Chicano environmental justice activist and writer). After reading Bill’s posting i asked him whether i could repost it. I was very moved by it. I hope that you are as well. And, if you are unfamiliar with the work of Tijerina, i would hope that Bill Gallegos’s posting will encourage you to research Tijerina and the Chicano land struggle.
I apologize for not commenting sooner on the death of Reies Lopez Tijerina. Reies died recently in an El Paso hospital, with little fanfare. It is often too easy to make icons of “heroic individuals” and to overlook the social movements that produced and nurtured them. Even so, I have to admit a profound debt of gratitude to Reies. As a young Chicano activist I was inspired by his courage, his charisma, and his creative response to the horrendous legacy that Chicano-Mexicanos have endured here since the US conquest of Mexico in the 1840’s. Reies inspired a movement for the land in Nuevo Mexico, Colorado and other parts of the US Southwest. This was much more than a movement for property rights, or for the right to sow a few acres of chiles. It was about self-determination. It was about our humanity. It was about our deep roots and connections with Mother Earth. It was about reclaiming our indigenous blood. It was about asserting our panoramic cultura. It was about speaking Spanish without social or economic cost. There is a reason that, when Reies raided the court house in Tierra Amarilla, he sparked a response in urban Chicano’as from throughout the Southwest and Califas and as far east as Chicago. We all realized that it was about asserting our rights to land, self-government, and control over our own economic development. In recent years, Reies took up some bad political ideas. He also fell faced incredible economic difficulties. In other words, he was human. Not a god. Not an icon. But a special human who at times represented the best in us. For that I am eternally grateful. And I am sad. And I shed tears for Reies. Rest in power my brother.–Bill Gallegos