ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — Reies Lopez Tijerina, a controversial figure from the Chicano Movement who once led a violent armed raid of a New Mexico courthouse, will be honored by a Latino civil rights group that once scorned him.
New Mexico's League of United Latin American Citizens will honor the 85-year-old Tijerina on Saturday at a special ceremony during the group's statewide convention in Roswell.
The move is baffling some historians but also highlighting the evolution of the nation's oldest Hispanic civil rights organization.
"This is the new LULAC," said Ralph Arellanes, New Mexico state director of the organization. "We appreciate the work that Tijerina did in raising awareness with the Spanish land grants issues and how Hispanos were robbed of their land and water rights from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo."
Still, it's a decision that puts the civil rights group at odds with its mainly moderate past that largely emphasized Americanization.
"It's kind of shocking," said Benjamin Marquez, author of "LULAC: The Evolution of a Mexican American Political Organization" and a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "I mean, Tijerina violated every tenant of LULAC's principles and world view."
In 1967, Tijerina and followers raided the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, N.M., to attempt a citizen's arrest of then-District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez after eight members of Tijerina's group had been arrested a few days earlier over land grants protests. Sanchez wasn't at the courthouse at the time.
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 Kit Carson National Forest.
The hunt for the raiders involved the National Guard and his capture led to about three years in prison.
The raid has sparked excitement among Mexican-American college students in California and Texas who identified with Tijerina's message of Latinos getting displaced and wronged in violation of the treaty and law.
Tijerina has often contended that the U.S. government stole millions of acres from Latinos following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War in 1848. The United States pledged in the treaty to respect private land holdings, including land grants made under the Spanish and Mexican governments.
However, the U.S. government didn't recognize many of those grants in New Mexico, and courts have routinely turned away complaints made by displaced Hispanic families.
Tijerina became a sought-after speaker on college campuses, even as LULAC members - then mainly Mexican American World War II veterans who were strongly against the revolutionary messages of the Chicano Movement - blasted the raid for its violence. They also were alarmed by speeches calling on Latinos to openly challenge the U.S. government.
Since its founding in 1929, LULAC largely fought discrimination through lawsuits, voter registration and by stressing civic responsibility.
Emilio Zamora, a University of Texas historian, said while LULAC tended to be moderate to conservative throughout its history, it is now divided between liberals and conservatives.
"Still, I'm surprised LULAC has changed so much that they are honoring someone like Tijerina," Zamora said. "It shows how much the group has evolved."
The Tijerina homage is one of many events scheduled at the three-day LULAC statewide convention, which began Friday. The group also will discuss immigration, education reform and recent Albuquerque officer-involved shootings.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.