The New Mexican Land Grant Struggle and the Birth of Chicano Identity and Nationalism (by Madelyn Perez)

STANDARDS:

1) Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

2) Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

3) Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text.

4) Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

OVERVIEW:

In this lesson, students will learn of the role the New Mexican Land Grant Movement within the overarching Chicano Movement. Students will gain an understanding about the underlying principles of the Land Grant Movement which promoted activism beyond the Chicano Movement. Specifically, students will come to understand how the Land Grant Movement fostered and influenced the burgeoning sense of Chicano identity and nationalism.

FRAMEWORK:

Students will first be given an introduction into the Land Grant Movement in which they will learn of the conditions that led to it and the key agents of change within the movement. They will, then, be given the opportunity to read and interpret a speech entitled “The Land Grant Question” which was delivered by Reies Lopez Tijerina, the leader of the movement. Through a collaborative discussion, students will be required to think critically and identify the fundamental themes and ideas of the movement that Tijerina describes. Students will then examine the preamble of El Plan de Aztlán, and will, through a collaborative discussion, identify shared principles between the Land Grant Movement and the overall Chicano Movement in terms of Chicano identity and nationalism. Finally, students will be required to write a short essay/speech in which they will synthesize and analyze the information given to explain how the underlying principles of the movement influenced and informed Chicano identity and nationalism.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING:

The underlying principles of the Land Grant Movement promoted Chicano identity and nationalism.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

1) What were the origins of the Land Grant Movement?

2) What legal arguments did the Alianza Federal de Mercedes/Tijerina use to justify their movement?

3) What was the concept of “a new breed” that Tijerina promoted?

4) What were the underlying principles that guided the Land Grant Movement?

5) How was nationalism tied to the Land Grant Movement?

GLOSSARY:

Land Grant: piece of land/real estate gifted by a government to a private owner (in Spanish, merced)

Nationalism: belief or ideology in which an individual identifies or is attached to a nation (a nation could also be interpreted as race/ethnicity)

Chicano/a: a term Mexican-Americans can use to identify. During the social movements of the sixties, it began to be used as a source of ethnic and cultural pride.

Spanish-American: the term the Tijerina and other New Mexican activists used to identify as descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples of Mexico

Aztlán: the Southwestern U.S. territory (acquired after the Mexican-American war) that represented the supposed ancestral home of the Aztec and which symbolized the Chicano nation

Law of the Indies: the laws used by the Spanish to govern its colonies in the Americas and the Philippines

INTRODUCTION:

The New Mexican Land Grant Struggle was a focused movement that sought to reestablish the rights of Mexican Americans whose lands had been seized by the U.S. government following the Mexican American War. Though the movement did not achieve tangible success, it did advance ideas of Chicano identity and nationalism.

The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) by the United States and Mexico marked the end of the Mexican-American War. Through the treaty, Mexico conceded a large part of its territory to the U.S. which included New Mexico. Mexican citizens had the option to become U.S. citizens or to relocate into Mexican territory. Several offices and courts were appointed to oversee the confirmation of the Mexican citizens’ land grants in the new U.S. territory. Because the Court had strict and almost unattainable requirements, only about 6% of the land grants claimed by Mexican citizens were recognized.1 In this way, Mexican citizens were stripped of their property rights and lands.

In the early-mid sixties, a group of New Mexican citizens organized to fight for the rights to the lands their ancestors had lost. Reies Lopez Tijerina, a religious minister from Texas, led the movement and founded the Alianza Federal de Mercedes in 1963 to educate the descendants and heirs of the land grants covered by the Treaty and fight to reestablish property rights. The New Mexican community was ready to learn and lead the struggle as Alianza membership rose quickly.2

Tijerina and the Alianza first focused their efforts on establishing their legal rights to the land grants. First, they claimed that the Law of the Indies, which they argued stipulated the birth of Spanish-Americans as a new race of people, should be upheld as the legal structure of land grants. In addition, they claimed the U.S. government violated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which secured private property rights.3 Furthermore, they argued that the government was in violation of the New Mexico Constitution which guaranteed the rights granted by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the U.S. Constitution which decreed international treaties as U.S. law.4 The Alianza used these interpretations of the law to establish the citizens’ rights to land grants and to illustrate the injustices committed by the U.S. government against the Mexican American people of New Mexico.

During the initial years of the Alianza, the New Mexican activists used this legal framework to fight their battles. However, their efforts through the courts and legal systems failed, and the Alianza turned to mass demonstrations to bring attention to their movement.5 On several occasions they occupied national forests to symbolically reclaim their lands. Furthermore, they departed from their nonviolent ideals and engaged in confrontations with the authorities.6 Their efforts were popularized by a corrido, a ballad, written in honor of Tijerina and the Alianza’s revolutionary heroics which challenged U.S. authorities; they, then, became prominent faces of the Chicano Movement.7

Due to the nature of their movement, Tijerina and the Alianza were under constant government surveillance. Divisions of the FBI monitored and infiltrated the Alianza. After some violent confrontations, it became the FBI’s goal to discredit Tijerina and destroy the movement he led.8 In 1969, Tijerina was imprisoned on unrelated charges and the land grant movement failed to progress without him.9

Prior to the decline of the Alianza following Tijerina’s arrest, the Alianza had grown into the overall Chicano Movement. In 1967, Tijerina embarked on a speaking tour where he connected with Texan and Californian labor union organizers and fellow Chicano activist, Corky Gonzalez and the Denver Crusade for Justice.10 Tijerina and Gonzalez collaborated and published WE Demand, a list of Mexican American grievances, which they presented at the Poor People’s Campaign (1968). Furthermore, the actions of the Alianza inspired the creation of El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán which was drafted at the Denver Youth Conference for Chicano activists in 1969.11 El Plan promoted unity among Chicanos and called for the independence of a Chicano nation. Some activists called for a physical nation (particularly the Southwest of the U.S.) while others advocated for a united nation through control of their communities. In addition, El Plan called for spiritual and cultural unity among Chicanos. El Plan de Aztlán came to represent the fundamental ideals of Chicano nationalists. However, New Mexican Alianza members often clashed with the ideas promoted by El Plan including the method of self-identifying as Chicano or Spanish American.12 While the Land Grant Movement diminished by the late sixties, it grew and morphed into the larger Chicano Movement and inspired the further development of Chicano identity and nationalism.

MATERIALS:

Chicano! PBS Documentary – Quest for A Homeland

Alianza Handbill

The Land Grant Question

El Plan de Aztlán

ACTIVITIES:

Day 1: Introduction to the Land Grant Movement

As an introduction to the Land Grant Movement, show “Chicano! PBS Documentary – Quest For A Homeland” (from the beginning to the 15 minute mark). Supplement the video with a brief lecture with content from the introduction section.

Show or project the Alianza handbill to the class. Divide the class in two designating one half as the government and the other half as New Mexicans. Instruct students to take a moment and jot down their initial thoughts from the perspective of the group they were assigned. Give students guiding questions such as:

1) What information/knowledge does the handbill give?

2) What are the demands?

3) What is the tone of the handbill? What does this suggest about their tactics?

4) What is the purpose of the handbill?

5) What might be your reaction as a member of the group you belong to?

Come back together as a class and share views and thoughts on the handbill. At the end of the discussion emphasize the following points:

1) The Alianza promoted the idea of a new breed of people born on October 19, 1954 (with the passage of the Law of the Indies).

2) The Alianza identified ways in which the U.S. government was oppressive.

3) The Alianza made ownership claims to and rejected U.S. rights to New Mexico.

As time permits, assign students to redesign or create a new handbill. Instruct students to think about which points should be emphasized if the Alianza wants to inform the outside community of their land grant rights. Students should, by the end of the lesson, know to emphasize the concept of a new race of people and the Alianza’s argument on the U.S. government’s violation of laws and treaties.

For homework, assign “The Land Grant Question” by Reies Lopez Tijerina as a reading.

Day 2: Beyond the Land Grant Movement

Divide the class into small groups of two or three. Instruct students to reflect in their small groups about the reading, “The Land Grant Question.” Specifically, ask students to brainstorm or identify the main themes in Tijerina’s speech that justify the Alianza’s movement. Come back together as a class and have each group present on what they feel are the main themes of the piece. The themes and principles discussed should include:

1) Tijerina emphasized the idea of a new breed of people, the Spanish- American, that was born out of and is attached to the land they are reclaiming. He, essentially, created a new identity separate from the Anglo, the Spanish, and the indigenous population of the Americas. However, he clearly asserted that they were still American citizens.

2) Tijerina argued that the U.S. has denied the rights and civil liberties of the Spanish-American people through the violation of treaties and laws thus relegating them to second class citizenship distinct from that of Anglo-Americans.

3) Tijerina claimed that the U.S. has systematically oppressed the Spanish-American using violence and denying them the right to study their own history.

4) Tijerina’s argument is largely based on seeking and demanding justice. Underlying his message is a sense of urgency that calls for activism.

As a class, and as time permits before moving on, discuss as a class what the reaction of people within the activist community may have been. This discussion is purely exploratory but students may suggest ideas such as: solidify Chicano identity, promote more activism to combat the systemic oppression.

Next, Hand out “El Plan de Aztlán.” Remind students of the context of the document: it was drafted after the main events of the Land Grant Movement at the Denver Youth Conference in 1969 and describe what Aztlán and nationalism refer to. Instruct students to read the preamble and the program component of the document. Guide the students’ reading by instructing them to keep Tijerina and the Alianza’s goals and principles in mind. Have students talk with their partner for a few minutes about the similarities between El Plan and Tijerina’s speech (as well as the Alianza’s overall mission). Since the reading is short, come back together as a class discuss. Students should mention the following points:

1) El Plan largely speaks of reclaiming the lands of their ancestors like the Alianza demanded their rights to the land grants be recognized. They also both speak of a sense of attachment to the land. While Tijerina discussed specific lands for a specific group of New Mexicans whose ancestors lost their lands, El Plan expanded on this concept and described a homeland for all Chicanos (that may not necessarily be physical). In this way, El Plan advocated for a sense of nationalism that was more inclusive of Tijerina and the Alianza’s view.

2) Both speak of a new group of people. They both emphasized the concepts of a new breed of people that is mixed (i.e. Spanish-American, mestizo, bronze people). However, El Plan more warmly embraced the idea of the Chicano.

3) Both El Plan and Tijerina identify the U.S. government as an oppressor that seized their lands and regulate other aspects of their livelihood.

To conclude this lesson, give students the following assignment. Have students write a short speech (2-3 paragraphs) from the perspective of a Chicano/a activist that promotes El Plan de Aztlán. The speech should be persuasive and be intended for an audience that is unfamiliar with the movement (perhaps students can focus on garnering support from Mexican-Americans). Instruct students to emphasize the Land Grant Movement as a predecessor of El Plan. For example, students who choose to write on Chicano identity may write on how Tijerina articulated the concept of a new breed of people that was born out of Mexican/American territory. Give students the option to study and write on the parts of El Plan not covered in the class discussion. The purpose of this activity is for students to demonstrate their understanding of how the nature of the Land Grant Movement allowed the possibility of expanding upon the Chicano Movement in general, especially through the advancement of Chicano identity and nationalism. Students may now have enough time to finish the assignment and should finish it for homework. Give students, who would like to, share their speech with class the following day.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:

Bebout, Lee. “Hero Making in El Movimiento: Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Chicano Nationalist Imaginary.” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 32, no. 2 (2007): 93-121.

Bell Blawis, Patricia. Tijerina and the Land Grants: Mexican Americans in Struggle for Their Heritage. New York: International Publishers, 1971.

Correia, David. “‘Rousers of the Rabble’ in the New Mexico Land Grant War: La Alianza Federal de Mercedes and the Violence of the State.” Antipode 40, no. 4 (2008): 561-583.

Del Castillo, Griswald. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Gonzales-Berry, Erlinda, and David R. Maciel. The Contested Homeland: A Chicano History of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

Haney-Lopez, Ian F. “Protest, Repression, and Race: Legal Violence and the Chicano Movement.” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 150, (2001): 205-244.

Lopez Tijerina, Reies. “The Land Grant Question.” Presentation at the University of Colorado at Denver, Denver, CO, November 20, 1967.

Lopez Tijerina, Reies. They Called me ‘King Tiger’: My Struggle for the Land and Our Rights. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2000.

1Griswald Del Castillo, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 62-64, 72-86.
2Erlinda Gonzales-Berry and David R. Maciel, The Contested Homeland: A Chicano History of New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000), 272-273.
3See Del Castillo, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 134.
4Lopez Tijerina, Reies. “The Land Grant Question.” Presentation at the University of Colorado at Denver, Denver, CO, November 20, 1967.
5Ian F. Haney Lopez, “Protest, Repression, and Race: Legal Violence and the Chicano Movement,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 205, (2001): 220-221.
6See Gonzales-Berry and Maciel, The Contested Homeland: A Chicano History of New Mexico, 275-276.
7Lee Bebout, “Hero Making in El Movimiento: Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Chicano Nationalist Imagery,” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 32, no. 2 (2007): 106-108.
8David Correia, “Hero ‘Rousers of the Rabble’ in the New Mexico Land Grant War: La Alianza Federal de Mercedes and the Violence of the State,” Antipode 40, no. 4 (2008): 570-572, 576.
9See Gonzales-Berry and Maciel, The Contested Homeland: A Chicano History of New Mexico, 277-278.
10See Correia, “Hero ‘Rousers of the Rabble’ in the New Mexico Land Grant War: La Alianza Federal de Mercedes and the Violence of the State,” 574.
11See Del Castillo, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 138-139.
12See Bebout, “Hero Making in El Movimiento: Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Chicano Nationalist Imagery,” 112-114.

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