EL PASO -- Mexican government officials on Friday paid tribute to Reies López Tijerina, one of the most radical leaders of the Chicano movement that fought for greater rights for Mexican-Americans.
An estimated 100 scholars, Chicano activists, friends and South El Paso residents gave Tijerina a standing ovation when Mexican Consul General Roberto Rodríguez Hernández presented him with the prestigious "Ohtli" award for his lifetime commitment to human rights and civil rights for Hispanics in the United States, mostly in the 1960s.
Tijerina, 82 and in failing health, now lives in El Paso. He is perhaps best known across the U.S. for leading an armed raid at the Tierra Amarilla courthouse in northern New Mexico in the mid-1960s.
"I am intoxicated with gusto," Tijerina said upon receiving the award at La Fe Cultural & Technology Center in South El Paso amid the adoration of Chicano activists who said he continues to inspire them, Mexican-Americans and others to fight for their rights.
La Fe Clinic co-sponsored the tribute with the Mexican Consulate in El Paso.
"He's part of the leadership of the Chicano movement, somebody who has spent all his life in the struggle and continues to fight for his people and continues to make the demands that are necessary for us to finally become first-class citizens," said La Fe Clinic Executive Director Salvador Balcorta. "He has given a lot of himself."
Tijerina is often described as one of the great warriors of the Chicano
Tijerina, a former Protestant minister, was the only major activist in the early Chicano movement who served time in prison. His influence is still felt.
"Without the efforts of Mr. Tijerina, we wouldn't be here," said John Estrada, president and chairman of La Fe Clinic's board of directors.
Estrada presented Tijerina a plaque on behalf of La Fe Clinic for "his lifetime commitment to human rights, social justice activism and to the Chicano civil rights movement."
"He deserves to be recognized for all the struggles that he went through, especially at the end of the '50s and the beginning of the '60s," an epoch that was even more racist than today, said Socorro Tabuenca, academic director for the Center of Inter-American and Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Tijerina, accompanied by his wife, Esperanza, glowed as he also received kisses, pats on the back, abrazos and white carnations in the shadow of paintings depicting César Chávez and the revolutionary leader Che Guevara, two other Hispanic icons.
Ramón Rentería may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6146.