Although in the past they were seen as ‘free loaders’ and ignored, New Mexico’s Hispanic ranchers are beginning to demonstrate their political prowess. Recently, activists have held forums throughout the state, raised money for a major lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, persuaded state lawmakers to create a new town based on 200 year old land grants, and challenged federal officials with petitions, protests, and letters on all land issues.
This type of political activism is a change from 45 years ago, when a group of angry, armed Mexican Americans, led by Reies Lopez Tijerina, charged a courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico in an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of then District Attorney, Alfonso Sanchez. Sanchez had arrested other activists days earlier for meeting over land grant issues. Alfonso Sanchez was not in the courthouse at the time and in the raid, several people were wounded, causing the arrest of the raid’s leader, Tijerina. He later served three years in prison.
Moises Morales, now 65 years old, was a teenager when he participated in the Tierra Amarilla raid. He states that the movement has shifted. “We are armed with knowledge and education. We did not have that before.”
In January of 2010, Morales and other New Mexico ranchers filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service as a result of its decision to limit grazing on land grant areas. The forest service has not commented on the pending legal issue; however Felipe Martínez, who joined the lawsuit, said the issue goes beyond land access and grazing. According to him, “It’s about culture and tradition.”