"Tierra o Muerte"

"Tierra o Muerte"

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Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the annexation of Texas, the land claims of many Mexican families were not respected, either by the new English-speaking settlers or by the U.S. government. Dispossession from family- and community-owned lands dealt a severe economic blow to the livelihood of generations of Mexican Americans. The issue of land evokes especially bitter memories in New Mexico. In 1967, the year this poster was made with the slogan Tierra o Muerte, meaning Land or Death, a Hispanic land rights organization called La Alianza, led by Reies López Tijerina, raided the Rio Arriba County courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico. In addition to reclaiming land from the government of New Mexico, the goals of the raid were to free imprisoned Alianza members and to arrest the district attorney who was prosecuting them as communists and outside agitators. The raid on the courthouse was ultimately unsuccessful and Tijerina served time in a federal prison. Although seen by some as a divisive figure, Reies López Tijerina was as recognizable as Cesar Chavez to many Chicano activists of the late 1960s. Mirroring similar political tensions in the African American community, Chicano civil rights activists were torn between leaders such as Chavez, who advocated nonviolence, and leaders like Tijerina, whose political strategy was decidedly more militant.
Description (Spanish)
Seguidamente al Tratado de Guadalupe Hidalgo y a la anexión de Texas, los reclamos territoriales de muchas familias mexicanas no fueron respetados, ya sea por los nuevos colonos de habla inglesa o por el gobierno de Estados Unidos. La expropiación de tierras a las familias y comunidades que las adueñaban fue un severo revés al sustento económico de varias generaciones de mexicoamericanos. La cuestión territorial evoca memorias amargas en Nuevo México. En 1967, año en que fue creado este póster con la leyenda Tierra o Muerte, una organización de derechos territoriales hispana llamada La Alianza, dirigida por Reies López Tijerina, allanó el palacio de justicia del condado de Río Arriba en Tierra Amarilla, Nuevo México. Además de reclamar tierras al gobierno de Nuevo México, los objetivos de la incursión eran liberar a los miembros encarcelados de la Alianza y arrestar al fiscal de distrito que los acusaba de comunistas y agitadores externos. El allanamiento del palacio de justicia terminó fracasando y Tijerina fue arrestado en una prisión del gobierno de Estados Unidos. Pese que se lo percibió como una figura que ocasionó divisiones, para muchos activistas chicanos de finales de la década de 1960, Reies López Tijerina constituyó una figura tan famosa como la de César Chávez. Replicando tensiones políticas similares dentro de la comunidad afroamericana, los activistas por los derechos civiles chicanos se debatían entre seguir a líderes tales como Chávez, quien abogaba en contra de la violencia, o líderes como Tijerina, cuya estrategia política era decididamente más militante.
Currently not on view
Object Name
sign, protest
Date made
Place Made
United States: New Mexico, Tierra Amarilla, Tierra Amarilla area
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
white (overall color)
red (overall color)
silk-screened (overall production method/technique)
average spatial: 11 in x 8 1/2 in; 27.94 cm x 21.59 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Civil Rights Movement
Land Protest Movement Led by Tijerina
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ethnic
Government, Politics, and Reform
Cultures & Communities
Mexican America
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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Hello, As one of the people of Northern New Mexico, I must inform you that we did not consider ourselves Mexicans so simply as is stated here. Mexican is a geo-political term, not an ethnicity despite it's common usage. Many of the people of older Nuevo Mejico were mixed-blood often descended from Spanish conquistadores and Indigenous peoples be they from the pueblos or the south in what is called Mexico. The greater area is known as Aztlan. The Alianza was intended to represent all those persons due to the failure of the US government to honor the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty. This is no different from the treaties that the US set-up with other Native people, and also purposely "ignored". Tierra o Muerte also refers to revolutionaries (Emiliano Zapata etc.) from the south it's true because like Geronimo, they stood for honor to represent the people who were being taken advantage of. The history is not entirely forgotten. One need only watch the movie "Milagro Beanfield War" to get a better sense of things. Or better yet, read the book.
"Before General Tijerina - Tierra o Muerte! The Mexican Revolution - Tierra y libertad (Land & Liberty) is also part of this history beginning with los Zapatistias -along another resistance with Ricardo Flores-Magon called the "War of Liberation of Baja California " under the Partido Liberal de Mexico (Mesican Liberal Party ) -Thompson 1930-32, Chapter 8,16. "

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