La Gente: El Movimiento/The Movement

Land Rights and Recognition of Place

Tierra-o-Muerte pin

Chicanos started calling the American Southwest (land that was part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War) Aztlán in the 1960s. The term affirmed stolen history and land that bonded a group of people and forged their spirits.

Somos Aztlán sticker, by Emanuel Martinez

Aztlán refers to the ancestral homeland and creation story of the Mexica (Aztecs) in Northern Mexico.  The Mexica capital, Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, ruled a large empire when the Spaniards arrived in 1519. In 1969, “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” was drafted at the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver. Chicanos emulated the Mexica, declaring that Aztlán, their ancestral homeland, is the American Southwest. Chicanos adopted the term Aztlán to describe their homeland—one lost through war, racism, and oppression.

Land rights march at Taylor Ranch
Protestors at Taylor Ranch

The Chicano homeland of Aztlán —once part of Spain, then Mexico, then the United States—had been granted to their ancestors and then taken away. Not having access to land they owned meant generations of discrimination for their people. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and promised to protect the property and civil rights of Spanish speakers in the new American territory, but land grants were often broken up and people violently forced off communal lands.

Land grant descendants at Taylor Ranch

In 1863, landowner Carlos Beaubien gave Chicano ancestors common rights to use the resources of La Sierra, the mountain near San Luis. In 1960, Jack Taylor bought 77,000 acres and fenced it off. For the first time, they couldn’t use their land.

The fight for their land took forty-two years. One judge argued, in 1965, that his ruling against their community would “bring those Mexicans into the 20th century.” Finally, in 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court recognized the rights of land-grant heirs to graze livestock and gather wood there.