SAN LUIS — Shirley Romero-Otero, chairwoman of the Land Rights Council, will receive a Lifetime Achievement award during a celebration Feb. 2 at the State Capitol in New Mexico commemorating the 170th Anniversary of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Feb. 1 is Native American Day and the celebrations will coincide. Activities will be in the New Mexico State Capitol rotunda and attended by land grant heirs from both states.
New Mexico Lt. Governor Roberto Mondragon, himself a land grant heir, will be the keynote speaker and Romero-Otero will be recognized for her leadership during the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant struggle in Colorado.
The treaty is a legal agreement between the United States and Mexican governments intended to end the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Until land grant heirs began taking their claims to court, the treaty was one of the most broken by the United States. The suit in Costilla County is Colorado’s longest lasting civil suit, filed first in 1981 and continuing through all levels of the courts until another appeal to be argued before the high court soon.
Rights of heirs to land grants in Costilla County were awarded in June 2002 when a high court recognized not only the treaty rights, but rights conferred in a document written by land grantor Carlos Beaubein.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo now serves as a symbol of the ways in which the U.S. government reneged its responsibilities for federal protection of Mexican Americans’ political rights and constructed an empire based on a racial hierarchy that placed Native and Mexican Americans at its lowest levels.
After the signing of the Treaty in 1848, the U.S. government denied Mexican American property rights when it removed Article X, which had validated all Mexican land grants in the Southwest. This highlighted the conversion from a Mexican to a U.S. legal system in an effort to establish a political economy that privileged those who could speak, read and write English
Comprised of 23 articles, the treaty details the rights to be afforded to those who chose to become U.S. citizens once Mexico ceded more than 500,000 acres of its land to the U.S. In rural areas such as the San Luis Valley, settlers didn’t know about the treaty or those rights and eventually lost title to their lands to persons who understood the system.
A man whose family has been in the valley for six generations says, “We didn’t leave Mexico, Mexico left us and we were citizens of the land.”