The Young Lords’ Legacy of Puerto Rican Activism


“The confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has stirred a wide sense of pride among Puerto Ricans. But some the roots of that Puerto Rican pride, many would argue, took hold 40 years ago this summer, with the founding in New York City of the Young Lords, a group that used confrontational tactics to bring services and attention to the residents of East Harlem, or El Barrio, and beyond. The young men (and a handful of women) — a half-generation older than Ms. Sotomayor — deployed attention-grabbing strategies to draw attention to social inequality. They piled garbage on Third Avenue and set it ablaze. They took over a church and ran a free children’s breakfast program. They seized hospital equipment and moved it to where it was needed most. They went through neighborhoods testing for lead paint poisoning and tuberculosis. ‘Now these things — breakfast, lead poison — are considered of course,’ explained Pablo Guzmán, a founding member of the New York City’s Young Lords, who is now a correspondent for the WCBS-TV. ‘But back then, bringing environmental factors like lead-based paint into the discussion — or even connecting poverty and health — that was all new.’ Many of the members of the Young Lords were the children of rural migrants from Puerto Rico who arrived in New York in the 1930s and 1940s. … Inspired by the Black Panther Party, the militant black civil rights organization founded in Oakland, Calif., in 1966, Mr. Luciano said he originally thought about starting a group called the Brown Tigers, but members of the Black Panthers, he said, told him to ‘Do your own thing.’ So early in the summer of 1969, a group of New York Puerto Ricans drove in a Volkswagen to Chicago, where the Young Lords had its origins in a 1950s gang that eventually took on a more political character, for permission to start a chapter in New York. (The New York group eventually split off from the Chicago faction in 1970.) The New York chapter of the Young Lords began its short but eventful existence during summer months on 1969, officially declaring its existence on July 26. They began by polling the East Harlem residents as to the most pressing issue on their minds. ‘I thought they were going to tell us housing,’ Mr. Luciano said. Instead, the residents identified garbage — la basura, left rotting in the streets because of ineffective sanitation services — as the biggest problem. …”
NY Times


“Moratorium,” 1969, screen print by Carlos Irizarry. The artwork uses images relevant to the Young Lords, including ones borrowed from television and magazines, a picture of Picasso’s “Guernica” from 1939, depictions of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and images of the Vietnam War, as well as a massive protest.

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This entry was posted in Black Power, Chicano, Harlem, Lyn. Johnson, Nixon, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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