I just finished reading this book, “The Young Lords: A Reader.” I’m going to assume that most of the people reading this post have never heard of the Young Lords, just like me until I heard the song “Young Lords” by Immortal Technique. And even then, it wasn’t until I saw this fan-made mashup video to the song that I realized the Young Lords wasn’t just a title for a song, but a Puerto Rican revolutionary group from the 1970’s:
The video contains video and pictures of the Young Lords Party in action, protesting and organizing in their community. When I saw this I was shocked that, even as an Ethnic Studies college student and activist, I had never heard of them. After checking some information about them on the internet, I became really curious to know more. Online information was really limited, so I went down to library and took out the book above. The reader contains articles from Palante!, the Young Lords’ informational newspaper, as well as speeches and interviews of party member. I want to share with you all some of the things I learned about the Young Lords Party.
The book starts off by going over the Party’s history, and the history of the island of Puerto Rico itself. Originally inhabited by the indigenous Taino indians, who called the island Borinquen (which is why nowadays some Puerto Ricans call themselves Boriquas), the island was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus and colonized by Spain. The Spanish brutalized the Tainos, killing many of them, raping women, and forcing the people into slavery- same as they did all over North and South America and the Carribean. They eventually began importing kidnapped Africans to serve as slaves. Early on, Africans and Inidans rebelled against the Spanish colonizers but were defeated everytime. This is the foundation for the modern Puerto Rican’s mixed heritage of African, indigenous, and Spanish roots- a heritage they are quite proud of. After centuries of Spanish domination, the United States gained control of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, as well as Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines.
The US treated Puerto Ricans no differently than the Spanish, and the military and corporations quickly moved in to secure a military stronghold in the Carribean and take advantage of the island’s natural resources and human workforce. This led to the first migration of Puerto Ricans from the island to the mainland US. The US forced Puerto Ricans into cheap labor in factories and farms while establishing a puppet government on the island and indoctrinating the people with propoganda and education that praised the US as heroes while downplaying the achievements and accomplishments of historical Puerto Rican leaders. This is standard in colonization- brarinwashing the people into loving the very same country that is oppressing them.
Of course the US colonization of Puerto Rico was met with extreme opposition. There were many revolutionary leaders who fought for Puerto Rico’s freedom through community organizing, labor protests, and even assassination attempts. These freedom fighters were given harsh jail sentences often without fair trials, tortured, and even executed- of course you will never hear about them in any public school history class or textbook. But these revolutionaries were the predecessors of the people who would become the Young Lords in the late 1960s.
Amidst the cultural and social backdrop of the 1960s, when oppressed people around the world began to rebel against their oppressors, the Young Lords started off as a street gang in the Chicago slums. They eventually grew tired of the gang lifestyle and began organizing to help out in their community; cleaning up their neighborhood, assisting children and the elderly, and preventing crime and violence. Eventually they became a full-fledged political party and a chapter was founded in New York City. Tired of seeing their people be confined to tenement slums, given no educational or economic opportunity, drafted in the military, becoming strung out on drugs, and being oppressed on the basis of their ethnicity, the Young Lords decided to fight back.
Some of the things they did include: organize garbage strikes protesting the terrible job municipal services were doing of picking up their trash; circulate their own informational newspaper with articles on current events and Puerto Rican history; collaborate with other revolutionary groups of blacks, Chicanos, Asians, and poor whites; provide free breakfast programs for children; hold educational workshops in their communities; and advocate for the independence of the Puerto Rican nation from the United States. They stole an X-Ray machine truck from a local hospital and conducted lead poisoning and tuberculosis tests in their neighborhoods. They denounced racism worldwide and within the Puerto Rican community, promoting solidarity within their people regardless of skin color. They also advocated for gender equality and demanded that women be a crucial part of the revolution.
I was really inspired by the Young Lords. For one, I was amazed that the Party was started by youth (early membership ranged from ages 14-22). Also how they took action in their own communities without relying on government assistance. They built bridges between other communities and identified themselves as being part of the collective worldwide struggle of people from all oppressed/colonized countries. I encourage you to learn more about them, the Young Lords Reader would be a great start.
But the real reason I wanted to write this is because I believe that EVERYONE should know about them! Why are the Young Lords not included in history lessons? I have learned about the US revolution year after year during my public school education, why not the revolutionaries of our own people? Of course the answer is very clear. And, like the Young Lords, I believe that WE must create the change we want to see. So this post has been my attempt to spread the word. Hopefully the Young Lords inspired you as well!