I am surprised that my friend Billy hasn’t disowned me yet. For over a year, I’ve promised to write a few words about the Young Lords for a zine that ze has illustrated. I’ve been distracted, then swamped, then distracted again. So to push myself to work on this, I’m writing a post today. It’s very drafty but I need the kick in the butt…
THE YOUNG LORDS
There had of course been Puerto Rican nationalist organizations throughout the early to mid-20th century. But they mostly focused on the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. Meanwhile Puerto Ricans on the mainland were living in dire conditions. They experienced poverty, dilapidated housing, substandard schooling and terrible health care. Pedro Pietri gave voice to this marginalization and violence in his amazing spoken word poem titled “Puerto Rican Obituary” which appeared in the 1971 book “Palante.” Below is a short clip of Pietri sharing an excerpt from the piece:
In 1959, seven Puerto Rican young people formed (PDF) the Young Lords in Chicago. The group was initially created to protect its members against attacks from white ethnic, black and other latino ‘gangs.’ Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez became the group’s chairman in the early 60s.
During the mid to late 60s, many black gangs in Chicago were transforming into political organizations very much influenced by the Black Power movement. Gang members joined the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, and other radical organizations. By 1967, the three largest gangs in Chicago, the Vice Lords, Blackstone Rangers, and the Gangster Disciples founded the LSD (Lords, Stones, and Disciples) peace treaty. This newly formed group ran local businesses (bookstores, cafes, clothing shops) and facilitated political education in their communities.
Puerto Rican gangs underwent a similar process of consciousness-raising and transformation. Cha Cha Jimenez and the Chicago Young Lords re-evaluated their mission & took on the name ‘Young Lords Organization.’ In 1967, they opened Uptight #2, a cafe where they discussed the issues of the day. The Lords established substance abuse programs, gave away food, and organized various community events. After spending time in prison in 1968, Jimenez became particularly interested revolutionary movement-building.
Fred Hampton, the deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, approached Cha Cha Jimenez to discuss a revolutionary framework for liberation. Hampton believed that it was important to marry social service delivery with revolutionary politics. As Jimenez said: “Giving gifts wasn’t going to help their people. They had to deal with the system that was messing them over.”