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Young Lords exhibit, Christian Scott at Harlem Stage

Ron Scott | 10/8/2015, 12:25 p.m.
The 1960s were heavily colored with shaded overtones of rebellious youth implementing revolutionary tactics against an indifferent government.
Christian Scott Emilie Pons photo

The 1960s were heavily colored with shaded overtones of rebellious youth implementing revolutionary tactics against an indifferent government that always seemed to have a smirk of supremacy. In an effort to bring civil and human rights to the forefront of this revolution, the Young Lords, with founder Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, reorganized to become the Young Lords Party in the fall of 1960. Their sense of urgency at the time was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s urban renewal plan, which was displacing Puerto Ricans from prime real estate areas such as Lakeview and Lincoln Park.

The Young Lords became a militant social activist organization defining Puerto Rican self-determination in the community. Multiple chapters began forming nationwide in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico. In July 1969, the national headquarters in Chicago sanctioned New York City, where nearly 80 percent of the U.S. Puerto Rican population lived, as the regional chapter. This chapter was formed by Mickey Melendez with Felipe Luciano, chairman; David Perez, minister of defense; Juan Gonzalez, minister of education; Pablo Guzman, minister of information; Juan Fi Ortiz, minister of finance; and Denise Oliver, minister of economic development.

“¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York” is now on exhibit at Loisaida through Oct. 10 at 710 E. Ninth St. and Avenue C, the Bronx Museum of the Arts through Oct. 18 at 1040 Grand Concourse and El Museo del Barrio through Oct. 17 at 1230 Fifth Ave. and 104th St. The institutions partnering in “¡Presente!” are all located in neighborhoods where the Young Lords were most active, and each exhibition reflects on their activities in that part of the city. It explores the Young Lord’s cultural impact in New York and the U.S.

“The Young Lords had a defining influence on social activism, art and politics, but the lasting significance of their achievements has rarely been examined,” said Bronx Museum Executive Director Holly Block.

The issues the Young Lords struggled with are still timely, and their aesthetic and cultural vision still inspires both artists and community leaders today. The Young Lords instituted community programs similar to the Black Panthers, such as free breakfast for children, community testing for lead poisoning and free clothing drives. From a Puerto Rican ideology, they organized cultural events, Puerto Rican history classes and marches calling for Puerto Rican independence.

On the Lower East Side, the Young Lords sparked a brand of cultural activism and recast themselves as actors and agents of institutional change in combating self-hatred and shame of their cultural heritage. They redefined neighborhood spaces, engaged in art-based community making, created community-development and cultural centers.

“We were sharing the art, doing things together. Everyone came together, poets, musicians [jazz and salsa]. We were pro-Fidel Castro and Puerto Rico,” said Jerry Gonzalez, musician and leader of the Fort Apache Band. He was also actively involved in the New Rican Village, performing at fundraisers and adding his voice to the cause.

Loisaida stems from the Young Lord’s creative drive. The New Rican Village Cultural Arts Center was founded by in 1976 by Eddie Figueroa, a former Young Lord. The Young Lords headquarters were located at 256 E. Third St., next to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.