Elevate Difference

The Young Lords: A Reader

Before reading The Young Lords: A Reader, I had never heard of the Young Lords Party. The original Young Lords were a loosely organized group that emerged from a street gang fighting the gentrification of Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Chicago. The New York chapter quickly dissociated themselves from their Chicago cousins, renaming themselves the “Young Lords Party” rather than the “Young Lords Organization.” The Young Lords Party, or YLP, are perhaps most famous for their takeover of a Methodist Church in East Harlem (“The People’s Church”) or their Garbage Offensive in the summer of 1969. Sanitation was nowhere near routine in the Barrio (East Harlem), so YLP officers pushed the garbage into the streets, forcing the city to clean it up if they wanted traffic to continue as normal. These types of actions, along with free tuberculosis and lead poisoning screenings, adult education classes, worker organizing, and a celebration of the many cultures of Puerto Ricans in New York were the backbone of the YLP.

As editor Darrel Enck-Wanzer states at the beginning of The Young Lords: A Reader: “This book offers a comprehensive collection of primary texts so that... you, the reader, can decide for yourself what the Young Lords might mean to us today.” True to his word, Enck-Wanzer presents many Young Lords’ original texts organized for the first time in one compilation. Although he clearly sympathizes with the original mission of the Young Lords Party, he presents the texts warts and all, including typos and dated language that a modern reader may not quite grasp.

Almost entirely youth-led, the Young Lords Party organized their friends, grandmothers, and neighbors to fight for rights that no one else was fighting for. Young organizers would do well to study this text, specifically Latino youth who may not identify with commonly lauded civil rights leaders. In one section on education, students describe the first-ever meeting of the Puerto Rican student union at Columbia University: “Workshops were held dealing with... the role of women in the revolution; high school students, college students, Latin American and Latin unity; the military... political prisoners; Third World unity; education, and the media...” This article was published in 1970 but easily could have described a conference held this year. If we are still battling the same demons, we would do well to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us.

We should also give credit where credit is due. The YLP, more so than many similar groups, made an effort to recognize the intersectionality of different oppressions, an idea that is much more acceptable now than it was decades ago. They placed a special emphasis on the inclusion of women and the destruction of misogyny within their movement. This should be the norm by now, even though sadly it’s not. This anthology is a learning tool because most texts are presented honestly, with leaders candidly discussing their struggles, goals, progress, and failures. I cringe when older activists speak of the lack of passion nowadays, because I don’t think it’s any less prevalent today than it was in the sixties. The Young Lords: A Reader helps demonstrate part of that passion/frustration/ dedication, and helps guide young activists today with the same drive towards long-term change.

Written by: Colleen Hodgetts, March 4th 2011