with Chris Hedges
RT America on Nov 4, 2021
On the show, Chris Hedges discusses the legacy of the radical group the Young Lords with Professor Johanna Fernández.
In Chicago in 1969 a former gang leader, Cha Cha Jiménez, founded the revolutionary group The Young Lords to fight police brutality, racism, and gentrification. The Young Lords, with their signature purple berets and paramilitary formations, were to Mexican and Puerto Rican youth what the Black Panthers were to radicalized Blacks.
The Young Lords quickly spread to New York. But in New York the leaders, while mostly the children of poor Puerto Rican immigrants, were also often better educated. The New York chapter, bilingual and bicultural, soon gave their generation the language to understand the discrimination, displacement and structural racism that plagued their families and their communities. As children they had to serve as interlocutors between their parents, who often did not speak English, and a callous and indifferent bureaucracy, forcing them to see their parents humiliated and often abused.
The group was racially diverse—more than 25 percent of the members were Black—and celebrated the unique fusion of cultures that produced, for example, the Spanglish poetry of the Nuyorican Poets Café. The Young Lords drew their inspiration from the liberation movements in Cuba and Vietnam. They were at the forefront of the Rainbow Coalition of black, Latinx, Native, and white working-class radicals embodied in the organizing work of the Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was drugged and then assassinated by the Chicago police and the FBI.
The Young Lords occupied churches and hospitals to protest the lack of adequate social services and health care, including the severe shortage of doctors in their neighborhoods and the widespread lead poisoning that afflicted poor children. They piled garbage up in the streets and lit the piles on fire to protest the failure by the New York’s sanitation department to provide service to poor neighborhoods.
They had once built community campaigns and a revolutionary party, one of the very few waves of radical socialists in the United States led by people of color. The Young Lords, part of the New Left of the 1960s, fundamentally altered the relationships between people of color and the white majority. Their militancy forced city governments and the wider society to acknowledge and respect their most basic civil rights.
Johanna Fernández is a professor of history at Baruch College of the City of New York, and author of The Young Lords: A Radical History.
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