The Roots of Organizing: The Young Lords' RevolutionHistorians in the News
tags: books, urban history, radicalism, social movements, Latino/a, Puerto Rican
Ed Morales is the author of Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico.
The legacy of the Young Lords is something that has followed me throughout my adult life as a New York–born-and-bred child of Puerto Rican immigrants. The Young Lords’ unrelenting calls for Puerto Rican independence, their various interventions in local politics, their unyielding solidarity with colonized and working-class people everywhere, their stunning presence (often augmented by Che-like berets and street-style military formations) all shaped the way my generation and future ones interpreted the tumultuous late 1960s and early ’70s. They were, along with figures like Fred Hampton, Frantz Fanon, and Lolita Lebrón, a guide for my political and cultural life.
Over the last few years, the Young Lords have again become political and cultural lodestars. Three major exhibitions in New York City—at the Bronx Museum, El Museo del Barrio, and the Loisaida Center—have celebrated their radical vision and activism and examined their inextricable relationship with the arts, culture, and the media. The Young Lords’ status as a model for Afro-Latinx resistance in the age of Trumpian authoritarianism has given them a moment just in time for the recent 50th anniversary of their founding.
In her new book, The Young Lords: A Radical History, historian Johanna Fernández offers us an exhaustive and enlightening study of their history and makes the case for their influence as profound thinkers as well as highly capable street activists. There have been other books on and by the Lords (including Darrel Wanzer-Serrano’s The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation, Iris Morales’s Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords 1969–1976, and Miguel Meléndez’s We Took the Streets) but Fernández’s distinguishes itself by providing solid, incredibly detailed historical research, including extensive interviews with the Lords and their contemporaries. It also places them in the context of the political and social debates that shaped the era and reveals how so much of their activism centered on the same issues—housing, health, education, and the marginalization of women, the LGBTQ community, and the working poor—that we face today. Perhaps most important, she offers a useful reminder of just how central anti-colonial and anti-capitalist politics were to them.
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