It was 50 years ago that a group of Nuyorican activists banded together to form the activist group the New York Young Lords. It was 1969 when a group of a few dozen young (the oldest was 21 with the average age being about 17) Puerto Ricans dressed in purple berets and green field jackets and met in NYC. The goal was to start a revolution and free Puerto Rico from American’s bondage.
Over time the group grew with branches across the country. They organized protests against inadequate city services, gave out free breakfast to the needy as well as free clothing programs. They occupied churches and hospitals to encourage reforms by local officials.
The group has its own newspaper, Palante, and a local radio show.
“At one point we even embarked on a misguided and ultimately disastrous effort to spread our conception of independence and revolution there by starting Young Lords branches in Puerto Rico. At the time, we talked of Puerto Ricans’ being a divided nation, one-third in the United States and two-thirds in Puerto Rico, and of the role those of us here could play in the island’s future,” wrote Juan González, former minister of education of the Young Lords, Communications and Public Policy professor at Rutgers University, and co-host of Democracy Now!, in The Nation.
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Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in 1952, which González said is “just a dressed-up form of the colonialism of old.”
And he said change is still needed, pointing to Hurricane Maria, “and the devastation and tragic loss of thousands of lives, all made worse by the inept response from both the Rosselló and the Trump administrations, and the months without water, electricity, and phone service. The people of Puerto Rico and we, their relatives in the diaspora, were driven to despair we had never experienced before. That was followed by the rampant corruption of the so-called recovery.”
He concluded: “Fifty years after we launched the Young Lords, I have more questions than answers about the way forward, yet I am confident that those tens of thousands of young Puerto Ricans who poured into the streets of San Juan the past two weeks with such courage and fervor will persevere, for I know exactly how they feel.”