Web Extra: The Young Lords

April 17, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Web Extra: Sonia Manzano on the Young Lords. All images, except Geraldo Rivera, courtesy of El Museo del Barrio.

Sonia Manzano’s novel, “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano“, is a young girl’s coming of age story set in New York City’s El Barrio neighborhood in the late 1960s. This was a time when the city’s Puerto Rican – or “Nuyorican” – community was beginning to feel its strength and make political demands.

The Young Lords’ New York chapter was a Puerto Rican nationalist movement with a focus on neighborhood empowerment and community improvement. They played a role in the awakening of political consciousness in El Barrio and they play a significant role in Sonia Manzano’s novel.

“[T]hey were college students primarily and they decided to call attention to the fact that El Barrio was not having the services that the rest of the city was having,” said Manzano in an interview with MetroFocus anchor Rafael Pi Roman.

One of the first actions of the Young Lords in New York was to gather uncollected garbage from the neighborhood, pile it across Third Avenue and set it on fire to protest the lack of city garbage pickup.

They also staged occupations of institutions like churches and hospitals to draw attention to what they saw as sub-par services in certain minority neighborhoods.

“They fashioned themselves after the Black Panthers,” said Manzano. “They wanted to change society, just like everybody wanted to change society in ’69, and they went around to the community and they said, ‘What are– How should we change society? Should we free Puerto Rico from the United States? Puerto Rico should be independent!’ And all the guys outside playing dominos said, ‘You know what, we should clean up the streets.’”

Aside from cleaning up El Barrio, the Young Lords organized community services such as free breakfast for children and several health initiatives. They also published multiple newspapers, including Young Lords and Palante. Notably, several of the Young Lords’ founding members went on to become journalists.

Manzano said they became journalists “because they always wanted to expose things.” She continued, “[I]t’s interesting that they continue the work that they started when they were young men and started the Young Lords.”

For more information about the Young Lords, there are several documentaries including POV’s Palante Siempre Palate and El Pueblo se Levanta. They can be found via Third World Newsreel.