The Young Lords announced the founding of their New York Chapter in Tompkins Square Park on July 26, 1969. The Puerto Rican nationalist group started as a turf gang in Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1960, but by the mid-60s had transformed into a civil and human rights movement, led by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez.
Puerto Rican self-determination and the displacement of Puerto Ricans and poor residents from prime real estate areas being gentrified became the primary focus of the original movement. In New York, they worked to clean up the streets and called for neighborhood empowerment and community control while linking their struggle to international movements and their primary mission to free Puerto Rico.
In 2015 a great exhibit ¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York was co-organized by El Museo del Barrio, Bronx Museum of the Arts and Loisaida Inc. The multi-venue exhibition was accompanied by an ambitious range of programs and events that helped build awareness of the Young Lords’ innovative contributions to the struggle for civil rights and influence on contemporary artists, sparked conversations about grassroots community activism today.
Some highlights include the organizing efforts of the Gay and Lesbian Caucus, the transgender activism of Sylvia Rivera, and innovative “artivism” generated by Eddie Figueroa, the founder of the New Rican Village, an influential multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary art space once located at 101 Avenue A.
The show was co-curated by Libertad Guerra and Wilson Valentín-Escobar and featured many unpublished photographs by Máximo Colón and Hiram Maristany, as well as poster art by Sandra Maria Esteves, and rare live video and audio recordings of some of the leading salsa and Latin jazz musicians, plus an art installation commissioned specifically for this exhibition by contemporary artist Adrian “Viajero”Román.
The overall collection of materials depicted the critical role that Young Lords members played in the environment that lead to Loisaida becoming a bastion for people fighting for respect, political leverage, and celebrating culture. All continue to be critical given the post-Hurricane Maria rebuilding and community organizing in Puerto Rico today.
This is just one of over a hundred sites of significance to civil rights and social justice history in our neighborhoods found on our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map.