This past Thursday, Oct. 2, the La Crosse community was given a great opportunity to learn about the roots of racial equality in both the United States and the world. Anne Garland Malher traveled all the way from the University of Arizona to give a riveting presentation about the 1960s Afro-Puerto Rican culture within America.
During the 1940s post World War II era, America experienced an influx of Puerto Ricans known as the Great Migration. This migration can be attributed to the marginalization that Puerto Rican citizens faced as they were imperialized and exploited by first Spain and the United States later.
The majority of these immigrants stayed in New York searching for an opportunity to prosper. What they found though, was the same fate that haunted generations of immigrants before them. They were forced to live in crowded, run down tenements where they received unyielding racism and discrimination as the government neglected them.
This trend continued within the Afro-Puerto culture in several cities until a man named Jose Jimenez took a stand in Chicago. Jimenez rallied his gang, known as The Young Lords, to action. With the help of fellow trodden down immigrants, the Young Lords protested the Chicago mayor as he attempted to tear down their homes in plans of turning Lincoln Park into a suburban haven. Their success was nationally noted, creating sparks in both coasts. The Young Lords experienced their greatest achievements from their New York affiliation.
This sector of the nationally renowned organization immediately riled up Afro-Puerto Ricans within the Spanish Harlem region. The Young Lords of Harlem thrived. They discovered that citizens complained about the city’s lackluster efforts dealing with sanitation within their neighborhood. The tenement houses contained traces of lead, and the streets were covered in trash. In response, the Young Lords collected the trash, piling it high in the streets to stop city buses and cause a disturbance. Once this tactic proved unsuccessful, they resorted to burning the trash until the city reluctantly gave in and restructured its sanitization plans. This revolt, although not ground breaking, proved to the country that the Young Lords were a force and even a movement.
After several more local victories, The Young Lords set their sights higher. The world in the 1960s had not yet gone through the globalization process, so it was not interconnected in the way it is today. Civil unrest represented a domestic problem at the time. Citizens, no matter their country, cared first and foremost about their own problems without worrying about global issues. The Young Lords changed this mindset. They became aware that people across the world were facing the same kinds of oppression as them. They branched out even further, joining forces with the Tri Continental Movement, which specifically focused on anti-oppression efforts in Asia, Africa and America. They did not find as much success overseas, but the Young Lords were still a presence.
Overall, the Afro-Puerto Rican organization known as The Young Lords was an inclusive group consisting of movements much bigger than their own community. Before they eventually dissolved, The Young Lords made significant steps in globalizing the fight against oppression, and the world sees many efforts mimicking the original efforts of this valiant group. Society is fortunate to celebrate the efforts this group made half a century ago.