Young Lords Party: Rethinking Agency and Self-Determination (Zachariah Oquenda)

Young Lords Party: Rethinking Agency and Self-Determination

Standards:

  1. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  2. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
  3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Overview: The purpose of this lesson is to help understand the complexity of group identity by analyzing the influences on and conflicts within the Young Lords Party in 1960s and 1970s. Students will evaluate historical tensions in culturally constructed racial and gender hierarchies. Students will determine how and to what extent those hierarchies both challenged and enabled the Young Lords Party’s development.

Framework: Students will use a primary source, a video source, excerpts from a few secondary sources, and the Socratic method to assess the influences on and successes (and failures) of the Young Lords Party as a self-determining revolutionary nationalist organization. Students will discuss with peers to learn from and challenge each other’s interpretations of historical and current events. Students will be able to determine the significance of historical conflicts and relationships on shaping future generations and movements.

Essential Understanding: Students will understand that the Young Lords Party’s shortcomings and triumphs were heavily influenced by past historical conflicts and relationships. Students will begin to think deeply about how histories of past community organization and conflicts of their ancestors create obstacles to and opportunities for substantive change in the present day.

Essential Questions:

  1. How did the racism in Puerto Rico compare to racism in the United States?
  2. Why was there so much animosity between African Americans and Puerto Ricans?
  3. How were women and male chauvinism portrayed in the Puerto Rican community? How did these portrayals evolve over time?
  4. To what extent might we say the Young Lords Party defined their place and effect in history?
  5. How might Young Lords Party influence the way groups and organizations define themselves today?

Glossary:[15]

Nationalism – (1) Patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts. (2) Advocacy of political independence for a particular country.

Internationalism – When used in the context of political or social movements means organizing and advocating beyond national identities or boundaries.

Socialism – A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

Capitalism – An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

Movement – A group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas.

Colony – A country or area under the full or partial political control of another country, typically a distant one, and occupied by settlers from that country.

Third World People – People originating from the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Introduction:

Seeing as Puerto Rico has been a colony for over several hundred years, the ideal of self-determination among Puerto Rican people is deeply rooted in their history. In more recent history, however, we can see a diverging path. Puerto Rican migration to the U.S. largely came about as a short term economic policy post-WWII. The Migration Division in Puerto Rico was established as a result of the need to adopt a public policy “to follow its migrant citizens to facilitate their adjustment and adaptation in the communities in which they chose to live” – referring to communities such as New York City in the U.S.[1] The Migration Division was supposed to foster a sense of nationalist ties to the Island, but some say it failed, instead creating a splintered and divided community.[2] This fading sense of identity and self-determination was the feeling that the YLP would eventually feed on to build their platform and base of support.[3] However, internal racial and gender hierarchies within the Puerto Rican community itself predated the YLP.

Scholarly conceptions of Puerto Rico during the 1940s maintained that it was a “racial paradise, especially because of the prevalence and popular acceptance of racial mixture on the Island,” though this was entirely a fiction.[4] The U.S., on the other hand, has long been recognized for its hierarchy of white exceptionalism. Harmful stereotypes degrading blacks on the basis of intelligence and cultural refinement grew into economic stigma against blacks and other minorities. During the emergence of a new revolutionary nationalism groups like the YLP, the unfiltered U.S. racism and stereotypes combined with the lingering internal racism within Puerto Rican community and created even more complex barriers and tension between African Americans and Puerto Ricans.[5]

The 1950s and early 1960s marked a pivotal period when African American and Puerto Rican leaders began to see past race, and they forged common ground to build cross-racial alliances.[6] Two prominent examples of coalition building between African Americans and Puerto Ricans are the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963[7] and the city-wide school boycott of 1964.[8]

Through precise action “within political structures set up by their elders,” the YLP in New York had humble beginnings.[9] The YLP evolved from street gangs turned political.[10] Beginning as an extension of the Chicago Young Lords Organization, the New York YLP quickly rose to take the national spotlight as the premiere Puerto Rican nationalist party around 1969 due to a series of what they called “offensives”: the “garbage offensive,” the People’s Church offensives, and others. One scholar argues, “Every rhetorical performance [including each offensive] enacts and contains a theory of its own agency – of its own possibilities – as it structures and enacts relationships between speaker and the audience, self and other, action and structure.”[11] These active rhetorical displays demonstrated agency, self-determination, and the purpose and strength of the YLP’s organization.

Initially women were “not taken seriously by most male members.”[12] Indeed, other than alluding to the Women’s Liberation Movement as an ally movement, saying, “Right now we work with anybody who has the same goal,” the male leaders in the YLP did not seem to be serious spreading power.[13] Members of the YLP needed to address these tensions if the YLP was to be meaningfully committed to their socialist principles. Eventually, the women’s caucus put forward a list of demands to the all-male Central Committee that resulted in reform to the programs and platform philosophies.[14]

Despite other perceived failures or triumphs, the YLP’s ability to write take control of their history, to frame their story, and force progressive socialist ideals to the forefront of political demonstration was critical to the YLP’s legacy and success. The YLP was an avant-garde organization with respect to how it redefined the idea of agency and opened up new pathways to self-determination.

Materials:

Abramson, Michael and the YLP. Palante YLP. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971.

Enck-Wanzer, Darrel. “Young Lords Platform and Rules.” The Young Lords: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2010: pgs. 11-15. http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/lklichfall13t/files/2013/09/Young-Lords.pdf.

Torres, Andrés and José E. Velázquez. The Puerto Rican Movement: Voices from the Diaspora. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

“Young Lords – Palante Siempre Palante.” Vimeo video, 24:43. Posted by “Kenny H,” December 2014. https://vimeo.com/110331468.

Activities:

Day 1

Start by giving a short lecture of no more than ten minutes in order to introduce the purpose of covering the short history of Young Lords Party for its unique nature as a movement. Introduce the topic of the discussion in terms of racial and gender power dynamics. After setting the tone for open and safe discussion in class about important issues of race and gender, introduce students to the Young Lords Party through an in-class short documentary of the short history of the YLP. Show from 0:00 (the beginning) to 33:07. That will cover a great deal of the history of the Puerto Rican-U.S. relationship, as well as the emergence of the Young Lords including the personalities who founded the party.

Before starting the video, urge the students to take detailed notes, as they will be required to write an initial 1-page response paper to any part of the video in which they find interest. The 1-page response paper is not to be done in class.

Before dismissing students from class, be sure to split the students into groups of 3-4. Hand out copies of the primary source to each student. Assign each group of students one secondary source through which they may analyze the primary sources. Hand out copies of excerpts from the secondary sources. (You must scan copies from the pages of the sources cited in the “Introduction.” You can find those sources and their page numbers located in the “Additional Sources” section.) Tell them that they can refer to those primary and secondary sources to help them write their response to the video.

Day 2

Begin the class by introducing the essential questions. Write each question on the board for all to see.

Facilitate discussion for students to share what they gathered from their 1-page responses. Invite students to debate various responses and interpretations of the video, if possible including some references to the secondary sources. If students get stuck or have a hard time finding direction, refer the class to the questions on the board.

Have students break up into their groups to discuss their responses again, but before letting them join the groups split the essential questions as evenly as possible between the groups. Have each group discuss and answer 1 essential question. Allow them at least 10 minutes to discuss, and them have each group choose one person to explain to the class what their group came up with.

If time permits facilitate more discussion to collaborate ideas given by each group.

Assign another 1-page response paper that allows each student to choose 1 essential question, which their specific group did not cover, and respond to it using this time a closer reading of the primary and secondary sources available.

Additional Sources:

[1] Jorge Duany, The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States (Chapel Hill and London: The of North Carolina Press, 2002), 171.

[2] Ibid., 179.

[3] Ibid., 172.

[4] Ibid., 239.

[5] Sonia Song-Ha Lee, Building a Latino Civil Rights Movement: Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in New York City (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 23, 25, 27.

[6] Ibid., 86, 88.

[7] Ibid., 117.

[8] Ibid., 97, 119.

[9] Ibid., 203.

[10] Alfredo Lopez, The Puerto Rican Papers: Notes on the Re-emergence of a Nation (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1973), 322.

[11] Darrel Enck-Wanzer, “Trashing the System: Social Movement, Intersectional Rhetoric, and Collective Agency in the Young Lords Organization’s Garbage Offensive,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 92, No. 2 (May 2006): 176.

[12] Jennifer A. Nelson, “‘Abortions Under Community Control’: Feminism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Reproduction among New Your City’s Young Lords.Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring 2001): 158.

[13] Michael Abramson and the Young Lords Party, Palante YLP (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971), 42.

[14] “Young Lords – Palante Siempre Palante,” Vimeo video, 24:43, posted by “Kenny H,” December 2014, https://vimeo.com/110331468.

[15] For each term in the glossary refer to the following source: “Oxford Dictionaries.” English. Oxford University Press, 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/nationalism.

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