Although I’ve tried to keep things updated on the Facebook page for my book, I wanted to keep the reviews and interviews collected together in one place for various reasons. So to make up for my absence from this blog (which I detailed in my last post), here’s what been up in the world of my book over the last year-plus, starting with the newest and biggest piece of news…. Continue reading “Award, Reviews, & Interviews: A Long, Overdue Post”
It’s a busy week for me as I prepare to leave town for my first mini-book tour. Most of this information is on the Speaking Schedule page, but I wanted to collect it all here for those interested.
First Stop: Wed. 9/23 @ NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center
This presentation (7:00 p.m.) is part of a roundtable sponsored and moderated by Juan González, who is a former Young Lord and the current Andrés Bello Chair in Latin American Culture and Civilization (the first US Latin@ to hold this chair). Other roundtable participants include scholars and former Young Lords. Discussion will be followed by a Q&A and a reception. More details can be found here. The livestream can be viewed here if you can’t be in attendance.
Second Stop: Thur. 9/24 @ The Loisaida Center
This presentation (at 6pm), based on the third chapter of my book, will be presented as part of the ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York exhibition at The Loisaida Center. Information about the event can be found here. Space is limited to the first 75 people, so don’t be late. Books will be available for purchase at the event and I’ll be more than happy to sign them. Here’s a link for the Facebook event.
Third Stop: Sat. 9/26 @ La Casa Azul Bookstore
This presentation (at 2pm), will include a short reading, an explanation of the process of researching/writing the book. It will leave lots of time for Q&A and will be followed by a screening of Millie and the Lords. A Facebook event for this is available here. They’ll have plenty of copies of the book available for purchase and, again, I’m happy to sign anyone’s copy.
Well who would have guessed? One day after submitting my letter to the editors at the NY Daily News in response to the terrible opinion piece by Matthew Hennessey, titled “Today’s New York, Saluting 60s Radicals,” they actually published a version of my letter. Sure, they removed the rebuke of the paper for messing up yet again; but at least a dissenting voice got some column inches.
Here’s what made it into print (and for fun, feel free to compare to the longer version that I posted yesterday):
Heroes, not bullies
Iowa City, Iowa: The Op-Ed by Matthew Hennessey, “Today’s New York, saluting ’60s radicals” (July 27), is an embarrassing and unfair smear of the Puerto Rican community. I want to focus my attention on the last line of the piece, which calls the Young Lords “bullies who weren’t above using terror and intimidation to advance their radical left-wing agenda.” Yes, the Young Lords were an unapologetically leftist organization, but “bullies” who used “terror”? As the author of “The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation,” I can tell you that such editorializing is false and ignores history. It was the Puerto Rican community that was terrorized by the city and its police force. It was the people of El Barrio, the South Bronx, the Lower East Side and elsewhere who were terrorized by slumlords and social services — places like Lincoln Hospital, which had been condemned by the city but continued hacking up poor African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. The Young Lords rose in response to such everyday acts of terror, bullying and structural violence. Darrel Wanzer-Serrano
I guess writing a letter to the editor might actually be worth it in this day and age. If you happen to read the NYDN and have a physical copy of the paper, please Tweet me a picture of the printed letter and I’ll add it below, here.
Today’s opinion piece by Matthew Hennessey, titled “Today’s New York, Saluting 60s Radicals,” is yet another embarrassing and unfair editorialization of the Puerto Rican community. You would think that the Daily News had learned its lesson after its admittedly deceitful coverage of the 2015 Puerto Rican Day Parade garnered widespread condemnation; but apparently, you have learned nothing.
I want to focus my attention on the last line of the piece, which calls the Young Lords “bullies who weren’t above using terror and intimidation to advance their radical left-wing agenda.” Yes the Young Lords were an unapologetically leftist organization; but “bullies” who used “terror”? This is journalistic sensationalism at its very worst. It’s one thing to have a perspective (even one that’s politically opposed to the revolutionary politics of the Young Lords); but it’s another thing entirely to engage in lazy, faux journalism rooted in fear mongering more than integrity.
As the author of The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation, I can tell you that such editorializing is false and ignores history. The Young Lords didn’t terrorize or bully. Their first direct action campaign revolved around cleaning up the streets of East Harlem. They followed that by doing door-to-door tuberculosis and lead poisoning testing programs. Yes, they took over a church in El Barrio; but that was because it was the only church not serving the community; and the takeover happened only after a prolonged period of petition and protest.
Contrary to to what Hennessey wants us to believe, it was the Puerto Rican community who was terrorized by New York City and its police force. They are the ones who brutalized Young Lords members and other Black and Brown people with shocking regularity (and as anyone with a pulse knows, continue to do so today). It was the people of El Barrio, the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, and elsewhere who were terrorized by slumlords, Poverty Pimps, and allegedly helpful social services — places like Lincoln Hospital, which had been condemned by the City but continued hacking up poor African Americans and Puerto Ricans. It was direct action by the Young Lords that helped to change some of those conditions and provide the people of the community with the resources — intellectual, political, and material — to fight injustice.
The Young Lords rose in response to such everyday acts of terror, bullying, and structural violence. They gave their communities hope that they could do something about the conditions that haunted their lives. Through their community education programs, they challenged colonialist misinformation about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. They directly confronted racism in their local communities and within the Puerto Rican community itself. They provided health, clothing, and food services to the communities in which they were active. And they helped to spread and inspire joy and celebration about Puerto Rican culture — all of which are things that the current multi-site exhibition titled ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York (at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio, and the Loisaida, Inc. Center) seeks to address.
Neither bullies nor terrorists, the Young Lords helped people take back their communities and institutions and take a stand against oppression in its many different forms. They worked hard to decolonize their communities through education, direct action, service, protest, art, and more. And for those reasons, we oughtn’t fear their legacy, but celebrate it and find ways to learn from them today.
A shorter version of this blog post was sent to the NY Daily News editors on 7/27/15 at 11:00 a.m.
UPDATE: Part of the letter made it into print. Click here for the full update.
On July 26, 1969, the New York Young Lords announced themselves to a public audience at a Tompkins Square Park rally. The next day, they were blocking the streets of El Barrio with trash, protesting both their unsanitary living conditions brought on by willful neglect of their community and the sanitizing force of “the system” — it’s capacity to nullify resistive movements and homogenize difference.
The first New York-rooted, radical Puerto Rican group of the post-McCarthy era, the Young Lords were central to a set of transformations in their community and beyond. This group of young people spoke truth to power and mobilized thousands of supporters in the communities to which they anchored themselves and their activism.
But why, after all of these years, has still so little been written on the New York Young Lords (and even less on the original Chicago chapter or the branches in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, etc.)? Appearing as the main subject of only a handful of articles and book chapters — and appearing, more frequently, as an aside or summation — the memory of Young Lords has circulated like a ghost for leftist Puerto Rican academics. Is it because the group, ultimately, wasn’t instrumentally “successful” in many of their specific interventions? Is it because so much of the scholarship coming out of Puerto Rican studies has focused on older histories, literary and cultural studies, and so on? Who knows; but more work needs to be done.
My recently released book, The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation (Temple University Press), is one such effort at filling out the history of the Young Lords in New York. Focused largely on the group’s early activism, I craft a critical-interpretive history of the Young Lords to help introduce them to a broader audience. Beyond the historical point, the book is also an effort to enrich our understandings of decolonial praxis and its potentials. Decolonial theory — especially as engaged by scholars from Latin American and Latin@ contexts — has evolved well over the last couple of decades. I believe it can be pushed further via engagement of particulars, of the grounded ways in which people and groups seek to delink from modernity/coloniality in their lived environments.
In the fourth chapter of book, I examine the Young Lords’ “garbage offensive” as an activist moment that speaks to/through multiple gestures of decolonial praxis. As their first direct-action campaign, the Young Lords helped craft the space of El Barrio as a colonized place, one in which broader based efforts at politicizing the residents would be necessary. Crucially, rather than merely asserting themselves in El Barrio, the Young Lords listened to the people in order to discern their needs, which is how they came to the issue of garbage in the first place. In listening to the cries of the dispossessed, the Young Lords engaged in a key practice of decolonial love and went on, further, to model such love in the immediate community and beyond.
Now, there is some question as to how unique activism around garbage was to the Young Lords. As I talk about in the book, there is evidence that a branch of the Real Great Society has engaged in similar garbage protests earlier than the Young Lords. What’s important here, however, is not the question of who did it first, but the different issue how they came about the idea, gave it priority and presence, and cultivated political transformations in the community that could transgress constructions of Puerto Ricans as a political, docile, and so on.
Although my book engages in detailed analyses surrounding the garbage offensive, the church offensive, their transformations surrounding gender, their articulation of revolutionary nationalism, and their engagements of history, more work remains to be done. Aside from a brief mention, I devote little attention to their takeover of Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. I barely write about the branches that sprouted up outside of New York City. My hope is that others will continue to add to the breadth of the Young Lords’ history in ways that scholars have done with the Black Panthers, the Chican@ movement, and beyond. As one recent report puts it, “The time is ripe for a look back at one of the most potent and political organizations of the 20th century.” Running now through October, ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York is a multi-site exhibition of Young Lords art and activism at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio, and Loisiada Inc. Through such exhibitions and more scholarship — not to mention reporting in outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera America, and the New York Times — my hope is that memory of the Young Lords can live on and continue to inform public debates and activism now and into the future.
**A version of this post first appeared on the Temple University Press Blog.
In an interview on decolonial love in the Boston Review, Junot Diaz reflects about the sites of critique saying, “if a critique … doesn’t first flow through you, doesn’t first implicate you, then you have missed the mark; you have, in fact, almost guaranteed its survival and reproduction.” What does that mean? For those of us doing work about/with colonized and otherwise marginalized peoples, it is imperative that we consider seriously the ways in which our own theoretical, critical, and interpretive choices implicate and challenge the structures of domination that interest us so much. In other words, critique needs to start where we’re at and where we’ve been — it needs to start with a look inward at the ways in which we have shut down or failed to open up the channels of response-ability.
So how does this take me to disavowal?
When I re-started working on my book, about four or five years ago, I approached the project from a different set of perspectives compared to my dissertation research. Back when I was a grad student (and a lot less gray), I was moved by the intellectual currents of the time and my place … which basically meant that I was enamored with postmodernism, poststructuralism, post-Marxism, and probably any other “post” I could get my hands on. I started my project on the New York Young Lords by taking the critical and theoretical heuristics I had been using with my prior project (on ballots as “sublime object” of democracy) and basically started reading the Young Lords through their optics.
That move was a mistake. It may have allowed me to make some “interesting” arguments (yes, the scare-quotes are purposeful) about how the Young Lords enacted certain radical democratic sensibilities and imagined new forms of citizenship, but those arguments were misguided. Perhaps worse, those earlier arguments — which structured my dissertation, my first Quarterly Journal of Speech essay on the Young Lords garbage offensive, and some other writings — enacted a form of violence by forcing the Young Lords into a Western/Northern theoretical apparatus that occluded what they were up to. My actions reproduced coloniality and I disavow those arguments.
Some other aspects of my earlier scholarship were probably fine, I think. In that same garbage offensive essay, for example, I advanced a set of arguments about social movements and the importance of doing work that examines the intersections of verbal, visual, and embodied discourses — and I stand by (most of) that stuff today, partly because I think the “hegemony of textualism” (Conquergood) is rooted in a modern/Western/colonial bias. But the other stuff — the Eurocentric paradigms about discourse and democracy that motivated my research — I disavow. Decolonial love requires that we generate response-ability and listen to the cries of the dispossessed, in all of their fugitive communications, so that we might bear witness to their challenges to the logics and rhetorics of modernity. Even better if we can seize the opportunity to speak with them in challenging those structures of domination. You can’t do that if your only way of seeing and hearing and feeling and speaking is located squarely within the colonial matrix of power / knowledge / being.
This post was motivated by the reflexive turns I took when re-approaching my project on the New York Young Lords. I’m indebted to the students and faculty in the Communication Studies department at the University of Denver for giving me the opportunity to discuss these thoughts in October 2014. I’m also motivated to post *at this moment* given the many conversations I keep having at the National Communication Association’s 100th Annual Convention about the aforementioned garbage offensive essay (and my disavowal of key parts of it). Finally, some of my observations in this post appear (and are expanded upon) in my forthcoming book, The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation (Temple University Press, 2015).
I made it “official” to my friends on Facebook sometime last month, but I never posted about it here: my book is officially under contract at Temple University Press and should come out sometime in 2015!!! The book, currently titled Delinking: The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation, is over a decade in the making. It began as seminar paper, turned into a dissertation, and has been been the subject of some of my journal articles and book chapters since then.
This book almost didn’t happen. In fact, after doing The Young Lords: A Reader (NYU Press, 2010), I’d pretty much given up on turning my research into a full book monograph. Why? Well, I had a serious case of topic fatigue … and that was combined with a difficult time thinking about what angle I wanted to approach it from. I had grown bored with the radical democratic focus of the dissertation and my early journal articles (a theoretical focus I now repudiate); and the next frame I started thinking through (one focused on nationalism) ended abruptly when I encountered a new published article that did much of what I had been thinking about. It took a stern talking-to from my former adviser (something like, “Come on … just publish the damn thing”) and a reminder about decoloniality from some college debaters to kick me into gear. So here I am, now, finishing the edits and reflecting a bit about the process. Continue on for a brief summary of the book and what I’ll be blogging about next…. Continue reading “Book Status Update”
Popping up on my Facebook page today was this story about Ukrainian women launching a sex strike against Russian men. The article on The Atlantic recounts that the Ukrainian women are certainly not the first to do it:
Of course, the women of “Don’t Give It to a Russian” are hardly the first to have this idea. Just last month, a group of women in Tokyo threatened not to sleep with any man who voted for a gubernatorial candidate who was seen to have outdated views on gender. In 2003, a group called the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace led a sex strike for an end to the Liberian civil war. And just a few years ago in Ukraine, the feminist group Femen called on the wives and girlfriends of the members of the prime minister’s cabinet to boycott sex in opposition to what they called the prime minister’s “caddish and humiliating attitude towards Ukrainian women.”
It is, in fact, a strategy as old as time. In the Greek comedy Lysistrata, the eponymous character rallies her fellow women to withhold sex from their husbands until they agree to end the Peloponnesian War. For what it’s worth, it worked for the women in the play.
I find it interesting that the article, in a U.S. American magazine, declines to make any connections to similar kinds of resistance within the U.S. Could it be that only folks outside our national borders could make such devious (non-)use of sex? Of course not! Although I’m sure there are many more examples of Lysistrata-style sexual strikes, the one with which I’m most familiar comes from the New York Young Lords.
In 1970, women in the Young Lords began meeting as part of a women’s caucus to discuss issues of racist-sexism (machismo) in society at large and within the structures of their organization. Facing pressure to stop the meetings — they were charged with “talking some of that crazy feminist bullshit” and with being “a bunch of white women” — they considered separating from the males in the organization and, according to one former Young Lord, “rejected that as being counterrevolutionary. We examined it; we talked about it; we critiqued it.” Also considered was the option of joining the Third World Women’s Alliance, a U.S.-women of color feminist organization challenging racism, imperialism, and sexism.
Rather than either disband the women’s caucus or split from the Young Lords, the women instead sought ways to resist. For example, women who were in intimate relationships with Young Lords men held a special meeting to discuss Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. In that meeting, they decided that they would no longer have sexual relations with their male partners until the central committee and organization were reformed. Denise Oliver recalls, “We knew we couldn’t go on strike because that would mean all of the programs for the people would collapse. That would be counterrevolutionary—we were not going to not do our work. And we were certainly going to not have anything to do with them that we were related to at all. ‘Hello. The revolution stops right here at the bedside.'”
While the sexual strikes, which lasted several weeks, weren’t a total success on their own, they played a clear role in heightening tensions within the organization and generating some of the conditions for substantive change. Lysistrata-style strikes aren’t just things that happen somewhere “out there”; they’ve taken place right here along with countless other forms of resistance to racist sexism in our colonial antiblack world. Such stories need to become more commonplace so that young people today have more inventional resources, what some of us rhetorical scholars call touchstones, to stylize modes of resistive engagement in our present(s) and future(s).
Do readers know of any other examples of Lysistrata-style strikes in the U.S.? Feel free to reply on Twitter or Facebook and/or leave them in the comments, here.
I’m sure, by now, everyone is aware of the Coca-Cola “It’s Beautiful” Super Bowl ad and the batsh*t crazy, racist, xenophobic responses it has garnered. If you haven’t seen the commercial, here you go:
Being the kind of person I am with the friends I have, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have started to fill with the various news stories unmasking the hateful and vitriolic responses to the ad. And I’m glad people are doing that. We should be offended at people spouting hate on the internet and anywhere else. We should act on that feeling of offense and take stands against it in online … but also in our homes, classrooms, and other daily interactions.
But we should also be careful not to jump to Coca-Cola’s defense. Responding to racism, xenophobia, and other craziness is a good thing, but we should not respond in ways that force us into defending a massive corporation and it’s colonization and homogenization of “American” culture. I remain sickened by the the hateful rhetoric spewed by folks who think that “America” is/ought to be white, English-only, etc. … and I am also sickened by mythologizing of “America” and Americanity by corporations, and through media and US policy. I worry that a commercial like this, absent critical discourses questioning it, reinforces a problematic vision of inclusion that leaves untouched the modern/colonial assumptions upon which it is based.
Only by questioning and challenging those assumptions can we begin to eradicate those values, beliefs, epistemologies, and ontologies that authorize the racist vitriol in the first place.