An Open Letter to the Editors of the New York Daily News

Dear Editors,

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.

The Young Lords' revised Program and Platform.
The Young Lords’ revised Program and Platform.

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.

Sincerely,
Darrel Wanzer-Serrano

 

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.

What is the National Puerto Rican Day Parade to a Boricua in Iowa?

I’ve never lived in a Puerto Rican stronghold. Aside from my three years in Texas and a postdoc in a Latina/o studies program in Illinois, I’ve never really lived or worked in a big Latin@ community, either. And somehow — despite all the research and other trips over the years — I’ve never been in New York City in mid-June. While I’ve watched, in awe, the glorious spectacle that is the Puerto Rican Day Parade, I’ve never experienced it in person. So what does the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade today mean to me? Continue reading “What is the National Puerto Rican Day Parade to a Boricua in Iowa?”

Readings to Celebrate Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans

It’s a big weekend for Puerto Ricans in New York! The annual “National Puerto Rican Day Parade” in Manhattan will run from 11am-5pm EDT on Sunday June 14 and the parade returns to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park with a parade that goes from 5-8:30pm. Beyond pride in being Puerto Rican, Boricuas from around the world will also be celebrating a rich cultural heritage and a long history. As I write about in my new book, the Young Lords (in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and elsewhere) are a key part of that history in the diaspora.

With that history and heritage in mind, I wanted to offer a list of books on Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans that can and does enrich and inform the coming celebrations. The list is history-heavy because that’s what I’m more familiar with and it’s also what people have been talking about in the lead-up to the parades. Due to the way Amazon’s links work, I’ve limited the list to some recent books only … with the exception of the first, which is an amazing entry point into Puerto Rican history, literature, culture, politics, etc. Another recent list includes 26 must-reads (most of which I’m not including here) that you should check out as well.  In no particular order, here are the books (with descriptions from Amazon). Continue reading “Readings to Celebrate Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans”

Coca-Cola Colonialism

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.

From Vagabond Beaumont’s blog post “Occupying Wall Street 1492 – 2011.” Click image to be taken to the post.

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.

More On the New Edition of Palante

A couple of days ago, I posted with glee that my copy of Palante had shipped. Having just arrived home from doing some work, I was delighted to see the box containing the book sitting on my front porch. What follows are some initial thoughts on the text, which underscore my prior belief that everyone needs a copy of this historic and affordable book.  Continue reading “More On the New Edition of Palante”

The New Palante Is Out (and Why You Should Care)

Perhaps I order too many books, which Is probably an occupational hazard for folks in my line of work. As such, I often don’t pay close attention to emails with the subject line “Your Amazon.com order has shipped.” Today, I’m glad that I looked because my copy of Palante: Voices and Photographs of the Young Lords, 1969-1971 is on its way. This re-release and re-naming of the 1971 Palante: Young Lords Party, which has been out of print for a long time, adds an introduction by Iris Morales, filmmaker and Young Lord, and promises to be a great addition to the resources available on the organization. So why should you care? Here are a couple of reasons.  Continue reading “The New Palante Is Out (and Why You Should Care)”

Why I Don’t Mind That My Book Is On Scribd

As part of my daily web searching routine intended to stay abreast of any contemporary conversations about the Young Lords (my long-term research project that I’m trying to wrap up), I ran across a tweet referencing my last book, [amazon_link id=”0814722423″ target=”_blank” ]The Young Lords: A Reader[/amazon_link]. The tweet indicated that the person was perusing the Reader on Scribd. Is that illegal? Probably, but here’s why I don’t really care.  Continue reading “Why I Don’t Mind That My Book Is On Scribd”

Hello world!

What’s a blog or a website without a “hello world” post?!? Welcome to my new blog and website. I hope to be posting a bit more, here, on topics relevant to my research, teaching, and interests. If you choose to follow along, I thank you.

The next post will be on “de-linking.”

~d.