It seems like it took forever, but it’s finally official: I have earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor at the University of Iowa.
Feels good. 🙂
It’s been big week for The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation. On December 11, the book was reviewed in Centro Voices (the e-magazine of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies), featured on their 2015 “Essential Boricua Reading for the Holiday Season” list, and recommended as the starting point on that list.
In The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation, Darrel Wanzer-Serrano offers both an important contribution and intervention to Puerto Rican, Latina/o, and Communication Studies, by further contextualizing “the critical engagement of the Young Lords’ grassroots rhetoric and political actions” (Wanzer-Serrano 2015: 8). Although other important works on the Young Lords exist, what Wanzer-Serrano is careful to offer here is not merely another historical analysis of the ways in which activism is performed (or enacted) but how decoloniality emerges, is imagined, and is lived through the words and actions of the Young Lords. Through extensive archival research, oral histories, and theoretical unpacking, Wanzer-Serrano’s book situates the critical importance of the rhetoric behind the organizing work of the Young Lords and how affective strategies became central to their struggle for community control. To be sure, Wanzer-Serrano’s contribution is an important one, and very timely, as we are again witnessing a rise in community based activism in these very communities.
To make things even better, the book was first runner-up for the Inside Higher Education Readers’ Choice Award. Losing out to T.S. Eliot and besting Umberto Eco and Santa’s Elves (I’m not even joking), it was a tremendous honor to be nominated let alone rank so highly amongst real and mythical figures.
All of this news is so exciting as the semester winds down. This was a big term for the book, which kicked off with a three-site tour in New York and finished with a two-site tour in San Francisco — both of which are covered on the Speaking Schedule page.
Next semester has some fun things in the works, starting with a two-day event at Dickinson College, sponsored by the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity, which will include former Young Lords Iris Morales and Denise Oliver-Velez!
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.
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”
On what would have been the 90th birthday of Malcolm X, it behooves us all to remember the impact that great man had for many different communities. Although they blazed their own path in many significant ways, the Young Lords owed a great debt to the ideas and leaders from the Black and Third World Left.
So important was Malcolm X to the New York Young Lords — a group of, primarily, Nuyorican, radical youth fighting for freedom and justice in their community — that in the first issue of Palante published in New York City (in late 1969), their initial biographical feature was not on a great Puerto Rican leader. It was on Malcolm X and the relevance of his legacy.
In this short call to action, the Young Lords connected Malcolm X to the Black Panther Party, to the politics of Pedro Albizu Campos, and the need for Puerto Rican and African American solidarity in the nascent struggle against racist, classist oppression.
In a later issue of Palante, they published another piece on Malcolm that makes similar calls for imagining connections between the Puerto Rican and Black struggles against “amerikkkan” oppression.
So on this 90th anniversary of Malcolm X’s birth, I choose to remember his important deeds and words; but I also choose to remember some of the ways in which those deeds and words had uptake outside of African American and Black communities and served as a touchstone and rallying point for revolutionary politics in communities of color across the nation. The Young Lords were one, I think important, point of uptake in the Latin@ community that helped Malcolm X’s legacy live on.
If you’re interested in learning more about the New York Young Lords, check out The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation, which is due out from Temple University Press next month.
File this under shameless self-promotion … and coupons. It’s about the same price on Amazon (which might make better financial sense if you have Prime); but it’s also nice to buy directly from the press. Click the image below for a printable version of the flyer with the discount code. In the meantime, stay tuned for more posts about the New York Young Lords and information about the book in the lead-up to its release this June/July.
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).