Finding their wave during the late ‘60s, the Young Lords created some of the most forward-thinking analyses of the left’s weaknesses. They incorporated the then-budding feminist and gay rights movements into their political agenda. In addition to speaking out against racism, they offered a critique of the tension between darker-skinned mainland Puerto Ricans and the island’s lighter-skinned elites.
The Young Lords’ racial analysis of Latinx identity was discussed in public long before the topic became a focus in academic spaces with Latino studies. It was groups like the Young Lords that forced the creation of Puerto Rican, Latino, and ethnic studies departments in on campuses like City University of New York, and Columbia University.
Prof. Fernández argues that the Young Lords’ use of “Latino” was first heard in public spaces. She adds that Latino was linked to “self-determination.” Puerto Rico’s fight to become independent was part of a larger struggle that included the rights of Chicano people who built the Southwest to control their land. Fernández adds that Puerto Rico’s fight also included supporting Dominican Republic in their fight against gringo domination.
The influence of the Cuban Revolution on the Lords included the lionizing of male anti-capitalist guerrilla leaders, and in rooting revolutionary thinking in a kind of righteous masculinity. The group’s 13-point plan — inspired by the Black Panther Party —included points: “We Want Equality for Women. Machismo Must be Revolutionary…Not Oppressive.”
The Young Lords soon embraced feminism, and after some inner conflict, gay liberation as well. The women of Young Lords fought back against a dynamic in which women Lords were assigned to so-called women’s work. They adopted the practice of having consciousness-raising circles from white feminism, read Friedrich Engels’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and denounced what they called sexual fascism. They fought to included women on the group’s Central Committee and changed the point about revolutionary machismo to one that read simply, “Down with Machismo and Male Chauvinism.”
The Young Lords apex came in late 1970s when they staged an occupation at Bronx’s Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. Focusing on improving health care for the poor, they demanded lead-poisoning tests for children, and worked to expose the hospital’s poor conditions. Also, they advocated for patients, formulating a patient bill of rights, a feature that is now standard in substance-abuse and health care programs — and hospital workers, who were mostly black and Latinx.