We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords [NOOK Book]


The Young Lords were one of the most provocative and controversial organizations to arise during the tumult of the late 1960s. Inspired by the wave of protest movements sweeping the country, and the world, as well as organizations like the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords became the most respected and powerful voice of Puerto Rican empowerment in the country.

In 1968 Miguel “Mickey” Melendez ...
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We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords

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The Young Lords were one of the most provocative and controversial organizations to arise during the tumult of the late 1960s. Inspired by the wave of protest movements sweeping the country, and the world, as well as organizations like the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords became the most respected and powerful voice of Puerto Rican empowerment in the country.

In 1968 Miguel “Mickey” Melendez was a college student, developing pride in his unique cultural identity as Cuban and Puerto Rican, while growing increasingly aware of the lack of quality health care, education, and housing—not to mention respect—his people endured for the sake of the American Dream. He was not alone. Bringing together other like-minded Latino student activists, like Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano, David Perez, and Pablo "Yoruba" Guzman, Melendez helped to form the central committee of what would become the New York branch of the Young Lords.

Over the course of the next three years, the Young Lords were a force to be reckoned with. From their storefront offices in East Harlem, they defiantly took back the streets of El Barrio. In addition to running clothing drives, day-care centers, and free breakfast and health programs, the Young Lords became known for their bold radical actions, like the takeovers of the First People’s Church and Lincoln Hospital. Front-page news, they forced the city to take notice of their demands for social and political justice and make drastic policy changes.

Melendez was part of it all, and describes the idealism, anger, and vitality of the Lords with the unsparing eye of an insider. For the first time, he reveals the extent of the clandestine military branch of the organization and his role coordinating and arming the underground.

The fall of the Young Lords was as swift and as public as their rise. Fractured by internal ideological differences and plagued by infiltrators, the Young Lords imploded in 1972. The underground was disbanded and for many, like Melendez, the group they had dedicated their lives to vanished—but not its mission. Many former Young Lords continue to fight for Latino rights, including Melendez, who in 1977 led a takeover of the Statue of Liberty to dramatize the plight of Puerto Rican nationalists languishing in prison and continues to fight for peace in Vieques.

0Although they were active for only a brief period of time, the legacy of the Young Lords—their urban guerilla, media-saavy tactics, as well as their message of popular power and liberation, civil rights, and ethnic equity—is lasting. We Took the Streets is one man’s passionate and inspiring story of the Puerto Rican struggle for equality, civil rights, and independence.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Although Melendez gets swept away in revolutionary rhetoric at times, he documents a vital, if not short-lived, chapter in grassroots activism. — Stephen J. Lyons
Publishers Weekly
One of the founding members of The Young Lords describes his role in creating the Puerto Rican activist group in this engaging memoir set in New York City's Bronx and Harlem. In 1969, inspired by the "world of revolution" erupting around them, Melendez and several of his friends decided to create an organization that would fight, sometimes literally, for the rights and improvement of the Latino community. Their first "offensive" gives a fair overview of their preferred tactics: to protest the city's systematic neglect of sanitation in Harlem, the Young Lords spent an afternoon sweeping together a five-foot tall roadblock of trash-then, in front of a crowd of community members, they set the garbage pile on fire. No one was injured; police and journalists arrived; the Young Lords had orchestrated a lead news story. Detailed accounts of similar "actions" and "offensives" form the backbone of this book, explaining how the Young Lords helped convince City Hall to ban the use of poisonous lead paint, took over churches and hospitals to demand better social services and bolstered many Latinos' pride. Melendez also describes his role in creating the group's clandestine, armed division, which became public in 1970, when the Young Lords publicly discarded their commitment to unarmed action. (Melendez left the group in 1971 after its new director, Gloria Gonzales Frontaenz, renamed it the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers party and reorganized it into a Maoist-inspired political party.) Though many readers may object to Melendez's "direct action" tactics ("rather than Mahatma Gandhi, my role models are...Simon Bolivar, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Don Pedro"), his fast-paced blend of personal memoir and political tell-all forms a valuable, if biased, contribution to Puerto Rican history. Photos. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Didactic account of nationalism and empowerment in New York’s Puerto Rican community during the 1960s and ’70s. Melendez describes growing up in a poor, gang-ridden neighborhood that still valued its communal Puerto Rican heritage. He was gradually politicized, alongside like-minded comrades, at the local colleges that recruited them as token minorities: "We all wanted to look like, and emulate, Che," he says of the Young Lords, a group that first attracted attention with a garbage-burning to protest inadequate trash removal in El Barrio (as opposed to affluent districts). The group’s m.o. became "a balance of embarrassing the state . . . and being able to present popular solutions to address the issue at hand." The Young Lords occupied a conservative church that rebuffed their efforts at social programs, then formed their own underground wing (inspired by acquaintance with the violence-prone Weathermen), "dedicated to offensive and defensive military action under the political direction of the party." This militancy was evident in later operations, like the hijacking of a city X-ray truck to draw attention to El Barrio’s TB epidemic, and a takeover of the South Bronx’s benighted Lincoln Hospital (where Melendez later contributed to a crucial heroin detox program), which stirred support from progressive doctors but resentment from the police. Inevitably, the Young Lords received hostile scrutiny from the FBI’s Cointelpro, and Melendez suggests the agency had a hand in member Julio Roldán’s death, which "was pivotal in bringing about our disintegration." Although the group’s influence faded, Melendez continued to pursue Puerto Rican rights and independence. (He teaches today at BoricuaCollege.) His memoir depicts turbulent times and exhaustively addresses the essential inequities in minority communities that provoked such strife. But his sonorous and preachy prose, seething with 30-year-old grievances, is not terribly inviting, and his revolutionary rhetoric is painfully dated. Nonetheless, these nostalgic depictions of direct-action protest may well inspire a new radical generation. Agent: Alice Tasman/Jean Nagger Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466858329
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/26/2013
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 599,399
  • File size: 375 KB

Meet the Author

Miguel “Mickey” Melendez has a master's degree in public administration and has held executive positions in the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation, Housing Authority, and Department of Education. Melendez has also taught in the Hispanic Studies Department at Baruch College. He remains a committed activist for Puerto Rican rights, most recently against the resumption of bombing on Vieques. He lives in Bronxville, New York.

Jose Torres has been a journalist since the 1950s. He was the first Hispanic to write a regular column for the New York Post, and his work has appeared in New York magazine, Details, Parade, The New York Times, and Playboy, among many others. Currently, he’s a Spanish-language boxing columnist for ESPN and a political columnist for El Diario/La Prensa in New York. Since winning the 1956 Olympic Silver Medal in Melbourne, and the World’s Light-Heavyweight Crown in 1965, Torres has stayed active first as president and then member of the World’s Boxing Organization’s Board of Directors. He was also chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission for five years. His books include Fire and Fear: The Inside Story of Mike Tyson and Sting Like a Bee: The Story of Muhammad Ali.

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