We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords

We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords

by Mickey Melendez

“A thoughtful and historically insightful book...the Young Lords challenged the system as no one else had done before them....Their philosophy served as an inspiration for many of us.” --Representative Jose Serrano (Democrat, New York)

“This account of the formation of the Young Lords is fascinating. Back in the 1960s, a group of Puerto Rican

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“A thoughtful and historically insightful book...the Young Lords challenged the system as no one else had done before them....Their philosophy served as an inspiration for many of us.” --Representative Jose Serrano (Democrat, New York)

“This account of the formation of the Young Lords is fascinating. Back in the 1960s, a group of Puerto Rican college students learned about revolution from the bottom up—from their deeds—upon which they built newer, more daring, and more advanced deeds that developed into still further successes and failures. The young men and women grew in stature until the complexities of their developing situation brought more problems than solutions and, by the end, the movement fell apart.Yet in the time they were active, they changed the history of New York, and for the better. So this account grows as one reads until one is experiencing elements of the epic, the surprising, and the tragic. The book will also have its considerable impact on anyone who is interested in the history of New York during that great period of ferment we call the Sixties.” --Norman Mailer

“The Young Lords were a socialist street gang. They produced more wonderful writers than most costly journalism schools, including Juan Gonzalez, Pablo Guzman, and Felipe Luciano. In part, this book preserves the memory of this astonishing cadre that changed history, spread ethnic pride, and mobilized East Harlem with its audacious activism. I was there, as both a supporter and a reporter, getting a close-up look at these berets in the barrio. They were fearless. When the bombing of Vieques is finally over for good, when New York finally elects a Latino mayor,we will look back and see the Young Lords for the historical turning point they are.” --Jack Newfield

On Saturday, July 26, 1969, at a public demonstration in Tompkins Square Park, a fistful of young men and women took the stage and announced that they would “serve and protect the best interest of the Puerto Rican community.” The Young Lords had officially arrived in New York City.

Miguel “Mickey” Melendez was there, and for the next three years dedicated his life to the Young Lords, one of the most controversial and misunderstood radical activist groups to emerge from the ferment of the 1960s. In We Took the Streets, Melendez shares what it was
cf0like on the streets of El Barrio, alive with the sounds of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri but also teeming with the drugs, poverty and injustice that inspired him to become a revolutionary. Advocating social justice for all and independence for Puerto Rico, the Young Lords took on the establishment—and won.

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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

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

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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