Latinas in the struggle

The ways of organizing people in the city have changed, but not necessarily the agenda

In 1969, when the Young Lords called for Puerto Rico’s independence and the end of the Vietnam War, their political platform was based on the philosophy of “revolutionary machismo.”

For veteran activist Iris Morales, member of the Young Lords Party (YLP) and author of the documentary “¡Palante, Siempre Palante!,” being part of that group as a woman meant having to struggle twice as much.

“Women’s issues were relegated to the background. That was unacceptable, since we women made up a third of YLP,” said Morales. “How could a revolutionary movement have regression in its base?”

Five decades later, some aspects of the struggles of young activists have changed, like the use of new technologies. But the motivations to achieve justice are the same.

“Women in our communities are still being abused,” said Sharon de la Cruz, a young organizer for women’s issues at The Point in the South Bronx. “The number of domestic violence victims is an indication that sexism is not a thing of the past.”

De la Cruz said that she feels a connection to the efforts of Morales and other female activists who blazed a trail in YLP, like Denise Oliver. She also mentioned that other struggles of the time, like defending the right to an abortion, are still current.

Morales said that machismo is still part of the agenda for young activists. She emphasized that her generation’s struggle resulted in a stronger presence for women in social movements, but we must remain vigilant so that it doesn’t go backward.

Morales also said that YLP was born from anger among the children of the first Puerto Ricans in New York, who were battered by racism, poverty, violence and negative stereotypes.

“That context pushed me to become an activist as a student organizer at 16, since I got tired of getting a low-quality education,” she said.

A similar sentiment is what led Janet Perez, president of the Lehman College DREAM Team, to defend her right to education without labels like “undocumented” or “illegal.”

“The Young Lords were U.S. citizens who were denied the promise of democracy and equality,” she said. “We the Dreamers are another generation of youths facing discrimination and being denied better opportunities because of documents that shouldn’t define who we are.”

Morales pointed out that, during her times, information was disseminated using the newspaper “Pa’Lante,” flyers, radio shows and word of mouth.

“We used the phones very little because we were afraid of phone taps. Now social media is an X-ray of people. It facilitates spying,” she said. “Every communication tool is a double-edged sword.”

Dominique Hernandez, organizer for the New York State Youth Leadership Council, said that social media is essential to spread ideas and action, but that the old methods are still in use.

“We believe in looking into the eyes and expressing our experiences through word of mouth, to convince others of our cause and struggle,” said the 23-year-old student.