LESSpeaks // “If You Want The Present to Mean Something…”

The interview conducted in this article was conducted by our FAB
intern Georgie Crosling. She is also the author of this piece.

July 26th
1969, Tompkins Square Park: The Young Lords announced themselves as “agents of institutional change “ – they
were intent on combating self-hatred and the shame of their cultural history
and identity, whilst reinventing neighbourhood spaces and engaging in art-based
community making and development. They sought
to empower Puerto Ricans and other marginalized communities to bring attention
to their issues on Latin American causes, public policies, social politics, and
power dynamics.

Speaking to Artistic Director of Loisaida
Inc, educator, historian, and activist, Libertad Guerra last week at her
co-curated exhibition ¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York gave me a feeling of being in 1969, the time the Young Lords artistically
explored geographic boundaries with fresh eyes and open minds.

image

Installation by: Adrian ‘Viajero’ Roman for ¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York.

The exhibition breaks it down into three
parts:

1. The “theatre of struggle”: The
Young Lords in the public realm

2. The Street and Visibility: Activities
that fostered a sense of entertainment, belonging and place-making

3. Institution building: Through the
New Rican Village Cultural Arts Center, founded in 1976 by former Young Lord,
Eddie Figueroa  

My interview with Libertad dug deeper into the
Young Lords impact in the LES and what the community may take away from the
exhibition:

G: What and who were the Young Lords? What were the Young Lords and the New Rican
Village’s impact on the LES culture and arts scene?

L: Our upcoming event, The New Rican Spirit reunion and reception happening on Nov 7, and
the exhibition goes into that a lot more. Though here at Loisaida we describe
the YL as “working class Puerto Rican Avant-garde.” They were a group initially
formed in Chicago, young aged between 18 and 22. Their impact was explored in
terms of geographic boundaries and traces how space and the environment
influenced them.

The YL were under appreciated and overlooked.
Their ability to strategize and work closely within the community allowed them
to discover many different movements present in the LES today, including the gay,
transgender movement. The YL also collaborated with and built lasting relationships
with a number of artists in the area that are well recognized today in genres
of theatre, poetry and Latin Jazz, all whilst establishing connections in the
Bronx, which developed a hip-hop, graffiti and street art culture in the LES.

G: Why is the legacy of the Young Lords important right now? And
why is it important to you?

L: It’s important to me right now, because
the issue is a contemporary one; the issue is on our history as a nation. A
history that sometimes is viewed in very much black and white. Touching on our
roles and rights as human beings and how we fought for our rights and continue
to do so. The YL were a product of the
culture of their times.
Their different movements were in line and solidarity
with many Latin American causes. Also bringing to light women’s roles in
society, fighting and transforming how males and the community at large
perceived transgender individuals and females. It was important to me, the NRV,
and Loisaida to capture the legacy of their after life, which comes together in
the exhibition.

G: …I think I was quick to assume that the majority of the YL were
males?

L: Women within the lords were very important.
Women transformed many of the males at the centre of the movement about how to
think differently. You can explore the shift at the exhibition.

image

Pins of an Activist, Courteously of Máximo Colón for ¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York.

G: Is there a way the community can further participate and engage
with the YL and NRV?

L: As a New Yorker it’s a mindset of not
being superficial in the neigborhood you live in. Everything is constantly
erased in this city, for the good and for the worse. It’s important for a community to understand
the layers of meaning, around where they live, who contributed to their
surroundings and the narrative. It’s about diversity.
The fact is, people here contribute whether they have money or
not. The long lasting contributions and character of various neighborhoods came
from the working class.

The character of the LES came from the spirit
at the time that is studied here in the exhibition. You must know of the
community garden and art in the area. The community can connect by learning
about how art and culture in the neighborhood originated from. If you want the present to mean something you
need to know where things are stemming from, what is being neglected when
gentrification constantly happens.

image

Festival/event posters, “generated
energy on Puerto Rican culture.” For ¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York.

I was lucky enough to come across Pepe, a former Young Lord, who
gives guided tours on days the exhibition is open to the public (Tuesday,
Thursday & Saturday – 12pm till close):

G: Pepe, how has the LES changed for you?

Pepe: It has changed for the good and
sometimes not so good. Gentrification has taken away the element of
community.  However, this exhibition has
brought back culture and that feeling of community. People have been visiting
from many different countries, showing much interest. Which is great.

Once I left the exhibition, learning about
the YL legacy and history I felt the desire to construct a more meaningful
relationship with the LES community, knowing there was much more to discover
below the skin. Take the time and check out ¡PRESENTE! The Young Lords in New York exhibition before it ends on December 1st. 

Editors note: Some responses have been edited for brevity and
clarity. All emphasis added.

The New Rican Spirit: New Rican Village
Alumni Reunion, Round-Table and Reception (celebrating the Young Lords cultural
legacy to the Lower East Side) organized by The Loisaida Inc happens
this Saturday, Nov 7, at the LES Girls Club, from 4PM – 8PM. https://www.facebook.com/events/1508374072814864/

Georgie Crosling is an intern at FABnyc. A communications graduate
(RMIT, 2014) from Melbourne, AUS. An art and travel enthusiast with past work
experience in Papua New Guinea and at other non-profit organizations. To learn
more, find her on social media @geecrosling.
 

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