Lee Wald email@example.com
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 2005 00:00:19 -0700
Chicanos: Identity Recovered
Corky Gonzalez and Cha Cha Jimenez
Interview by Karen Wald
Tricontinental, Havana, Cuba, July-October 1970
This transcript scanned and corrected from
the printed original by Lincoln Cushing 2005.
The Puerto Ricans and the Mexican-North Americans form an outstanding part - together with the blacks - of that segment of the Third World embedded in the United States. The constant clashes of the Afro-Americans against the repressive apparatus of white power have had a great impact in the international arena. This has not been the case with the struggle of the former, regardless of the fact that they have a large chain of clashes with the "metropolis" to their credit. Two representatives of these minority groups, the Chicano Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez, leader of the Crusade for Justice, and the Puerto Rican Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, of the Young Lords, have granted this interview to Tricontinental through the American journalist Karen Wald. They speak for our readers of the immediate aims and the long-range objectives of the organizations they represent. At 21 years of age, Cha Cha is 15 years younger than Corky, who has been organizing his people since Cha Cha was a young child. At present Corky is imprisoned in Los Angeles, charged with illegal transportation of arms in a truck during the Chicano Moratorium last August. Cha Cha is now facing trial on several charges for "batteries on police officers."
Corky Gonzalez, can you tell us how the Chicano movement got started. in this country? What is the Chicano movement?
Well, I would say it began after the Mexican-American war. Land stealing in New Mexico, Texas, and California was an issue. There have been many people who have resisted, many people have taken part in the movement. I feel the new movement is coming out of the understanding of the youth and older people who have been through the maze of trying to find corrective measures to fight racism and exploitation and suppression. But you'll find another very important factor is the identity issue: the Chicano movement is now identifying as a group, and identifying with the total problem across the Southwest and in any Chicano barrio, across the country. Once you get involved you realize that we have the same problems as other minority groups who are starting to struggle and we come together on that common denominator.
The Chicano movement grew out of the lack of employment, the raping and stealing of our lands, the political and economic exploitation of our labor and our joblessness. When we are no longer willing to be exploited, we go into the city where we can't compete on a technological level. Many of our people then go through the welfare system or through the institutions - meaning the court system and the penal institutions - or the armed forces, in an effort to gain some kind of economic support. Inside these institutions we support the economy of this nation by creating employment field for social scientists, social welfare workers, as well as an employment fields for penal institution people, for the court system, the counseling system, for the program system. We become a microbe for the scientists who make studies to keep their pockets full and their bellies full.
But on all levels people are starting to say: "ya basta" and they're not going to take it anymore. They're trying to understand what exploitation is. We have the big job of educating our own people who are swayed by the mass media, and influenced and brainwashed through the schools. We have the job of starting to attack and fight the educational system, which is irrelevant even to the Anglo youth of this country and, therefore, doubly irrelevant to the mexicano, the puertorriqueño, the Indian, or the black man. This is where they control the mind and where what we call "psychological and cultural genocide" is perpetrated. We have to defeat that monster first in the schools because that is where it first contacts the child's mind. We have to educate the people in the barrios, in the communities, in the pueblos.
We have the right to rule ourselves and make our own decisions. To do this we need different techniques to prepare people. We have to use all the tools that we can muster: identification, nationalism, using the common problems, the common denominator. Some of the issues that come up are the emotional issues of police brutality and police-statism. Also unemployment - the fact' that economically we're at the bottom of the ladder. We have the highest dropout rate because the educational system is irrelevant to us and because we reject it or we're rejected.
We have to politicize our people: not to make them politicians involved in a political party but to be aware of the variety of problems that affect us as we get involved nationally or even locally. We teach people to understand what is happening internationally so that we can relate to oppressed people across the world. They've witnessed the black man's advancement; they've witnessed some of the strategies and techniques used, and then some of ours have been the same. We should look toward creating a nation, a congress, perhaps toward holding a plebiscite, to control and rule our own lives.
We don't want just equal citizenship, because even the "majority" of this nation has no say-so about controlling their own lives. If this society does not provide what we want, we'll have to create our own society. And we can't do it with a majority. In a "democratic" society the majority rules, therefore, as a "minority" we have no say-so. We may get some window dressing up there which they use to buy off our votes or as payoff for the masses of the people but it doesn't give the people a share in the economy. Our birthright is not just our citizenship but our right to take over ownership of the economy and the gains and the produce of this nation. If there's no equality on that level then it is our duty to create a new society. The society is corrupt and it's decaying and it's neurotic; our politicians are hypocritical - no one can believe a politician anymore, not even the guys who vote for him. The mass media is controlled by the industrialists so that means they control the politicians.
We have to create our own society. And in creating your own Society you have to create your own nation. Our name for the Southwest is Aztlan. We have created a Plan de Aztlan, a plan of liberation, which means that we control our own resources, create an awareness for control of our own communities, create our own economic base, create our own independent political party, and to take over the institutions. And we feel that the future is moving toward the creation of a nation.
Could you explain what the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was and trace what that fight has been about?
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed after the Mexican-American war in 1848. It protected cultural rights and it granted and supported the land ownership of people who stayed in this country after the Mexican-American war. If they stayed a year they were granted full citizenship.
Article 10 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is not to be found in the libraries and it is claimed that the reason they don't have it is because article 3 of the Louisiana Purchase has the same wording. It guarantees, the use of the French language in the Louisiana Purchase, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guarantees the use of the Spanish language. But I understand - and I have yet to see a copy of article 10 - that it has to do with more than just language, with the land grant issue as well. But it is not there for us to read, and it has never been taught to our children.
We were taken over and we were colonized as much as Algeria was by France. If the Jews can form a congress without a nation and a plebiscite and go to the UN and have the UN imperialists cut a piece of land out of Arabia and say: "This is Israel," then We can say: "This is Aztlan," and we are free.
Now it is a matter of educating our people to a different point of view; if they want freedom they have to fight for it, if they Want community control then they have to start to develop it around an economic, cultural, and political identity.
In this society, they do not concede anything without retaining control. If the majority of society were intelligent and willing and humanitarian enough to understand the inequities, it would share and allow US to take an equal part in making the decisions for this - nation. When we do move that far they seem to be intimidated and react in a violent fashion - which means they bring the police, the National Guard, and the army down to suppress us. That means we can't be equal as long as the other man has a gun and we don't have one. It the man in front of us with a gun says we're not equal, we're equal when we have one in our hand.
We are looking toward a more militant and revolutionary movement instead of pleading or waiting for charity and humanism from this society because it's not there. We have to hold onto our positive values, drop our old traditional hang ups and the traditional cultural weights that keep us from moving ahead as a group and from understanding what we have to do to gain freedom and liberation.
Has there been a specific struggle oriented around the land issue and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo?
Definitely so. It has been going on since 1848. The United States, using the foreign tax law, went to Chicano miners and farmers and said: "You haven't been paying your taxes; therefore you're a foreigner, so you have to get off the land." There has been fighting and rebelling against this in New Mexico, and Texas, and California, for a long time.
But the man and the group that brought this to international as well as national awareness was Reies Tijerina, who created the Alianza de Pueblos Libres. He used the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Law of the Indies as the basis for recreating the pueblos libres that had provided land grants to the village people In the hills: a system of collective rather than private ownership - the whole community owned everything.' There are many Mexican land grants in California and Texas. People like Austin and Houston gave up their citizenship and became Mexican citizens in order to get these land grants, and then got together with the United States; and because they were leaning toward slavery, they seceded from Mexico - with the help of the United States using the concept of "Manifest Destiny" to cover up their military land expansionism.
Tijerina is now, at the present time, in jail for having had the courage of stand up and say, "this is our land," to try to organize the pueblos libres, to get the people to become aware of how they'd been cheated and robbed in the courts and how the court system operates. In doing this he has really placed himself in a dangerous position. At the present time he's doing two years; he has already appealed it and the appeal has been denied. He has three more years of a new sentence, that he's now appealing. He has some 36 to 40 cases out of the Tierra Amarilla "raid" when he and some of his followers took over the courthouse to make citizens' arrests and were about to make a citizens' arrest of the District Attorney, who has given them a bad time.
The Alianza is still looking for a plan or method to achieve liberation. After we formulated Plan de Aztlan, we developed the Puntos de Accion, points to create awareness and involvement in action, because many people don't really get educated and politicized until they are involved in action.
Can you tell us the meaning of "Aztlan"?
"Aztlan" is an Indian name for the northern territories of Mexico, which is the US Southwest, and from which, supposedly, the Chichimecas came, led by Netzahualcoyotl, who went into Mexico. They became the Mexica, the Aztecs who became the rulers of Mexico. When we wrote the Plan we didn't want to make it a plan of anyone city, we wanted it to be a regional thing so that we could all identify with it, instead of trying to identify with one certain place, so we could bring our minds and our bodies together. We wanted the Indians to identify with it, too. I feel that it's now catching on. The actions which we called on September 16, which we designated as Liberation Day to coincide with the independence of Mexico, were very successful in many places; it started the spark in many more places and the coals are still burning. In our state, Colorado, our students walked out of 21 schools in the Denver area and 15 other schools across the state. In Texas, places like Houston and Abilene also saw continued actions. In California, Hayward did a tremendous job, and San Jose had the biggest number of students who walked out to protest the educational system. By protesting the educational system we're also protesting the fact that our lives are controlled by somebody else. In protesting the educational system we show that we will become independent.
What is the purpose of this national Chicano symposium held here In Hayward? We came together to discuss the formation of an independent political party.
This first meeting here in Hayward was to feel the pulse of the people and see what they thought of the idea. It seems to be becoming very popular. By spring we should be ready to invite all groups to attend a founding conference, so that there will be total representation. Then we will formulate the programs. Revolutions and movements, to my way of thinking, are usually not completely successful when the masses of the people never understand what the revolution is all about - when some intellectuals behind a closed-door session make the plans, while the people are bleeding. And the revolutionaries bleed and the politicos get fat.
This is what's happened in Mexico - everything exists for Mexico City. All the laws and most of the decisions are made there, and it doesn't affect the poor in the fields. Agrarian land reform is 50 years behind its time. The masses of the people do not get involved and do not understand. To gain freedom you first have to understand how you're going to get it, and you understand what part you're going to play after you get it. The problem IS that most people do not make the decisions (and that's the problem in this country). A very small class of industrialists and Wall Street bankers make all the decisions for this country. The people think they're free but they're not free. Middle-class people think that they're affluent but they're not affluent with 30-year mortgages to live up to and 46 months to pay for their new car and two years to pay for their furniture. They're never really free and they're caught up in a very unreal world, an artificial world, a mechanical world so that they really don't live. The poor at least have the culture of knowing how to live and how to exist regardless of what they have on their backs or in their pockets.
We hope to bring the college student back to the community " to give his expertise not as an exploiter but as a contributor. I feel that we can spread the philosophy of oneness, of taking care of ourselves. We can no longer let them create a welfare system that only takes care of the administrators of that system. We can no longer allow them to create a school system that provides employment for their teachers and miseducation for our children. We can no longer allow them to direct our lives, to use us as cannon fodder for their economic wars. There have been no political wars coming out of this country. They've all been economic. When we as people learn this, they can no longer send us to South America to protect Rockefeller s Standard Oil and his banana plantations and Anaconda Company's copper at the expense of killing another mestizo like ourselves, who has our same Identity, our same cultural background. They can't use us for this.
Some of our young people are now proving this with their resistance to the armed forces. They're saying "no." They're willing to go to court, they're willing to go to jail. We hope that they're creating a leadership consciousness and a social consciousness among all the young people, who are going back to the communities, to offer a new road to liberation. And it will have to be at any cost. It will have to be, because this society will not give you anything, and we don't want them to give us anything. We want to take what is ours, and if we have to take it, we will take it at any cost.
The oppressed peoples in many other countries have been finding that in order to achieve their liberation they have to resort to armed struggle. Are you saying that here, too, there will have to be armed struggle, or do you think the conditions exist in this country so that the oppressed peoples of the US could achieve the reforms they want peacefully?
As the society stands now about the only thing they're afraid to lose is their money or their blood, and sometimes their money more than their blood. The young people are a very important factor. The young people of this nation are the ones that will be the middle-class society in the next ten or fifteen years. It's up to how they react to the demands and needs of the poor and the minorities. That's why I say there can be a social revolution and ~ change of the system. But if there isn't enough radical education among these young people who will go into the middle class, then the only thing that the majority of the society controlled y the ruling class can think of is to resort to violence to hold US back. And the only thing you can do when someone faces you with violence is to return violence.
Agnew and Nixon are trying to polarize the country; if there's a demonstration they have policemen, they have the National Guard. We went on a parade, a march in Denver, they had all the National Guard hiding on the outskirts of the city. They had a refugee camp set up for refugees. They thought there was going to be a war because we were going to have children march. This comes from a secret report I got through underground channels. We understand how paranoid they are. They must be paranoid because they have something they think they're going to lose. So if they're going to be paranoid just' because you demand freedom' then you're going to have to fight, for that, and you can't do it by talking with idiots.
What does the term "Chicano" mean? Does the Chicano movement include only Mexican-Americans, or is it broader than that?
I would say it's broader than that. We have had a problem of identification. We have been españoles, we have been Spanish-Americans, we have been hispanos. In most cases, the majority of our people have been mexicanos, and have related' tob~ing Mexican-American. The word "Chicano" is more like a liberation, phrase that the young people are identifying with. First of al1, because the gringo didn't give it to us. It is not a hyphenated word. We are what Vasconcelos called "la raza cosmica." We are the truly integrated peoples of two continents - very much like all of South America and Mexico, in that we are a variety of' Indian intermarried with Spanish. We are mestizo and we are mulatto and we are all of those things that comprise a group which has the same cultural identity. "Chicano" becomes a word, of a movement person; they identify with it, and we popularize it, even though some old people don't like the term. The term is beginning to be recognized internationally. Some Mexican students we've talked to refer to us as "los chicanos, los hermanos de Norteamerica." You can take any person, whether they be ugly or beautiful, and you can identify the person as being worthwhile and beautiful - it doesn't matter what the outward look is. It's the same with a word. The word isn't as important as what it stands for, and what the word "Chicano" stands for is a movement person of la raza.
What is the organization Crusade for Justice? Do the Chicano organizations that are struggling for their liberation today have any formal or informal coalitions. with other groups of oppressed peoples?
The Crusade for Justice is a human rights, civil rights, social services, and cultural organization involving the whole family unit, from the smallest baby to the oldest person in the organization. There's no generation gap; we develop leadership from every level, from grade school to high school to college to the adult. We understand the value of regional identity, but we want to destroy regional barriers. We understand the value of barrio differences, but we want to destroy the barriers within the barrios, the communities, and the total nation. We have a tremendous relationship especially with youth groups that identify with what we're doing across the nation. MAYO has formed coalitions with us - MAYO is the Mexican-American Youth Organization, a militant group in Texas. We communicate with MECHA (Movimiento Estudiantil de Chicanos de Aztlan - Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) and with UMAS (United Mexican-American Students). The UMAS students of Colorado identify with some of the things that we do and we support them in their movements in the university or the community. If there is an issue that we feel is important, we'll support it.
Communications among the groups is one of the biggest problems in our country. It is difficult for our people to understand
what's going on because the mass media don't allow us to know what's happening to one another in other areas. Denver doesn't know what's going on in Los Angeles. Los Angeles doesn't know what's going on in Denver, or San Antonio. The mass media prevent it because in printing this they would bring us together. We are now able to communicate by using the college circuit. We had a youth conference without any establishment press, without any information except a sort of grapevine, which 15000 students from across the country attended.
No government money comes to our organization, we don't get any money from the Church, we don't get any money from any rich angels, because we refuse to allow anybody to direct or control us. The people that work make the decisions and the people are the ones who support the organization with their own sweat and blood and activities.
We went to New Mexico to support the Alianza when they first had their problems. We worked with the campesinos and Cesar Chavez in Delano when he started a huelga some years back and we do work with his boycott representatives. We try to support every issue that helps our people. In some cases, social services are like a band-aid. We understand that, but we must take care of the immediate needs of people: hunger, and lack of housing and a job, and being used by the institutions or being pushed around by the social service agencies and we also give legal support and secure bond for people that we consider are political prisoners. In most cases our people are political prisoners. We feel that we've created a tremendous contact. The Black Berets of San Jose are very close to us and we keep in communication with the Brown Berets. There are more security groups (like the paramilitary Brown Berets) sprouting up, not only here but all the way to Detroit, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Are all of these groups Chicano or Latino groups?
The groups I've mentioned are all Chicano groups. We've also made contact with the Young Lords, who have become a national Puerto Rican organization. Also before that we had had contact with other Puerto Rican groups. The Young Lords seem to have advanced the furthest in awareness and in politicizing their actions, and we have very close contact with them. There are no formal treaties, no formal signings, we just come together in a common cause.
Are there any working relationships with black and white groups?
We have working relationships on major issues with black people. We took part in the Poor People's Campaign. We have probably closer contact with the black militants because we are able to identify more easily with them in the same type of struggle. Some SDS students work very closely with us. We work with very few of the liberals, and of course, like all minority groups, we're suspicious of even the radical whites until they prove themselves. When you say "black militants" are you referring to any particular groups? Yes. I would say that we're not caught in the middle, but we do have friends who are part of US and who are black nationalists, we have friends who are with SNCC, and we have friends who are Black Panthers. Maybe we're the neutralizing force in the future. But we do have friends in all those three groups, plus in the community, and on central and major issues, we do work together.
Do you foresee any growing relationship with movements of other countries in the Third World?
Definitely. As we politicize our own community, our own people start to relate the problems of underdeveloped countries to the same problems here. We are a colonized country. We know that Puerto Rico must be free. We know that our Indian brothers have to have their own freedom, we understand the black man's struggle, even better and understand Africa and Asia and Latin America, and the exploitation and the rape of a country's resources and its manpower, There's no escaping it, once you become involved and once you understand it. Ours is a job of educating.
Could you expand a bit on the project of creating an independent Chicano political party?
The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are one animal with two heads eating out of the same trough. Anything they deal in is in their vested interest because they both have money and shares in the same corporation. They both have people sitting on the same boards and commissions of the banks and corporation and the industries. They both make money off of war. They're both against the underdeveloped countries. They are the ones that control our lives. We have no say-so whatsoever. Elections are controlled by the mass media which are bought off by the people with money, and, therefore, the politicians are elected by hypnotism through the mass media, and are not the popular selection of the people.
With only a two-party system you don't have too much to choose from, besides the fact that, as I said before, they are the same animal anyway. We decided that in order to create this independent party we had to build it on a program of real, gut issues, and the necessities of the people. This will be one method of fighting on issues that are important to the people, which will create a stronger independent party, and stronger unity in the movement. I don't think that the demands of our people can be met and realized through the political system of this country. I don't feel they can be met because of the vested Interests of both parties and because there are no mechanisms within those parties to create a means for us to share in the economy and the wealth of this country, There are no mechanisms within it to give us for sure, guaranteed housing without our paying for it the rest of our lives or without having the financier make all the money off the high interest rates or even the lower interest rates guaranteed by the Government. We cannot have an equal base of taxation when the poor people pay more in sales tax than the rich people pay in income tax. We have to reverse our whole trend of thought: we own part of this society and part of the economy. Therefore, nobody is going to tell us that they're giving us something. We're going to have to take it.
Do you have any message you want to send to the Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America?
Yes. I would say that we support their struggle and that we will be identifying with it on a mass basis, as soon as we can educate people to the knowledge that they are our brothers, not our enemies as we are taught by the propaganda in this country. I think that all oppressed people have the same thing in common and that they will all be supporting each other.
Cha Cha Jimenez: I'm going to address the next questions to you. Is Cha Cha Jimenez your real name or is that a nickname?
Cha Cha is the name that I had when we were a street gang and that was the name that was given to me because we used to dance a lot and so I got that name and kept it.
How did the Puerto Ricans get involved in the movement? How has the Puerto Rican movement in this country been formed?
The Puerto Rican movement in this country has been formed for a long time. What we say is that we were all revolutionaries from the time of birth. We've always been fighting against the system in any way we can. Especially the Young Lords. We were if street gang; most of us have been in jail half of our lives, for fighting, more or less, for resisting. The Young Lords organization made a change in January of 1969. The change came about by going around and reading some newspapers and some articles concerning the Black Panther Party here in the United States, and reading about the Brown Berets, which is a Chicano organization.
What do you mean when you say that you are a "revolutionary" group? How does that follow from a gang-type group? How have you been politicized?
We've politicized ourselves by sitting down among ourselves and talking about some of the problems in the neighborhood. What I mean by "revolutionary" is that we're working toward a revolution, not only in Puerto Rico, but also in the Puerto Rican colony right here in the United States. We're looking for independence for Puerto Rico but also an international world struggle, an international revolution. We say we're revolutionaries like the Cuban people might say they're communists although they have no communism yet, no true communism. We're moving toward becoming revolutionaries, toward making a revolution, like they're moving toward being communists.
How does the Young Lords organization and the Puerto Rican movement here relate to the movement for independence in Puerto Rico?
We relate to the movement for independence in Puerto Rico cause we are Puerto Ricans, most of us were born in Puerto Rico. The experiences that we've had over here, in "the land of the free, the home of the brave," the way that we live, the conditions that we're living in, the fact that we were fighting each other, fighting our own brothers (we're made to fight our own brothers) the fact that we're living in a world of "highness," a world where we stayed drugged up all the time because of our problems, because we're frustrated with life over here, those facts and some other facts are why we can relate to the independence of Puerto Rico. We cannot live under a colony. We want to be independent. We want to be free. We want to be liberated here and we want our people to be free and liberated at home.
Do you have any direct contact with any of the liberation groups in Puerto Rico?
I just came back from Puerto Rico. We had some contact over there with FUPI (Federacion Universitaria Pro Independencia). We have contacts with the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico which is the same party Albizu Campos belonged to. We have some contacts with Movimiento Pro-Independencia, which is the party of Juan Mari-Bras, who is a recognized leader in Puerto Rico. So we have contact with most of the groups over there.
If there were an armed struggle for an Independent Puerto Rico, would, the Puerto Ricans here, the Young Lords, want to take part that struggle or would you continue struggling here?
If Puerto Rico achieved its independence would you then want to go to Puerto Rico' or would you want to continue the struggle here? We want to continue the struggle- here. We want to continue the struggle all over the world. We're not going to stop until every human being on this planet is free. We were "talking about making some Young Lords organizations in Puerto Rico too. That's why I was in Puerto Rico, to get some contacts. It looks like it won't be too long before we'll see some' over there with some people who are talking about forming groups. Our struggle is not over until Latin America, Africa, Asia and all continents all over the world are free.
Do you mean that the United States is preventing the liberation or freedom of the rest of the world?
Yes. Imperialism is what we're fighting. Capitalism in its highest extreme which is what imperialism is. We're not talking about changing Nixon and that's it, or talking about voting for something. We're talking about destroying capitalism, destroying imperialism, and any other forces that join up with them.
Do the Young Lords have working relationships or coalitions with other organizations in this country?
Yes. We have what we call a "rainbow coalition" with the Black Panther Party, and the Young Patriots, which is an Appalachian 'poor white group. This coalition has proven good for the movement, because we're talking about uniting all the people, uniting all the struggles of the people of the United States and of the world together in one so that we can attack this enemy over here. So; its proven good in Chicago, as far as organizing, as far as getting people together, people can now without fear say: "I belong to the movement, I can take part and I can fight for the liberation of mankind."
Who do you consider to be the enemy? Is it the white people?
The enemy, as we say out in the streets, are the crapshooters, the people that go around shooting dice. This is the way that we compare it on the street, since a lot of us shot dice before. We say that capitalism is like a big dice game where somebody's got to walk home without his shoes or without his shirt or something because he's 1ost everything he has. There's always the winner
and there's always the loser. What we want is a society where everyone could be equal, a society where there's not going to be a winner or a loser, a society where everyone is going to be living together in harmony.
ChaCha, were you born here or in Puerto Rico?
I was born in Puerto Rico and came here when I was two years old.
And how did you get involved in the Young Lords and in this movement?
When you live in a big city like Chicago it's kind of hard to live by yourself, it's kind of hard to say: "Well, I want to be a loner," because the loners usually get beat up or shot down and, they don't live too long. So you have to belong to some kind of a group, some kind of a clique or street gang. This is how I got involved in the Young Lords, for protection. Our community was mostly a white Anglo community, a middle-class community. We were the first few Puerto Ricans that were living there. The result of that was that every time I went to school I'd get beaten up. Even though I'm light-skinned, once they heard the name Jimenez that was it, I would get beaten up, chased down the block, my parents would get their windows broken. It was impossible to live without a group so a few of us got together in 1959 and we started this group called the Young Lords. So we went around and, though it was mostly for self-protection, we wanted revenge on some of tl1e people who'd been beating us up, so we had some gang fights. And through the years a change came about as people got older, as people went to jail for various reasons, because of dope, because of car thefts, because of robbing ladies' purses, because of beating up people, as people came out of jail and got married and talked about settling down, and found out they couldn't settle down because they didn't have much money.
Then our group changed into sort of a family group, so we were going to help each other out, we were going to make some money through dances, through some parties, and then with this money we could help our families and help each other out so we wouldn't be living in such bad conditions. But later on after that, as time went on we said: "Wait, some other brothers and sisters, our parents, and other people need help too." Then we decided to give some presents and some gifts to these people for Christmas. Later on we decided that wasn't too good either because every Christmas we had to give gifts and every Thanksgiving and every Easter they needed some clothes and some shoes and everything else. So what we said was: "Let's talk about how to change it, let's talk about how to help these people so they can give themselves gifts, so they can take care of their problems." And this is how the Young Lords Organization developed into what we call a revolutionary group. By helping and by teaching the people how to do it themselves, how they could lead the way too, because we believe that in the United States to make a revolution it's not going to be the Black Panther Party, or the Young Lords, or the Brown Berets or any other group that goes around talking about revolution now. That's important. We believe that the first stage of a revolution is propaganda and you've got to open people's minds. But the next stage and the other stages are going to be the people. The people are going to form the people's army and the people are going to make the revolution here, it's not going to be us.
What is your position in the Young Lords? Have you run into any kind of problems with the establishment or the police because of your work in the community?
I'm the chairman of the Young Lords Organization. I've run into a few problems with the establishment. I don't like to talk about the problems. I have seven court cases right now. I had 11 cases and I beat four in court. What kind of cases? I've had some cases of "mob action," "inciting to riot:" I have about four "aggravated batteries on police officers," and one' on the head of the Welfare Department and one on the head of the Urban Renewal Project.
Could you take one or two of these incidents and tell us how that charge came about?
I'll take the one concerning the director of the Urban Renewal Project, which is "mob action" and "aggravated battery." That was one of the first few actions that we had. So some of the guys, because of the fact that they were still gang-bangers, as we use the word, street fighters, went inside a meeting, which was the first meeting we went to. We didn't know anything about meetings. We didn't know anything about parliamentary procedure or anything else. So we went there and we said we wanted to be recognized and the people didn't want to recognize us. They started making excuses like they didn't have a quorum or something like that: they didn't have enough people to hold the meeting. We knew they were lying, like they'd been lying before. There were meetings because people were angry because they were, being pushed out. Puerto Ricans were being pushed out. So we got a little uptight about it. We got mad. We moved the furniture around a little bit in the place. Threw a few chairs here and messed up. Then people came running and got hit in the face. They came out two days later with a warrant and picked me up. First they said they only wanted communication between two of the street groups. When they took me to the station they found out that I wasn't going to give them the communication or any information that they wanted. Then they came out with this warrant. They claimed that I myself had caused mob action and that I hit the head of Urban Renewal who was visiting that day.
What is your status with the courts now?
I have to go to court two or three times a week. Sometimes I have two or three cases a day. That's common among all the members in the group. That's why I say I don't like to talk just about my cases. Because we're a street gang and we've been people that have been oppressed by the system and kept down all the time. When we get up there we want to speak, because we want to let everybody know about Puerto Rico, about how Puerto Ricans are being treated over here, how we're living as slaves, how we're not receiving any good jobs, not getting any good education, or any money over here, how they've taken our land over there in Puerto Rico and forced us to come over here and work. Then when we come over here it looks like good money because in Puerto Rico they don't make that much money.
All that means is they're messing over the people more within Puerto Rico. They've taken our culture and just ripped it and torn it apart. They've taken everything that we had. They've taken our women and forced them to work for them, for their pleasure, to set up their magazines, to sit up there naked for them so they can make money. Since they control the news media, the TV, everything in Puerto Rico, the news that's happening in Puerto Rico and the news that's happening over here cannot be related, people can't see it. People don't hear about it. It's not shown in the establishment press. All they do is show their lies and they keep talking about how they're going to help us, they're going to serve us. Half of the Puerto Ricans that go to school drop out after the second year of high school. They drop out of school because they can't relate to any of that bullshit that they're taught there, you know, about George Washington chopping down trees. That doesn't relate to them. They're slave and they want to know how they can get their freedom. They don't want to know how the Americans got their freedom. They may want to know how they exploited us but that's about it.
We've seen some of our own people betray us, some of the politicians, in Puerto Rico. Ferre knows what happens to Puerto Ricans right now. He's the Governor of Puerto Rico and he's still advocating statehood. He's one of the richest men in the world anyway, he's nothing but a ruling capitalist. But still he .can go out there and sell his people for a little more money. After seeing all these things, we, the Young Lords are starting to wake up and we're saying we don't care what happens to us. We've got to free Puerto Rico, we've got to let the world know about Puerto Rico.
We are from the streets you know, we're not college students, none of us went to college, half of us didn't even finish high school. I myself only went through eighth grade. After seeing everything that happened we stood up there and we'd fight, verbally, physically, any way that we had to. Yet these are the poor people that are still being oppressed, just for opening up our mouth for the freedom of speech this so-called country gives us. Just for opening up our mouths we get something like 7 court cases apiece, 6, 4, 5 cases for each person in the organization, especially the central committee, the governing body of the organization.
The Young Lords started out as a street gang of young Puerto Rican men. Now that the organization has become more politicized has it begun reaching out to older people in the community? How does it relate to women?
The Young Lords always had women. In those days we had a women's group called the Young Lordettes. Now what we do is they're Young Lords whether they're men or women. There's no separate thing now. Women in the group are relating to women's liberation. They're reading and they're studying and they're coming back to teach us what we're doing to them, so that we can learn too, because we're all in a process of learning all the time. The older people are the ones who we want to hit the hardest because they can remember some of the struggles, the struggle of 1950 in Puerto Rico where Albizu Campos was involved: the fact that 7 revolutionary women have just come out after 20 years in jail for being involved in that and for shooting. Some of the older people can still remember 1937, the massacre de Ponce, where there were 20 to 30 Puerto Ricans murdered in the street for just having a peaceful demonstration, with 150 to 200 others wounded, shot down by their own people. The pigs, the police department, who were Puerto Rican, were ordered by Governor Winshift, a Yankee imperialist, to go out there and shoot their own people.
Cha, Cha, you were also at this symposium to discuss setting up an independent Chicano political party. In what way does the Young Lords Organization view setting up an independent political party?
We understand that we need to form coalitions outside of the Puerto Rican community. That's why we formed the coalition with the Black Panther Party. We want to form coalitions with our other latino brothers all across the country. We can understand the necessity to form them. We don't care how we do it, As long as we free Puerto Rico, as long as we free our colony right here, and when black people are free, when Third World people are free, poor white people/are free, and people can live in harmony, that's what counts because we have that love. When we, were out there fighting in the streets we still had that love, we just didn't understand it, we didn't know who our enemy was, Now that we know who our enemy is our love bas increased for the people. We are ready to die if we have to, one of our brothers, Manuel Ramos, was murdered by one of these policemen, one of these pigs that roam around in the streets.
Does the Young Lords want a Chicano party which would include all latino people, or would they think of organizing a separate Puerto Rican political party?
I don't know if we'd have to go into forming a separate political party just because of the name. I think the name can be worked' out to where it would include all our people. The Young Lords, is working toward a political party within themselves right now" We say "organization" but we mean "party." At this time we've been talking about running people for offices, running people for aldermen in our district. The Young Lords Organization has been actively working on organizing the Venceremos Brigade.
How do you relate to Cuba?
We see the Cubans as our brothers. We see Cuba as an example, not only for Puerto Rico, but for all Latin America, for all the people of the world. They showed the people what they have to do. History shows that in the past, in 1868 Cuba and Puerto Rico both had insurrections, in 1898 both were taken over by US imperialism; in 1953 the July 26 thing in Cuba happened, in Puerto Rico in 1950 they had the insurrection. The same dates, the same history, closely link Puerto Rico and Cuba, so that Cuba would be one of our closest friends, our closest brothers.