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NiLP Book Notes

Race Readers

By Angelo Falc�n (October 12, 2010)

Book - Afro-Latin@ ReaderAs I watched Choc Quib Town's performing "De Donde Vengo Yo" in that almost all-White sea of Latin Grammy performers and attendees last night, broadcast on Univision from Las Vegas, it brought to mind a new book that should be required reading for all Latinos (and other people too). The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States, edited by Miriam Jim�nez and Juan Flores (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) is a major contribution to our understanding of the role of race in the Latino community. This 566-page reader compiles over 60 essays on the subject covering the following topics: Historical Background before 1990, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Roots of Salsa: Afro-Latin@ Popular Music; Black Latin@ Sixties; Afro-Latinas; Public Images and (Mis)Representations; Afro-Latin@s in the Hip Hop Zone; Living Afro-Latinidades; and Afro-Latin@s: Present and Future Tenses.

In their thought-provoking introduction to the volume, Jimen�z and Flores provide a comprehensive framework from which to read the readings. They identify four primary "coordinates" for understanding the specific Afro-Latin@ reality: "group history, transnational discourse, relations between African Americans and Latin@s, and the specific lived experience of being Afro-Latin@." In the process of going through each of these coordinates and relating them to the readings in the book, they traverse a complex and not yet settled terrain by asking some hard questions and positing useful positions. It is a great beginning to a fascinating collection of the some of the leading thinkers on the subject of race in the Latino community. The readings end with this hopeful conclusion by my good friend, political scientist James Jennings: "Afro-Latin@s can play a decisive role in moving all communities of color out of the kitchen and to a rightful place at the table of collective dialogue and action."

This important reader provides critical information from a wide variety of approaches on the evolution and current realities of Black Latinos and Latinas. From poetic to musical to social scientific sources, this is a powerful 360-degree treatment of the subject.

The one issue I feel is left underdeveloped is how to turn an increased Black consciousness among Latinos into a social movement within this community in the United States. The challenge of developing a racial-ethnic minority discourse within a racial-ethnic minority discourse in this country is a difficult challenge. This is what makes comparisons with Afro-focused struggles in Latin America and the Caribbean hard to make or learn lessons from in the United States. But without the knowledge base and questions presented in The Afro-Latin@ Reader it would be that much more difficult to address this politically central question.

And, finally, you may have noticed that I am resistant to using the ampersand instead of the "o" in Latino. One reason is that sometimes when I used Latin@ in a word document, it turns it into an email address. But probably more importantly, it's just that I'm an old guy resistant to change. Hey, I felt the same way about rap music once. Boy, was I off on that one!

Book - Young Lords ReaderThinking about race among Latinos and readers, another book recently out is The Young Lords: A Reader, edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer, with a foreword by Iris Morales and Denise Oliver-Velez (New York: New York University Press, 2010). As this volume makes, clear much of the inspiration for the Young Lord came from the African-American community and organizations like the Black Panther Party. This definitive sourcebook compiled by Enck-Wanzer, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject, is a tour de force. He provides a helpful and brief chronicle of the evolution of the Young Lords in his introduction and the foreword by Morales and Oliver is an inspiring personal retrospective.

For an organization that existed briefly between 1969 and 1972, and which hasn't been around for like 48 years, it is amazing how it continues to capture the imagination of so many Puerto Ricans and others, Latino and non-Latino alike, today. Former leaders of the group, such as Iris Morales, Denise Oliver, Juan Gonzalez, Pablo "Yoruba" Guzman (don't call him "Yoruba" when you see him, he's just Pablo, the news guy, now), Felipe Luciano, Marlene Cintron and my good friend Gilberto deJesus (he tells me that he got the first purple beret the Lords ordered right out of the box!) remain active in the community and help promulgate the spirit of activism they did so much to create back then.

This reader brings together an impressive collection of primary source materials that let the Young Lords speak for themselves and transport the reader to another time and place. The reader covers the following subjects: Young Lords Platform and Rules; The Ideology of the Young Lords Party; The Origins and History of the Young Lords; On History; On Education and Students; On Revolution, Nationalist, and Revolutionary Nationalism; On Women in the Revolution; The Garbage Offensive; Health and Hospitals; The People's Church; Social Justice Programs; and Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization. You get to hear the leaders of this movement in their own voices at the time. There is, for example, Juan Gonzalez, Daily News columnist and Democracy Now! co-host, opening a speech back in 1971 in Hawaii with the memorable words, "I'm gonna rap for while . . ." I don't think he uses that phrase these days any more.

The only problem I have with the reader is the short shrift it gives to the original Young Lords of Chicago, as well as YLP chapters outside of New York City. It could be that such primary documents are not as available (or available at all), and is a recurrent complaint about the writings on the Young Lords. But, then again, this may the task of another book or books.

This reader comes at a time when there is an intense discussion within the Puerto Rican community of New York City about the large number of its youth who are persistently poor and so disconnected from the schools and labor market. This discussion has raised questions about the failure of current Puerto Rican leadership and organizations to effectively advocate for and inspire their people. The Young Lords: A Reader may help provide this much-needed inspiration. And back then, these people really meant revolution, not the fluffy cultural kind so often heard today.

Angelo Falc�n is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). He is the author of the Atlas of Stateside Puerto Ricans (Washington, DC: Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, 2004) and co-editor of Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City (Princeton: Marcus Weiner Publisher, 2004).