Puerto Rico in My Heart exhibit celebrates 50th anniversary of Young Lords Organization

GVL / Sheila Babbitt

GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Amanda Rogers

After a lot of hard work and dedication, the Puerto Rico in My Heart exhibit is now open to all Grand Valley State University students, faculty and staff. The exhibit, which will be open through October, provides an opportunity to learn about the history of the Young Lords organization and the GVSU alumni who created it.  

The Puerto Rico in My Heart exhibit helps celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Young Lords organization and their transformation from a gang to political activists. The exhibit can be found in the Exhibition Space located in the Mary Idema Pew Library from Sept. 26 through Nov. 14. 

Leigh Rupinski, the Archivist for Public Services and Community at Grand Valley State University, was in charge of putting the exhibit together.

“It talks about the history and it walks through some of the steps they took toward social justice,” Rupinski said. “It shows some of the activism that they participated in.”

Young Lords was founded in Chicago in the 1960s by José “Cha Cha” Jimenez, a Grand Valley State University graduate. Jimenez helped convert the group from a gang into a human rights movement during this time. Jimenez saw the Young Lords as an opportunity to unite the poor against their common oppressors.

The Black Panthers, another political activist group that was founded in the 1960s, inspired some of their actions. Just like the Black Panthers, the Young Lords Organization focused on community improvement projects.

“I think José is very interested in seeing this collection used to help inspire people to want to create a better world and better communities,” Rupinski said. 

The exhibit allows students to take a look into the history of the Young Lords and how they got to where they are today. 

The Puerto Rico in My Heart exhibit is a multimedia exhibit. The gallery space is filled with panels on the Young Lords, but also includes materials from Special Collections & University Archives and oral histories conducted by Jimenez himself. 

To this day, Jimenez continues to be involved on campus as an alumnus. In fact, a lot of the material displayed in the exhibit came directly from him.

“There are some really fascinating stories involved with some of the individual activism that they participated in,” Rupinski said. “They took over a church to try to enact social reform to get daycare provided. I am excited to share those stories with the campus community.”

The Young Lords focused on six major issues to help improve the lives of poor ethnic minorities: Puerto Rico’s right to decide own statehood, public healthcare for the poor, sanitation, hunger, police brutality and gentrification and urban renewal. 

Rupinski shared how the exhibit gives us the social justice aspect that parallel issues of today. A lot of the issues that were going on during the 1960s are still very relevant to the current social state.

The Puerto Rico in My Heart exhibit shows how a gang from Chicago was able to transform themselves into a political activists group. They used their power for good and for real change in their community, fighting for social justice.