Documentary to chronicle Young Lords history

Alex Sinn

Faculty from the Modern Languages department at Grand Valley State University will preview a documentary later this month, which captures the legacy of the Young Lords human rights group. The founder of the local Young Lords group is a recent graduate of GVSU.

A 15-minute segment of the film will be shown at the Conference of the Americas on March 21 and at the “Tengo El Pueblo En Mi Corazon: Cesar Chavez Day” event on March 31.

On Cesar Chavez Day, Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez, founder of the Young Lords Movement in Chicago, will promote GVSU’s Young Lords in Lincoln Park collection, which is archived at the Seidman House in Allendale.

Jimenez, 66, graduated GVSU in 2013 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree. But he’s also focusing on telling the story of the Young Lords and its beginnings in the ongoing fight against urban discrimination.

“We wanted to show solidarity and diversity among Latinos, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans,” he said.

Launched last year, the collection captures a human rights struggle that has been ongoing since the 1960s, and the Young Lords’ evolution from a street gang into a national movement to empower urban Latino communities.

The documentary will build on the collection to further explore the Young Lords’ Chicago origins, which is a largely untold story, Jimenez said.

“It goes hand-in-hand with the movement because it’s talking about Chicago,” he said.

And that fight, which involved methods from picketing to campaigning for political office, began at a community level.

“They fought back,” he said. “They were a community of folks who fought back and, in the process, opened a lot of doors for Latinos. They were involved in their community because they had something to believe in.”

For the first time, the original struggle and formation of the Young Lords is being archived and documented.

“Looking at the materials that are available, I noticed that there is something missing,” said Medar Serrata, a Modern Languages professor who is producing the documentary. “People have not told the story of that transformation.”

Serrata said he hopes the documentary will help make GVSU students aware of the conditions that create gang activity and of the impact gentrification, a process which shifts urban demographics and leads to the displacement of often poor, minority communities.

The story of the Young Lords may also provide useful lessons for modern social movements, he added.

“I think that we are experiencing so many problems at different levels, and people are not reacting in the way that they used to in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “Hopefully our documentary can shed some light on that.”

There are many lasting systemic issues that require attention, said David Shultz, the GVSU Language Resource Center Supervisor who is co-producing the documentary.

“I believe the challenge at this point in history is to remember that, despite some gains, civil rights issues didn’t end with the ’60s,” he said. “I hope this documentary can stand to raise awareness of longstanding civil rights abuses, particularly those inflicted on urban immigrant communities.”

Jimenez is here to connect these past and present issues firsthand, Schultz said.

“GVSU students and the greater West Michigan community should be aware of the national treasure we have in our midst,” Shultz said of Jimenez.

The archive of the Young Lords Movement, however, belongs to many individuals and their stories, Jimenez said.

“The archives speaks for themselves,” he said. “Each one of those people speaks for themselves. They’re not trying to push my agenda.”

The Cesar Chavez Day event will also include the performance of a play titled “Elvira,” the story of a Mexican woman who brought attention to the division of immigrant families, and the screening of a new film titled “Millie and the Lords,” which tells the story of a woman who joined the Young Lords in New York City, and addresses gender issues, domestic violence and other concerns of urban life.

The event will promote diversity learning, history and liberal arts, and is LIB 100/201 approved.

The Young Lords Movement archive at GVSU will continue to grow, and the documentary being previewed is still in its early stages.

“It’s still ongoing,” Jimenez said. “It’s still a work in progress.” 

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