Fight for civil rights continues

Courtesy / Siedman Archives
Jose Jimenez, nicknamed ChaCha, on left.

Courtesy / Siedman Archives Jose Jimenez, nicknamed “ChaCha,” on left.

In Chicago there is an ongoing battle between housing officials and the Puerto Rican and Latino communities. José “Cha-Cha” Jiménez joined the fight when he started the Young Lords Movement to challenge the government on issues of civil rights, racism and social justice.

Jiménez will speak about the importance of the movement and the Young Lords of Lincoln Park Oral History Project on March 31 as part of Grand Valley State University’s César Chávez Commemorative Week.

Jiménez founded the Young Lords Movement in Chicago in 1968. It stemmed from the actions of youth in Puerto Rico, where the struggle for self-determination and neighborhood empowerment originally began.

Jiménez said he wants to raise awareness about the movement because the GVSU Kutsche Office of Local History — the main office for the Young Lords Project — has no funding. He said those involved in the project want to find a department to sponsor the oral histories so the office can expand the collection. Currently, there are more than 120 interviews in the library archives, making it the largest collection in the Midwest.

“There are many uses for the project,” Jiménez said. “This project can provide some discussion on how to improve the community and keep the people there.”

Another of his goals is for students to learn more about Latino culture and why it is important. He said young people from different backgrounds support the movement.

“The people in the United States need to know more about Puerto Rico,” Jiménez said. “I’m hoping they’ll have a better comprehension of Latinos and poor people. This is a way to start a discussion about how the university can play a major role in the west side of Grand Rapids.”

Jiménez said Puerto Ricans moved to Chicago after World War II, and most became migrant workers who were under contract to work in prison-like camps. Later, the men brought their wives and children to the U.S. When they moved closer to downtown Chicago, they faced problems of urban renewal and displacement. Jiménez said Lincoln Park became the birthplace for the Civil Rights Movement against gentrification, which occurs when property values increase.

“This has to do with personal people’s lives,” Jiménez said. “The Young Lords helped create a nationwide program. We want to ensure that movement we were part of is recognized and supported.”

Carlos Rodríguez, associate dean of Technology and Information Services at the Mary Idema Pew Library, has worked with Jiménez to plan the event. Rodríguez said he is involved because the library wants to promote the special collections, such as the Young Lords, and other resources. He will speak briefly about how the collection is a useful research tool and a way to tell the stories of the Young Lords’ struggles.

“I think telling that story that isn’t well known by a lot of people is really important,” Rodríguez said. “Cultural diversity is what makes this country unique. It’s always good to have an understanding of that history. Hopefully students will be interested and go explore.”

Carlos Martinez, GVSU admissions counselor, meets with Jiménez every week to promote the Young Lords on campus. Martinez said the project has cultural importance that he hopes continues into the classroom.

“Cha-Cha is a Latino Civil Rights pioneer who started an organization that is admired around the world,” he said. “Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the United States in general and in West Michigan specifically. This demographic shift means we are incorporating different histories and realities into our community and university. We should all try and learn about both our history and those of our neighbors.”

[email protected]