A Blade of Grass Films

S1 E9 | FULL EPISODE

Cultural Identity: Miguel Luciano

Artist Miguel Luciano uses photographs of The Young Lords, a group of 1960’s Puerto Rican activists from “El Barrio” East Harlem, to demonstrate the legacy of their work in the community and instill a pride of place for those living there now. Tying the Civil Rights-era past to the post-Hurricane Maria present, Luciano uses historic sites to create a connection between the island and the diaspora.

AIRED: September 21, 2020 | 0:07:57
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

Luciano: Thank you guys for coming this morning.

We're going to walk through a public art project

that's called "Mapping Resistance:

The Young Lords in El Barrio."

By enlarging these historic photographs,

I wanted to make a very proud history of activism

in the Puerto Rican community visible in these places

where the photographs were taken 50 years ago.

♪♪

Young Lords were a social justice organization of young,

mostly Puerto Rican activists founded in 1968 in Chicago.

It was directly inspired and influenced

by the Black Panther Party.

1969, one year later, a group

of Puerto Rican activists form a New York chapter.

Hiram Maristany was the official photographer of the Young Lords.

He was one of the original members of the Young Lords.

And what's unique about his lens is that Hiram is shooting

it always from within the organization.

♪♪

In East Harlem, we were under siege.

The Young Lords were one of a few Latino groups

that said, "Enough." We stood up.

♪♪

Luciano: I think this is probably one of the most iconic

photographs of the Young Lords,

which is the famous Bronx March.

Maristany: Young Lords were demonstrating support

for the Panther 21 who were unjustly arrested.

As we marched, people would join, and the crowd,

it got bigger and bigger and bigger.

When you look at the Bronx March

and you see a bunch 20-year-olds

starting a march that's 15 miles away and ready to sacrifice,

it reminds me that there's nothing we can't do.

Looking at where are the parallels in our history...

When Miguel came to me with the idea

of mapping the resistance,

I was intrigued and very, very happy to do it

because this was a public project.

Luciano: The images return directly to the streets

and to the community that inspired their history.

And for us, that was a really powerful idea.

This building is that building.

That pharmacy.

All of that takes place at this very intersection

50 years ago.

-Wow. -Yeah.

Luciano: The selection of images was a long process

of Hiram and I sitting at this table

looking for the most powerful photographs

to help tell this story.

So this image here is one of my favorite images

in the project. 50 years ago,

tuberculosis was an epidemic in this neighborhood.

There was a mobile medical truck that did testing.

But there was further out in an area

that had very low foot traffic.

So the Young Lords devised a strategy

to relocate the truck.

In broad daylight, they tell the technicians,

"We're going to take the truck.

We just want to move it back to our neighborhood

where people really need it."

It was an act of civil disobedience.

So the TB truck arrives here, and in the first three days,

they tested like 770 people.

In the previous locations where the truck was being stationed,

they would test an average of about 100 people a day.

So they proved two things, right?

One, that there is a huge need in East Harlem,

but two, that they had the capacity to address

that need if given the resources.

On the one hand, we're commemorating a group of people

who fought to improve the lives of our community.

But the other half is to activate the work.

So the walking tours have been a really important part of that.

In the early '70s, one of the most incredible things

that they do around health is they took over

one of the buildings at Lincoln Hospital

to start a detox program.

So they introduced acupuncture as a holistic remedy

and therapy to deal with addiction.

So to commemorate that history, once a month,

we have an acupuncture healing space.

[ Glass clinks ]

[ Humming ]

♪♪

My name is Walter Bosque del Rio,

and in 1970, I was a member of the Young Lords organization.

By 1972, we created the acupuncture detox unit

at the Lincoln Hospital.

Each municipal hospital has an acupuncture detox program

thanks to our efforts back in the '70s.

If you look at the Young Lords platform,

those issues -- the health,

education, community activism -- they're still viable

because the core issues are still there.

There's still poverty, hunger, and racism.

Luciano: This project starts in 2017

during the 100-year anniversary of U.S. citizenship

for Puerto Ricans.

2017 is also the year

that Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico.

It's a year of lots of histories colliding and converging.

I was thinking about Puerto Rico's

relationship to the United States

and my relationship to both places

as someone who has grown up in between those two places.

Activists on the island were applying very creative solutions

to crisis issues in the face of government failure.

And a lot of that history

was echoing the history of the Young Lords.

If we know our history is powerful

and if we teach our history forward,

it can really empower us to not just be proud of who we are,

but also to know what we can do and accomplish.

And in this particular photo, you have --

you can see the young people also coming out

to support.

The average age of the Young Lords

was 17 years old, which is amazing.

That's the inspiring history of the Young Lords,

is how young they were

and how well organized they were and how they led actions

that led to direct social change.

That's a powerful story, and we need to know that story.

This happened in this community.

Puerto Ricans created that history.

And we want to make sure that people don't forget it,

because as gentrification comes to this community,

there is a tendency for our history to dissipate

and to become absorbed into some other history.

We must take ownership of our own history.

Luciano: While we're doing this project

and activating these conversations in the street.

It was so powerful to see what was happening in Puerto Rico.

A movement driven by young people, artists,

activists, educators, families,

people crossing political lines to join, you know, in unison,

and it led to an incredible change, right?

We were able to force the resignation of a corrupt leader.

When we see this history today

in conversation with protests

happening on the island in real time,

that's what is powerful for us in this moment.

One generation is being honored and celebrated

for all the things they did to make lives better for us,

and this new generation of young people,

both here and in Puerto Rico,

are leading something that is hopeful in rethinking

and reimagining the kind of future that we can have.

And that's an exciting idea because anything's possible

if we're in control of our own destiny.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

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