Latin@ History Month started 2 days ago and will end 30 days from now on October 15, 2009. I’ve been trying to think through how I want to mark this “month” besides just focusing on contemporary chicana feminists, which also needs to be done given the number of feminist blogs where people have been asking for historical information on Chicana or Latina feminists. Ultimately, I am still thinking about how it will all look, but one commitment I make is to cover radical Latin@ history. And what better way to do that than to connect the dots between radical poc movements and our need for health care reform.
43 years ago, the Young Lords, an organization representing working class puertoriqueños, was formed around fighting gentrification issues in Chicago. When its leadership was arrested for gang activity, they used the time to become familiar with social justice and civil rights thinkers and re-organize the organization around those principles and away from its gang roots. The re-organization included the creation of state chapters modeled after the Black Panthers. The NY chapter was founded 40 years ago and was the hub of the new organizing.
Among the many thing that the Young Lord Party worked on, was health care reform. That reform took the form of an organized 10 point plan to center marginalized people’s health, work with physicians and the state when possible, and radical action when necessary.
As you can see, what they wanted is mostly what most of us want now: equal access to fair and equitable health care that covers everyone and is located throughout everyone’s neighborhoods so forgotten rural and urban communities have the same level of safe accessible care as other communities.
Working alongside the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement, the Young Lords first asked the city to stop ignoring Puerto Rican communities and the TB epidimic there. Failing to get the city to relocate their TB testing van to the community, even for one day a month, they took reform into their own hands, servicing 150 ppl in one day:
According to one member of the Young Lords, they were simply trying to decolonize the treatment of people of color in the United States and ensure equal access to education, health, employment, and security.
“We’re trying to make a society where opportunity is the rule for everybody.”
Others connected Catholic Liberation Theology, ie a moral obligation, to their service of the community, including involvement in health care for the people:
Obviously, this is not the kind of health care reform the President wants us to be talking about. This kind of reform demands that the needs of the marginalized are centered rather than sacrificed for a later day. It is a radical message backed by radical action that is as illegal today as it was when the Young Lords engaged in it.
Moreover, our President is a moderate facing down the threat of supremacists bold enough to be photographed with threatening “protest” signs in his fight for our health care rights. While I empathize with his position and believe he really does have the least among us in mind when he works for these reforms, I think we do need to revisit our radical histories. In re/learning those histories along side those of government based reformists and moderates inside and outside of the government, we remember how long we have been struggling for health care for the people, all of the people.
As providers discovered as a result of the Young Lord action, sacrificing the forgotten and erased based on prejudice or expedition was ultimately a recipe for failure:
“they [YL] were right, we [physicians] were in the wrong place. We should have been here [helping the poor ppl with health needs].”
Want to know more about the Young Lords? Listen to the amazing “Aguacero” by Sandra Marie Esteves and learn more about the women of the movement through her poet’s eyes here. Read the Color Line piece on the women of the Young Lords here and read their own policy papers on gender and women’s rights here.