José Cha Cha Jiménez (born August 8, 1948) is the founder of the Young Lords, a national human rights movement. It was founded in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago on September 23, 1968. Jiménez was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, to jíbaro parents, Eugenia Rodríguez Flores of San Lorenzo and Antonio Jiménez Rodríguez from San Salvador barrio in Caguas.
His mother Eugenia (Doña Genia) Rodríguez arrived from Puerto Rico in 1949 and took José to New York City, then to a migrant camp near Boston where they were reunited with José's father, Antonio Jiménez. They rented a work cabin from the Italian family-owners of the migrant camp. However, in less than two years, the Jiménez family moved to Chicago to be near other relatives. There, his mother worked in a candy factory and did piece-work in several TV factories. Doña Genia also volunteered and contributed to the organizing of the Catholic Daughters of Mary (Damas de María). in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Jiménez lived with his family near Holy Name Cathedral, on the Near North Side, in one of the first two Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Chicago referred to as La Clark by Puerto Ricans. Orlando Dávila, who later founded the Young Lords street gang, graduated from one of Doña Genia's neighborhood catechism classes and became one of José's best friends.
The original mission of the Young Lords street gang was protection, recognition and reputation. When the group became political it was about self-determination for Puerto Rico, other Latino nations and community control. These intertwined culturally with gaining respect for Latinos from white Lincoln Park gangs. When the Young Lords initially formed, the white gangs viewed Hispanics as a disruption to the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Most of the new Hispanic children in Lincoln Park were forced to join some form of street gang or neighborhood "club".
Lincoln Park urban removal
During the 1960s, the city's urban renewal program, which originally pushed Puerto Ricans into Lincoln Park, began to force them out again. City planners argued that it was necessary to make Lincoln Park an inner-city suburb, in order to attract professionals and increase tax revenues and to profit from housing turnover.
The urban renewal, promoted by Mayor Richard J. Daley, began in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Next to Lake Michigan and near downtown, it became a showcase and one of the richest neighborhoods in the world. Neighborhood associations like the Lincoln Park Conservation Association never included the voices of the poor residents. These neighborhood associations assisted Mayor Daley by changing zoning laws, calling for building inspectors to pressure small owners into selling, and assisting real-estate agents and bankers with neighborhood housing group tours.
The bankers, building inspectors and real-estate agents who supported Richard J. Daley's master plan for Chicago were caught illegally redlining, but were still able to keep African Americans south of North Avenue. Hispanics moved north to Lakeview or west to Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. Whites moved further northwest and north. The few winning court rulings occurred too late as families were once again forced out of their homes in the Lakeview, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park neighborhoods. For these reasons, Jimenez and his family were forced to move often, and he attended four different elementary schools.
The Young Lords organization and Human Rights
When the Young Lords were a street gang, they respected and looked for guidance from major African American gangs like the Egyptian Cobras and the Almighty Vice Lord Nation as well as the Black P. Stones, a large, new group from the urban-renewal-designated area of 63rd Street.
In 1967, most of the white areas of Lincoln Park had become mostly Hispanic. The Young Lords were now in their late teens and lacked gang wars and organized meetings at the YMCA, so they ceased to exist as an organized gang. They still hung around together in certain locations, but now there was no structure. Many then chose a chaotic, drug-filled, purposeless life. Many got married and moved away without any contact. Many were on active duty in Vietnam. Others, including Jiménez, were still on street corners, in and out of jail, or incarcerated for different gang and drug-related crimes. The youth of Lincoln Park were now involved in car thefts, purse-snatchings, burglaries, armed robberies, drugs, stabbings, shootings and disorderly conduct. Jiménez and a few Young Lords turned to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.
In the summer of 1968, Jimenez was picked up for possession of heroin and was given a 60-day sentence at Cook County Jail, then called the Bradwell or House of Correction. It was in this jail experience that Jiménez decided to turn himself around and to devote his life to the cause of human rights. The Catholic Thomas Merton’s book that he read in the "hole" of Bradwell jail had a strong impact on Jiménez, who had once contemplated becoming a priest. He reflected on his past and decided to quit drugs and the gang. Jose then asked for a priest and knelt down, and between the steel bars of this old Civil War-era jail cell, he confessed his sins.
Undocumented Mexican workers were also rounded up in yearly raids by immigration authorities. They passed through the north maximum-security cell-house for processing. Some white and African-American guards mocked and manhandled the Mexicans. Jiménez requested and was given permission to translate for Mexican detainees. But he was only allowed to yell questions and answers from the third-floor bars of his cramped cell. These experiences made Jiménez realize the need to fight for human rights. He was determined to duplicate a Black Panther Party for self-defense within the Puerto Rican and Hispanic communities. He intended to give up gang fighting and drugs so that he could devote his time to this new people's movement.
Under the leadership of Jiménez, the Young Lords transformed into the Young Lords Organization and staged a series of grassroots actions on behalf of the poor people of Lincoln Park. They disrupted Lincoln Park Conservation Association meetings in Lincoln Park, confronted the real-estate brokers and landlords, created the Peoples Church and the Peoples Park, and forced the McCormick Theological Seminary to provide resources for the community. On May 15, 1969, a group of 20 Young Lords members marched into the administration building of McCormick Theological Seminary and demanded $601,001 from the Lincoln Park institution.
In response to the police killing of Manuel Ramos they marched against police brutality, and contributed the seed money for the creation of the People's Law Office in Chicago. The Young Lords Organization also developed plans for low-income housing in Lincoln Park in an effort to prevent the displacement of Hispanics.
With the slogan Tengo Puerto Rico en mi Corazón (I have Puerto Rico in my heart), the Young Lords advocated and marched for the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. The original Chicago Young Lords became the national headquarters and provided leadership and grassroots guidance to other Young Lords chapters in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee.
The Young Lords cooperated with other Hispanics working for change elsewhere in Chicago. In Wicker Park, they connected with the Latin American Defense Organization (LADO) and supported their demonstrations for a welfare-caseworkers union and for dignified recipient rights. The Lakeview Citizen's Council, with Hilda Frontany as its leader, became proactive, well-organized and supportive of the Young Lords. David Hernández and his La Gente Organization, also in Lakeview, was an ally in their fight against gentrification. In Humboldt Park, it was Mecca Sorrentini and the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP), the Spanish Action Committee (SACC), Puerto Rican Organization for Political Action (PROPA), West Town Concerned Citizens Coalition, and Allies for a Better Community (ABC). They all cooperated with the Young Lords and were proactive in downtown marches against Mayor Richard J. Daley.
The Young Lords were already allied in Oakland, but were recruited by Chairman Fred Hampton into the original Rainbow Coalition with the Young Patriots and the Black Panther Party. Several survival programs modeled after the Black Panther Party were instituted by the Young Lords at the Chicago People's Church and in other cities. These included a free breakfast for children program, the Emeterio Betances Free Health Clinic, a free dental clinic and the first free community daycare center in Chicago. The day care center was put in place to facilitate the involvement of women in the Young Lords' organizing activities. It was like a co-op with male and female parents taking turns baby-sitting their children. There were many large demonstrations organized by the Young Lords in Chicago and in other cities for welfare dignity, women's rights, against police brutality and racism, and for self-determination for Puerto Rico and other Latin American nations.
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