Young Lords fight to keep Lincoln Park, casualty of gentrification, Latino, Puerto Rican

'We walk around today, and it's kind of like this hidden history right under feet'

ByBlanca Rios WLS logo
Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Young Lords fight to keep Lincoln Park Latino, Puerto Rican
The Young Lords' fight to keep Lincoln Park Latino is a nearly forgotten part of Chicago history, but new era members are shedding new light.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the distinct drumming sound of Latin rhythms could be heard from the streets and homes of Chicago's Lincoln Park. But that music would eventually be drowned out --- a casualty of gentrification.

During that time, gentrification was known as Chicago's Urban Renewal Program, and it was public enemy No. 1 of the Young Lords Organization, a group of mostly young Puerto Rican men who modeled themselves after the Black Panthers.

"The Young Lords Organization went from a street gang, involved in petty crime, into a community organization, a human rights organization," said Omar Lopez, the former minister of information for the Young Lords Organization.

Lopez became a Young Lord shortly before Jose "Cha Cha" Jimenez took over the group in 1968. Jimenez, now 77, and the Young Lords, were honored on the group's 55th anniversary by DePaul University.

During the event, the school apologized for the role it played in changing Lincoln Park's demographic landscape.

"We recognize that while you are celebrating from this moment, we are learning from this moment," said Robert L. Manuel, DePaul University president.

Jimenez's daughter Melissa spoke on her father's behalf at the DePaul event.

"I have spent my whole life teaching people what I knew about what the Young Lords were, about how they impacted people, because it was not in our history books," she said.

The Chicago History Museum is also based in Lincoln Park, and is home to a digital archive of hundreds of photos that mark the Young Lords' place in history. The photos also include protests after Young Lords member Manuel Ramos was shot and killed by Chicago police.

"The photos of the protests and the marches at that time just felt very, very fresh and very contemporary," said Elena Gonzalez, curator of civic engagement and social justice at the Chicago History Museum.

Ramos' death was the catalyst that pushed the organization into a positive direction.

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"We established a free breakfast with children, we established a free healthcare clinic, we established a community education, lessons for a members," Lopez said.

Sadly, the Young Lords would lose the battle to keep Puerto Rican and Latino culture alive in Lincoln Park. It wasn't the first time Latino families would be forced to relocate.

"The Puerto Rican community has been pushed around a lot," Lopez said. "Once the Puerto Rican community established itself in Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park - Urban Renewal Came in. They were never even given a chance to establish a sound community."

According to "The Battle of Lincoln Park: Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago" by Daniel Kay Hertz, many displaced Latino families moved into Lincoln Park between 1950 and 1960. The Latino population in Lincoln Park grew 133%, to more than 4,200 residents. By 1970, Latino and Black Chicagoans made up more than one in five Lincoln Parkers.

"We walk around today, and it's kind of like this hidden history right under feet," Gonzalez said. "Right now Lincoln Park is synonymous with luxury, money."

But the struggle is not over, as a new era of Young Lords says it's using lessons learned.

"Just because we lost that struggle here, we still have Humboldt Park that's being gentrified," said Paul Mireles, a New Era Young Lord. "We still have the ability to take that struggle back to the island and work with the people who are fighting the privatization of the beaches and the displacement of Puerto Ricans from their homeland."

It's why Lopez said he remains hopeful.

'"For so many years the history of the Young Lords was in the closet. Now it's coming out," Lopez said.