The Young Lords Party, founded by José “Cha-Cha” Jimenez, began as a street gang in Chicago's Lincoln Park district back in the 1960s. As a group, they started to see the light regarding deplorable conditions in their community and began restructuring themselves into a human rights organization seeing themselves as a People's Struggle.
They established their headquarters in the Chicago People's Church. Jimenez later met Chicago Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and modeled the Young Lords after the Panthers.
In 1969, the New York regional chapter of the Young Lords party was formed in Spanish Harlem led by Afro-Puerto Rican Felipe Luciano and quickly grew into national prominence making front page headlines. As the New York and Chicago chapters grew, new branches sprung up in other cities with large Puerto Rican populations.
The Young Lords Party (YLP) became one of the most influential Puerto Rican organizations of the 1960s. Like their allies, the Black Panthers and Mexican-American Brown Berets, the Young Lords organized community programs, but with Puerto Rican accents. There were children's breakfast programs, health clinics, TB testing, clothing drives, and cultural events. They even had classes on Puerto Rican history and culture, inspiring a Puerto Rican cultural renaissance.
The song “Que Bonita Bandera (What a Beautiful Flag)” was written by Pepe y Flora in Puerto Rico and was adopted by Chicago's national office as the Young Lords anthem. Even Salsa music icons like Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barreto, and Willie Colón wrote and played songs related to the Puerto Rican experience. My favorite song was “Justicia” by Eddie Palmieri, which advocated justicia pa' Boricuas y Niches (justice for Puerto Ricans and African-Americans).
Like the Black Panther Party and the Mexican-American Brown Berets, the Young Lords were infiltrated by FBI's COINTELPRO, resulting in frame-ups, beatings, killings, jailing, smear campaigns, and other divide and conquer tactics.
In Chicago, the Young Lords resurfaced after two and a half years of being forced underground by repression from the Gang Intelligence Unit and COINTELPRO. In 1972, Jose“ Cha Cha” Jimenez had just finished running a Young Lords underground leadership training school when he turned himself in to the police and served a one year sentence. This was three years after the police murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party while sleeping in their apartment.
In 1982, the Chicago Young Lords Party galvanized the Puerto Rican community to elect Chicago's first African American mayor, Harold Washington. Soon after the election, “Cha Cha” Jimenez introduced him to a crowd of 100,000 Puerto Ricans at an event sponsored by the Young Lords.