A large banner with an AK-47 silhouetted in front of a cutout of the Puerto Rican flag greets visitors to the Bronx Museum of the Arts’ latest show, conveying something of the shock New Yorkers might have felt when the Young Lords took the city by storm starting in the summer of 1969.
The exhibit offers a sympathetic history lesson on the group’s rise and fall by way of the posters, publications, paintings and other artwork that members used to fight for better conditions for Latinos and others in the Bronx, Manhattan and Puerto Rico. A recreation of the group’s Bronx office includes a wall covered in photocopies of FBI files on members, illustrating the police infiltration that contributed to the Lords’ disintegration in the early 1970s.
“¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York” also features items ranging from a list of the group’s 13 socialist goals to a sofa scorched during a 1961 work of performance art.
“A lot of the imagery is very violent. It’s obviously of its era,” said Heather Reyes, the exhibitions and collection manager at the museum. “If we look at it at a broader level, I think it’s resonating with people in the community because these issues are still occurring, unfortunately, to this day.”
While the City Council continues to debate free lunch for all public school students, works documenting the Lords’ effort to provide free breakfast for children show the idea is an old one. There are also photos of the group’s one-day occupation of Lincoln Hospital and of demonstrations against the filming of “Fort Apache the Bronx.”
A wall covered in silkscreens by the still-functioning artists coalition Taller Boricua shows the Lords’ roots in Puerto Rican culture. One image is a vibrant homage to Puerto Rican labor organizer Luisa Capetillo, while another protests the death of Young Lord Julio Roldán while in NYPD custody.