If you find Bhudda by the road, kill him.

The nihilists are at it again. They’re trying to
break the President’s health care reform package by staining the story, chipping the concept. And Puerto Ricans and Latinos, arguably the group that needs this legislation the most, are sitting on the hillside watching the battle rather than invading the battlefield.

“If we’re able to stop Obama at this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”, said Joe Demint, a Republican senator. What more motivation do we need? Is it that we’re so overwhelmed by the economic meltdown that we’re too tired to fight? Or is it that we silently beginning to believe the bullshit the medical industry is flinging at the vision. If you repeat a lie long enough…..

Republicans are defending the crazies coming to Obama rallies with guns. They’re claiming that the John Q citizens rallying against the President are genuine. Bullshit! Almost all these groups are being funded and organized by pharmaceuticals and private industry. Just imagine the national hysteria if brown and black people opposed to Bush’s policies showed up at his speeches with automatic weapons. They’d be arrested or mowed down.

When are Puerto Ricans and Latinos going to own their citizenship? It’s been paid for in blood since World War I. Either we develop a national voice and a global perspective on everything from Afghanistan to Cuba, from the travails of sub-Saharan Africa to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or we shut up and stop complaining about how the planet is going down the tubes.

Who is standing up for Obama? Latinos voted for him in overwhelming numbers forgetting that the struggle is not the revolution. The revolution is in changing institutional policies, in creating new institutions, in changing minds over a period of time. The enemies of progress, the dream killers know this which is why they’re looking to stop the health and educational vision the president has for this nation going as far as saying he’s attempting to indoctrinate their children by telling them to stay in school, do their best and stop making excuses based on race, class or dysfunction. Their criticism of the Administration’s health policies is to call it creeping socialism rather than simple reformation of an irreparably broken system that denies 50 million Americans health care insurance. If you discredit the dreamer, you kill the dream. And when they couldn’t discredit the dreamer, the visionaries, they killed them, King, Malcolm, the Kennedy’s, Albizu, Maceo, L’Overture. Eventually, the dream comes to pass, but, the dream-killers make it harder for future generations to dare to struggle, to even conceive of winning which is why defending and supporting the first Black president in the history of the United States is so crucial. Dare to struggle, dare to win: remember those sixties slogans?

The two factors that will save America are imbedded in the history of black and brown people; faith and family. These are not white, right wing concepts. Latinos have centered their existence on family and have kept it going for the last 500 years of colonialism, slavery and wholesale slaughter of their indigenous grandparents. Black people would not have survived the Middle Passage or slavery without faith. As a people, we have done faith and family without resorting to backward thinking or facistic behavior. We need to employ those qualities to continue the battle for a better life for our children and theirs. And that includes whites. But, this moment demands that we stand up to these bullies who think we’ve shot our load with the presidential campaigns and shout clearly: back the hell up. This child you will not intimidate or cause to stumble. You’ve had your way with America for the last 40 years and you blew it. You invaded countries, drained the treasury, polluted our landscape, de-regulated industries and killed thousands of American boys and girls for greed and god and glory. It’s our turn
.And while this child is a wonderful visionary, gifted and talented who believes in bi-partisanship and
love(we taught him not to hate), we, the veterans of the sixties, know what you’re capable of. When you see real change, when you perceive loss of money or power, you go rabid, start foaming at the mouth and acting crazy and shit. We know your game. And you know salt from pepper. Get real and back the hell up.
Puerto Ricans need to say this to these ultra-childish conservatives with child-like innocence and with adult follow-through and determination. It’s our time and we must seize it and leave the legacy of health and hope we promised ourselves and our children 40 years ago. This is not the time for nostalgia, but, rather the time to face these killers of the dream and the dreamers and tell them,”Enough with your lies and bullshit. Back up, back off and back down. You won’t win, you can’t win and we’ve already put our money and the lives of countless warriors and visionaries to see this guy in this office in this moment. We will win without a doubt, ‘ya understand. Now…where you wanna take this?

The YLP Could’ve Been the Brown Tigers-3

I liked Bobby Seale. As soon as laid my eyes on him, I liked his composure, his slouch, his weary eyes. He had seen a lot, too much maybe. His whole body language shouted “Keep it short and simple, I ain’t got that kind of time.”

I got right to the point and gave Bobby a short history of Puerto Rico, the independence movement and the discrimination ‘Ricans were suffering
in the U.S.

“So what are you prepared to do?”, Bobby asked.

I looked at George and Victor for confidence and then launched into it.

“We want to start the Latino counter-part to the Black Panthers, the Brown Tigers. We feel the time is right and our community is ready.”

James Foreman and the other Panther laughed derisively at my statement. George was packing a snub nosed .38 and with the look of disgust in his face, added to the fact that he wasn’t keen on collaboration or friendship with black people, I knew that in few seconds Foreman would be on the ground holding his ample gut in tight.

“Hey, man, we’re not here to play games. We’re not here to idolize you. We think you have the answers and the right strategy, that’s it. ” Victor stated boldly.

George’s eyes darted around nervously. He wasn’t concerned with Seale and company anymore. He was already looking for an escape route after the shooting.

To this day, I don’t think Bobby understood the explosion about to take place, it would’ve destroyed relations between Blacks and Latinos for decades.

Though Bobby Seale smiled at the ” Brown Tiger ” statement, I felt he wasn’t laughing at us, wasn’t disrespecting us.

“Look, brother. We’re catching hell just being the Black Panthers. That image got white folks and the F.B.I. so crazy they’re trying to kill us any way they can. And you want to be the “Brown Tigers” They’ll take you down before you get a chance to organize properly.”

And then Bobby hit it right on the head, did a quick political ed. course right there in the garden.

“Puerto Ricans don’t need to imitate us or anybody else. They need to apply revolutionary principles and socialism to their own community, to their own objective conditions. You have to have faith in your own people, brother, they know what they want, they know what they need.”

It was like cool air descended on that spot, that summer afternoon. George looked at Bobby admiringly, like he was the last member of the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico. George’s whole body relaxed. So did Victor and I. We talked a little bit more about armed struggle, the realities of it. Foreman called me bourgeois for nixing the thought of carrying guns openly on the streets of East Harlem. I told him New York City was not Oakland. The laws were different and the cultures were different. Puerto Ricans would be the first to disown us if we brandished weapons just to prove how militant we were. It was pure suicide. As for the bourgeois label, I spat out, “I’ll survive in el Barrio. Been there all my life. You, in that white shirt and coveralls and condescending attitude would be dead in a day.” And that was the end of that. We left, energized, more supportive of the Black Panther Party than ever before and ready to do something, we didn’t know what yet, but, something, to fight the power. A year later, the Young Lords Organization was born out of a student group called La Sociedad de Albizu Campos. By that time, Victor Cruz had moved to San Francisco and George moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut. I stayed in Harlem and,on Victor’s urging ,joined a group of black poets called the Last Poets. The poetry, the words themselves led me to a more visceral, firmer understanding of liberation struggle. The words made me whole. Gylan Kain, my mentor, Amiri Baraka, my cultural godfather, Rap Brown, former Chairman of SNCC, who came to our performances and my political workshops in a loft called the East Wind, David Nelson, a theology student and Abioudun Oyewole, had as much to do with my co-founding the Young Lords as the Puerto Rican people did. And I never forgot them or the black liberation philosophy they represented. It was time to take the ideas to another level, a ‘Rican level of warfare. “Despierta Boricua, defiende lo tuyo”

The YLP Could’ve Been the Brown Tigers-2

George was lying on on the floor of his apartment waiting for us, his right forearm over his face hiding his tears. The door was ajar and as soon as we entered without knocking he knew Victor was with me. His family was in the same position I left them an hour or so ago, his wife holding his older daughter in her lap, lightly applying hydrogen peroxide to the open rat bites on the child’s legs, the foam bubbling rapidly above the flesh and then dissapating. His younger 3 year old girl was on her side sucking her thumb,staring through the crib slats at the wall, her arms, at this point, swollen, the rat teeth puncture marks visible even from where we we standing. I had left a madhouse of screams and fear, anger and confusion just hours earlier. Now, there was nothing, no eye contact, no sound, eerie stillness.

“Tomorrow afternoon, we meet the Black Panthers, the head of ’em,” I said as sternly, as authoritatively as I could, breaking the catatonia.

George didn’t move his body or his arm away from his face.
“No me venga con mierda, Felipe!”, he barked.
Victor jumped in, thank God.
“George, he’s not bullshitting. I was right by him on the phone when we got the okay. We gonna meet the guy who started the Black Panthers and he’ll tell us where we start; what we shoulda done a long time ago.”

George stayed quiet for a while. And then, in a very dark tone, scary, he said softly,”And what do we do right now.”

I jumped right in, there was no time to lose, no time to play games.
“First, let’s get your wife to the emergency room and get the babies some shots for this shit. And then we can…..

George took his arm away from his face, his bloodshot eyes blazing.
“I tell you what we gonna do, yea. We gonna bring them to Flower-Fifth, leave them….”

I opened my mouth to protest, but he pointed his finger at me, trembling and shouted, ” No, they can take care of themselves. You know my wife, she’ll do it and she speaks English good. But, I want to find this motherfucka. You promised me…..”

Victor, in his soft, dulcet tones, cut the discussion down to the basics.

” Then, let’s go.”

George jumped up, went to the tiny, foul smelling bathroom full of holes and exposed pipes, washed his face, buttoned his shirt, rinsed his mouth out and wrapped the rifle in a sheet. He didn’t even turn around to tell his wife we weren’t going to accompany them the 6 blocks to the emergency room. Flung the door open and knew we were going to be behind him. We were going hunting and pity the target. Pity the fool who tried to intervene.

We walked all over the immediate area, checking his landlord’s other buildings in the area. Puerto Ricans are funny when they know you’re on a mission. When they see 3 dudes, not smiling, not shaking hands or hugging, just asking quick, serious questions about the whereabouts of somebody, they give up the information quickly and honestly. They knew we were not on a joy ride or a robbery spree. They knew this was personal and had to be done. And they agreed so they gave us the intel, but, to no avail. We couldn’t find him. Expanded our perimeters beyond 102-106th to 110th Street from Madison to First Avenues. We swept El Barrio clean, damn near from the East River to Fifth Avenue. Still no landlord. Either someone tipped him off or he really wasn’t around that day. Either way he was a lucky man.

George had calmed down considerably. He saw we were as serious about finding this landlord as he was and just having that kind of warrior support eased his anger. Victor and I waited for him to give the next order.

“Whadda we do now?”, George asked wearily.

I just looked at George straight, Victor shrugged his shoulders. It was George’s call. Holding the rifle under his armpit, tired and sweaty, he said, “Let’s go to my house and target practice.”

There was a junk-yard between 103rd and 104th Streets. There was also a marble factory on Park Ave, but, after 6pm the entire area belonged to whoever wanted to claim it. In those days, as long as you kept the plinking to .22’s and the sound of firecrackers, no one cared and no one called the cops.

George had no military training whatsoever, but this fucken ‘Rican could hit the head of a running squirrel at 50 yards. And he loved to watch us miss and correct our technique. He couldn’t write English that well and he wasn’t a poet, but, Lord, could he shoot. Slowly, as his continued to hit the bullseyes of the cheap paper targets his demeanor changed, calmer, more serious and logical. And then he uttered the magic words.

“When do we meet these guys tomorrow?” George said calmly his eyes boring into me.

“12 noon!,” I said, “I’ll pick you up at 11. Victor?”

Victor smiled that beautific, rare smile of his.

“Don’t worry ’bout me. I’ll be right here. You better be up George. And eat before we leave. Don’t run that shit on me of ‘vamos a desayunar’ at the last minute, jibaro.”

We all laughed and as Victor and I left the backyard through the old broken wooden boards, George called out after us, ” Let me tell you now, I’m packing. Quizas Uds conocen esto maricones, pero yo no. (Maybe y’all know these motherfuckers, but, I don’t.” It was classic George. And James Foreman will never how close he came to losing his life by being assanine and arrogant the following day.

The YLP could’ve been The Brown Tigers-1

My quiet brother, Pablo, had transformed into a student leader while I was in prison. I saw a confidence in his body after I was paroled, a passion in his eyes, a flawless political oratory. He and a friend, Victor Hernandez Cruz, organized the Franklin High School Student Movement (F.S.M) demanding ethnically relevant courses, better lunch-room food and more say in the decisions made in their high school.

Random House had just published Victor’s first book of poetry, SNAPS, but, Victor had remained humble, still hanging with the fellas and living subsistence style out of a theatre loft on 104th Street called The Gut Theatre. The director was a short, white Columbian named Enrique Vargas whose politics were romantically revolutionary,but, whose fund-raising was hard-nosed capitalist. Watching him work the arts administrators was a lesson in how to fight the power and keep your eyes on the prize. Enrique would quote poetry, recite long passages of novels, dance wildly with women in charge of the monies, smoke pot with them and deliver impassioned speeches on the plight of Latinos in the Western Hemisphere, anything, to keep that little building on 104th Street, between Lexington and Park Avenues, alive and functioning. For that time, our guerrilla street theatre group was extraordinary. Puerto Ricans loved seeing their daily oppression acted out with truth and hilarity. Our shows drew hundreds of folks. The bodegueros and small restaurants loved it ’cause they sold food and drink, but, they could also laugh at themselves and the short-term stupidity of some of their street corner greed.

I had befriended a local guy named George Rivera, jibaro to the bone, nationalistic, independentista, a family man who always had a weapon on him, who loved to fight and, more importantly, loved to win. But, he couldn’t beat his landlord who snatched Rivera’s bi-weekly welfare check for rent and would sneer when asked about the holes in the wall and the rats that lived in them. I told George the only way to fight this creep was to organize the block as well as the building, to call city buildings officials, stop the rent payments, start an organization, picket the building and call the press.
As I explained basic tenant organizing, George would listen with the most intense stare I’d ever experienced. He’d give me that stare and then say , “I don’t want to start some shit I’m not gonna finish. I’m telling both of you, and I don’t know if you really know what I mean, ’cause both of you are word guys, you talk nice and shit. I’m a street guy. If I say, I’m gonna kill you. I’m going to kill you. If I join this shit you’re talking about, I’m going all the way, not just for my family….for all of us.” Victor and I would look at him, look away and stay quiet. He meant it.

The day came. July,’67. Hot, sweltering, no breeze. When I hit the block, George, shirt open, hair disheveled, unshaven, gestering wildly with his arms out and crying, screamed, ” I’ve been looking for you all morning. Where the fuck you been?” Before I could answer, he grabbed my forearm and pulled me into his building and kicked his apartment door open. I stood transfixed, in shock. On his wife’s lap was his 7 year old daughter screaming hysterically with rat bites all over her chubby legs. In the crib, was his younger daughter, 3, open rat bites on her arms.

“I’m gonna kill this mothafucka,” was all George said repeatedly and then suddenly bolted toward the broom closet and grabbed a .22 Marlin rifle we had bought in Bridgeport, Conneticut the week before.

His wife, cradling the oldest child, started to scream at the top of her lungs, ” I’m gonna lose you too. Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I can’t take this.” She was screaming, the babies were screaming, George was screaming, it was madness.

I ran toward the apartment door, locked it, turned to George and shook my head.
Just kept shaking my head no. I wasn’t going see him kill this piece of shit landlord and then die or waste away in jail, his family torn apart.

Get the fuck out the way, Felipe! I mean it. Don’t stop me, man. ”

I lost all composure. Started to cry, the snot rushing from my nose, tears down my face.

” We’ll do this together. But, please, Georgie, not like this. Not like this. Let’s find Victor. Let’s do what we said. If we find him on the streets, let’s kill him. If we don’t, let’s get our boys together and tear this neighborhood apart. Fuck it. I’m with you. But, let’s do this right. I DIDN’T COME OUT OF JAIL TO SEE YOU DIE TODAY. ”

George’s wife, hearing my plea, instinctively knowing I was begging for time, began to scream,”Georgie, listen to him. Please, papi, don’t do this. Listen to him.”

Disgusted and worn out, George threw the rifle on on linoleum floor, sat down at his wife’s knees and without looking up, said, ” Go find Victor. I’ll wait.” I knew I could take him at his word, thank God.

Running, running, running, grabbing people on the streets, asking them
desperately, “Where’s Victor? Have you seen him? Where’d you see him last?” Finally, I caught him 2 blocks from George’s apartment in the theatre. Why didn’t I think of going there first?

I burst into his little loft space on the second floor and ran it down. Victor listened carefully, looking at me sometimes to see if I was too far gone, but, mainly, stroking his beard and mustache, thinking.

“Well,” he said said, after I couldn’t go on anymore, “The time has come and the shit is on. You know the Chairman of the Black Panther Party is in town, Bobby Seale. You think we could see him? ”

Wait a minute, I thought. What the fuck does Bobby Seale have to do with rat bites, right now. But, the more I mulled the idea, the more I realized what Vic was leading toward. We said we wanted to build an organization. George made it clear to us that when he was ready, he would be ready to die. Well now, the system hurt his kids. He was ready to go all the way. And so were we. So why not go to the guy who had pulled guns out on cops in Oakland and demanded justice for young black brothers being arrested, who was not afraid to shoot it out with white men who thought we were less than human.

I had come to meet and admire Rap Brown of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committe(SNCC). The group’s name was such a misnomer because Rap’s whole credo was Arm yourself or Harm yourself. If I could get to Rap or James Foreman, I knew I could set up some kind of a meeting and lay our plan out for armed struggle in East Harlem, including killing this prick of a landlord.

Miraculously, I was able to set up a meeting with Foreman, one of most incredible intellects of the Civil Rights Movement, Bobby, the Chairman of the Black Panther Party and another Panther whose name was Pennywell or Pennyweather, something like that. The meeting was set for the next afternoon in some lady’s garden apartment on the West Side. Now, we had to explain the delay to a very distraught and angry father who wanted blood on the streets….now.

Part 2

1967. El Barrio was a mess. The gangs that defended us against intruders, bullies and racists were no longer viable. The Viceroys and the Dragons had graduated from defending turf, honor and little guys like me to selling drugs. It was inevitable. The New York City Youth Board initiated one of those inane, liberal, well-intentioned policy moves to pay gang leaders not to fight by offering them jobs. Once they left the gang structure, there was a power vacuum.

Gangs were rudder-less, confused, no sense of purpose, no direction. Into that abyss, came the dealers, guys and even girls, who would not have dared approach the gangs while the leaders were in power. They would’ve been severely beaten. All gang leaders knew you could not run an efficient fighting organization with dope fiends. Liquor and pot were fine in moderation, but heroin’s only purpose was to keep you nodding and looking for more. It was a waste of pure warrior power.

But, once the gang leaders started coming around with pressed chinos and bright-white button downed oxford shirts, the envious wannabe’s yearned for the same look, the same status. Drugs was easy money and since Puerto Rican culture, especially street culture, was circular, collective, and exceptionally loyal, getting friends hooked was easy.

All of us knew of older guys, local heroes, handsome guys built like Hercules, who seemed to go to sleep while you excitedly told them of the fights you had in the school-yard. Then, they would suddenly wake up and in raspy voices ask you a detail about something you mentioned ten minutes ago. We knew they always had clean handkerchiefs and were always wiping their frowning mouths or their sweaty foreheads. But, they were good guys most of the time, always looked good, smelled good, and would wake up quickly if an elder passed by or a fight was in progress. We knew something was wrong with them, but, didn’t exactly know what. Sometimes, I would peek at these metal containers they carried with syringes, little spoons and eye-droppers. What did I know? What did I care? They were like my older brothers. They were just weird guys, good guys, but weird.

When heroin became fashionable, it got dirty and so did El Barrio. Couples who had been together for years broke up, fights occurred between friends, fathers threw sons and daughters out of their apartments, and cops started whipping heads for nothing more that guys nodding on the stoops. It was a new world for me. I hated it. And though I loved some of these addicted men and women, I didn’t know how to bring them back to their old smiley, lovely, courteous selves.

Something had to be done. Someone had to lead the way. The church wasn’t doing much, social agencies were doing less. And what could I do? I was just a kid who went to the Pentacostal church every night; three times on Sunday; a kid who loved to fight and loved to read.

For me, the decade of the fifties was about life lessons and character formation Take sex, for example, I couldn’t go to the Cosmo on 116th Street and make out with local girls because, according to my mother, it was sinful, but God, did I love the necking and romance of the project hallways and the grind-em-up parties after school. Heart and courage: I used to watch the dark-skinned Puerto Rican Viceroys fight the biggest, tallest light-skinned Dragons or Sicilian Red Wings or Afro-American Tiny Tots with unabashed joy. I learned it’s not the size of the enemy, it the intensity of your desire to win.

I was never the leader of anything. I was just a good member….a real good member. You could count on me in the school-yard. I thought every Puerto Rican was like that. You love somebody, you defend them, die for them… with them, if necessary. It was about blood, strength, family and honor. Nothing came between that. Nothing was more important.

I was out of the upstate jail in Greene County, but, in a new one called East Harlem. But, I had the ability to come and go as I wished and think and act out of the box, differently. I didn’t have to go with status quo and as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t see my mother and father’s neighborhood, the home of Tito Puente, Machito, Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, Jimmy Sabater, Joe Cuba and Willie Bobo waste away like this. I decided it simply was not going to happen. I loved El Barrio too much. I knew those warriors with glazed eyes walking erratically down Madison Avenue didn’t get there by themselves. Somebody had pulled the wool over their eyes, sold them a horrible dream. I vowed to find out why my role models were destroying themselves and who was responsible. I vowed to kill the culprit myself. I didn’t know it was America.


There was no getting around violence in the late sixties.  It was everywhere: racial riots in American cities, student riots in Mexico City and Paris, The Tet Offensive against American troops in Viet-Nam,    Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinated within months of each other,  Che Guevara killed in Bolivia,  and then the shocker, an ultra-conservative die-hard, Richard Nixon, elected to the Presidency of the United States.  For a young, black Puerto Rican like me, broke, fresh out of jail, afraid of nothing but God, it was time to shit or get off the pot. In 1967, I decided to shit and throw it at this government.

I was in love with Doris Day. I believed in Dwight Eisenhower. I loved Superman, Mighty Mouse and My Friend Flicka.  I didn’t have a father, but, Robert Young was my great daddy surrogate on the daily TV show, “Father Knows Best.”  We couldn’t have dogs in NYC projects, but, in my fantasies, I lived with Lassie in the country and Rin Tin Tin on the frontier of America’s West, fighting those evil Indians.  You see, for me,  America was a meritocracy and you could rise to any heights if you had the brains, the will, the talent.

Jail changed me. Prison tends to have that transformative power.  I saw a depressed, young Jewish guy clasp his hands around a searing, hot steam pipe in his cell and burn his palms off just to get into the infirmary and not hear the silence of his jailroom.  I saw a friend, Itchy,  beaten so badly by prison guards his thigh and shin bones were broken. He made the mistake of quickly right crossing his mentor, the kitchen correctional officer, who played the game of pushing Itchy from behind without notice.  In prison, there is no time to think.  You have to hit fast and hard when touched.  You may not get a second chance.   The white officer collapsed like a sack of flour and so did the friendship. He helped the other officers pummel Itchy into unconsciousness and transferred my friend to a state mental institution for the criminally insane. So much for love and friendship.  I never so Itchy again.  Though I never saw him, I heard a newly arrived inmate raped by several guys on my floor.  The screams were unbearable, high-pitched, furious and then suddenly, there was silence.  I heard the grunts of their passion. I heard the body hit the floor.

The Barrio I remembered was warm, familial, pulsating with rhythm and laughter, very loyal and very forgiving. Not so in 1967.  I had left East Harlem in 1957.  In just ten years, heroin destroyed any shred of chivalry, any scintilla of respect.  It was all about money now and how to cop and cope.  I didn’t know it then, but, if the Young Lords had not been formed by us, someone else would’ve had to invent the movement.  It was needed…desperately.