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”


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