Those penning our history books have a habit of leaving women out, and men are more often than not the face of U.S. social movements. The modern resurgence of a community-based organization with Chicago roots is uplifting their women members of the past through art and curation, making sure their influence is remembered.
“Encendidas: Women of the Young Lords in Chicago” honored the role of women in their history through an installation curated by Dr. Jacqueline Lazú, DePaul University Professor and Young Lords Historian; Denise S. Ruiz, Founder and Director of The Honeycomb Network; and Charlene Reynoso, Minister of Defense of the New Era Young Lords Chicago Chapter (NEYL).
According to the Library of Congress, the Young Lords was established in Chicago in 1968, evolving from a gang to a community-based organization modeled after the Black Panthers. The Young Lords fought against gentrification, police brutality, and racism in Lincoln Park, which at the time was a majority Puerto Rican neighborhood.
NEYL is a modern take on the organization’s essence, arising on the East Coast in 2020 before spreading to Chicago. Reynoso was one of the first members recruited to the local chapter by Chicago NEYL Chairman Paul Mireles. Though it’s been decades, Reynoso said they are essentially fighting the same battle.
“The issues and the greater enemy, all of those things are the same,” she said. “At the end of the day, the same problems that we face are created by capitalism and white supremacy and racism.”
Dr. Lazú, who is credited with first recognizing the role women played in the organization, has studied the Young Lords for over 20 years.
“She was the one who really found that there were so many women that were integral parts of the organization that no one knows about,” explained Reynoso.
Dr. Lazú said it was a complex feat for the women who got involved. Women often viewed themselves as partners to the male members or there to assist with tasks outside of leadership, that were not as visible. Many of them did not identify as members, although they were active participants in keeping the org running.
“There’s so much information, there’s so much history, there’s so much that’s been hidden, buried, erased, forgotten,” Reynoso said.
Jose “Cha-Cha” Jiménez, founding member and longtime leader of the Young Lords, is one of the prominent figures in the group’s history. According to Reynoso, Angela Navedo was his “right-hand man,” but chose to refrain from the public to protect her young family.
“She’s credited with holding the whole movement together at times… She stepped up and was actually the chairperson of the organization for a short period of time,” Reynoso said. “She’s the only woman to have ever served as the chairperson, and a lot of people had no idea who she was.”
She said that women’s efforts cooking and tending to the children were also essential roles in the group’s operations.
“They [the women] were always there and some of them may not have gotten recognition as Young Lords back then, but we recognize them in the movement as Young Lords because they were just as important,” Reynoso said.
Without Dr. Lazú’s commitment to tracking history and first-hand accounts from original members, many of these names and faces would be lost.
“The Black Panthers had so many of their elders, their revolutionaries, murdered, assassinated and taken away from them. We’re fortunate as Young Lords that we have so many of our elders still, that are still really young, because they started [organizing] as teenagers,” she said.
Beyond documenting the past, this project validated the way women sparked the OG Young Lords and continue to illuminate the resurgence of this movement. “Encendidas: Women of the Young Lords” was created by women to honor the sisters of their social movement, ensuring that their dedication is not unnoticed.
“Encendidas: Women of the Young Lords in Chicago” was part of the larger Fortaleza y Flow: Las Boriqueñas exhibition honoring Boriqua women pioneers at The Honeycomb Network. The DePaul Special Collections and Archives Repository currently houses a Collection on the Young Lords with artifacts from 1968 to 2022.