Radical Imagination, Radical Humanity: Puerto Rican Political Activism in New York

Centro Journal, Spring 2020 | Go to article overview

Radical Imagination, Radical Humanity: Puerto Rican Political Activism in New York


Radical Imagination, Radical Humanity: Puerto Rican Political Activism in New York By Rose Muzio Albany: SUNY Press, 2017 250 pages; $23.95 [paper] ISBN: 978-1-4384-6355-1

¡Enhorabuena! A history known mostly by some radical activists and scholars is finally available to a broader public, especially with the paperback edition that was made available this year (2018). This is the history of El Comité-MINP (Movimiento de Izquierda Nacional Puertorriqueño), a community-based turned revolutionary organization founded in 1970 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Written by Rose Muzio, a former member who is now a professor at SUNY Old Westbury, this book includes and expands on an article she wrote almost ten years ago for the CENTRO Journal (Muzio 2009). To see this history in action, watch the 1970 documentary Rompiendo Puertas by Third World Newsreel.

This is a crucial contribution to Puerto Rican studies, to the history of the radical Sixties and Seventies, and to what the author calls the "Third World Left." While recent scholarship has continued to advance our knowledge of and understanding about the "long civil rights movement," Black Power, diverse Puerto Rican migrations, and individuals and communities, the same cannot be said about the radical Puerto Rican political organizations that existed during those decades. It has been more than twenty years since The Puerto Rican Movement (Torres and Veláquez 1998) introduced the histories of el Comité-MINP, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP), and the Puerto Rican Student Union to a new generation, and more than 25 years since Roberto Rodriguez-Morazzani published "Puerto Rican Political Generations in New York: Pioneros, Young Turks and Radicals" in the CENTRO Journal (1992), an attempt to give an overview about earlier political activism to a new activist and academic generation. In the only review I could find of Muzio's book, by the recently deceased Puerto Rican political scientist Angelo Falcón (2017), he states that this book "is an important contribution to our understanding of the Puerto Rican experience in New York and of New Left movements. It nicely fills in a historical gap that perhaps took too long to be addressed and does so in critical and accessible ways."

Most of the history written, either in the U.S or in English, about the Puerto Rican Left in the Diaspora has been about the Young Lords. Key exceptions are the writings of Margaret Power, Dan Berger, Meg Starr, and Matt Meyer, all of them anti-imperialist American scholars or activists who focus on the political history of Puerto Rican nationalist women, independentistas in Chicago, or prisons and political prisoners. While the history of the Young Lords Organization/Young Lords Party is important, it has created the impression that they were either the only or the most significant political formation to arise from the upsurge of the 1960s. However, the Lords were just one of several important groups that were active during this time period. In fact, el Comité-MINP lasted longer (from 1970 through 1981) and played a stronger leading role in Puerto Rican, socialist, and internationalist communities and campaigns. As the YLP became the PRRWO (which had a longer history than the YLP) and began to decline, el Comité evolved into the MINP and became an influential force in Puerto Rican and Left struggles. Their history joins recent scholarship on the Left by Laura Pulido, Michael Simanga, Michael Staudenmaier, Aaron Leonard, and Conor Gallagher (2014) who document how the radicalism of the 1960s continued into the 1980s and also in specific communities. This new history on the movement organizations of the "hidden Seventies" (Berger 2010) clarifies that the radicalism of the 1960s did not end in 1968.

The book begins with a foreword by Victor Quintana, who was part of the later leadership of the organization and who became a key figure in the field of community organizing after it folded. …

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