José “Cha Cha” Jiménez and the Roots of Rebellion
In 1968, José “Cha Cha” Jiménez sat in solitary confinement wrestling with his record of recidivism. He was the leader of the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican and Mexican gang, which he’d joined to survive Chicago’s mean streets. But his life was about to change. Like other Puerto Rican, Mexican and black American youth, Cha Cha’s people were recent migrants to the city who’d been displaced by urban renewal— structural racism in the form federal housing policy —which forced them to settle in densely populated blocks on the edges of white ethnic neighborhoods. Outnumber, they faced hostility, reaction, and even terror from white resident who resented their presence in Chicago. But with the new confidence produced by the civil rights movement, street organizations like the Young Lords desegregated public spaces with brawn and asserted the rights of racialized people to the city. The social movements also opened up possibilities for self-transformation. Like Malcolm X, Cha Cha was politicized in prison. He transformed the gang into the Black Panthers’ Puerto Rican counterpart—a herculean feat made possible by a series of unforeseen circumstances and conscious interventions, including that of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and his Rainbow Coalition.
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