In 1968 Miguel “Mickey” Melendez was a college student, developing pride in his Cuban and Puerto Rican cultural identity and becoming increasingly aware of the effects of social inequality on Latino Americans. Joining with other like-minded student activists, Melendez helped form the central committee of the New York branch of the Young Lords, one of the most provocative and misunderstood radical groups to emerge during the 1960s. Incorporating techniques of direct action and community empowerment, the Young Lords became a prominent force in the urban northeast. From their storefront offices in East Harlem, they defiantly took back the streets of El Barrio. In addition to running clothing drives, day-care centers, and food and health programs, they became known for their media-savvy tactics and bold actions, like the takeovers of the First People’s Church and Lincoln Hospital.
In this memoir, Melendez describes with the unsparing eye of an insider the idealism, anger, and vitality of the Lords as they rose to become the most respected and powerful voice of Puerto Rican empowerment in the country. He also traces the internal ideological disputes that led the group, but not the mission, to fracture in 1972. Written with passion and compelling detail, We Took the Streets tells the story of how one group took on the establishment—and won.