Jose Cha Cha Jimenez
José (Cha-Cha) Jiménez (born August 8, 1948) is the founder of the Young Lords as a national human rights movement. It was founded in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago on September 23, 1968. Cha-Cha was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico to Jíbaro parents, Eugenia Rodríguez Flores of San Lorenzo and Antonio Jiménez Rodríguez of the barrio of San Salvador in Caguas, on August 8, 1948.
His mother Eugenia Rodriguez arrived from Puerto Rico in 1949 and took Jose to New York City, then to a migrant camp near Boston where they were reunited with Jose's father, Antonio Jimenez. They rented a work cabin from the Italian family owners of the migrant camp. However, in less than two years, the Jiménez family moved to Chicago to be near other relatives. There his mother worked in a candy factory and did piece work in several TV factories. Doña Genia also volunteered and contributed to the organizing of the Catholic Daughters of Mary (Damas de Maria) in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Jose lived with his family near Holy Name Cathedral, at the north side of downtown, in one of the first two Puerto Rican barrios in Chicago. It was named La Clark by Puerto Ricans. Orlando Dávila, who later founded the Young Lords street gang, graduated from one of Doña Genia's neighborhood catechism classes and became one of Jose's best friends.
The original mission of the Young Lords street gang was protection, recognition and reputation. It was intertwined culturally with gaining respeto for Latinos from the other white Lincoln Park gangs. When the Young Lords initially formed, the white ethnic gangs viewed Latinos as a disruption to their white working-class section of Lincoln Park. Most of the new Hispano children in Lincoln Park would eventually be forced to join some form of a street gang or neighborhood "club." 
Lincoln Park urban removal
During the 1960s, the city's urban renewal program, which originally pushed Puerto Ricans into Lincoln Park, began to force them out again. City planners argued that it was necessary to make Lincoln Park an inner-city suburb, in order to attract professionals and increase profits from taxes and housing turnovers.
The urban renewal, promoted by Mayor Richard J. Daley began in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Next to Lake Michigan and next to downtown Chicago, it has become a showcase as one of the richest neighborhoods of the world. Neighborhood associations like the Lincoln Park Conservation Association never included the voices of the poor residents. These neighborhood associations assisted Mayor Daley by changing zoning laws, calling for building inspectors to pressure small owners to sell and facilitating real estate agents and bankers with neighborhood housing group tours.
The bankers, building inspectors and real estate agents who supported the Richard J. Daley master plan for Chicago were caught illegally redlining but were still able to keep Blacks south of North Avenue. Latinos were forced up north or west into Lakeview, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. The white ethnics and the working poor were pushed even further northwest and north. The few winning court rulings were too little too late as families were once again forced out of their homes in Lakeview, Wicker Park and the Humboldt Park neighborhoods.
The Young Lords organization and Human Rights
When the Young Lords were just a street gang they respected and looked for guidance from dominant Black gangs like the Egyptian Cobras and the Almighty Vice Lord Nation as well as the Black P. Stones, a new large group from the Urban Renewal designated area of 63rd street. The Gangster Disciples also originated from this same urban renewal dislocated district but were not yet in existence.
In 1967 most of the white ethnic working-class areas of Lincoln Park had transformed into primarily Latino strongholds. Many Anglos followed the white flight to the suburbs. The Young Lords now in their late teens without a gang war nor organized meetings at the YMCA, ceased to exist as an organized gang. They still hung around together in certain locations but now there was no structure. This led many to lead a chaotic and drug filled life without purpose. Many got married and moved away without any contact. Many were on active duty in Vietnam. Others, including Cha-Cha Jiménez were still on street corners, in and out of jail, or incarcerated for different gang and drug-related crimes. The youth of Lincoln Park were now more involved in car thefts, purse snatchings, burglaries, armed robberies, drugs, stabbings, shootings and many disorderly conducts. Cha-Cha and a few Young Lords eventually fell victim to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. Still others were pushed out by urban renewal into different neighborhoods and became part of other larger "super gangs." Some became heads of these gangs but never opposed the Young Lords.
In the summer of 1968, Cha-Cha was picked up for possession of heroin and was given a 60-day sentence at Cook County Jail, then called the Bradwell or House of Correction. It was in this jail experience that Cha Cha Jimenez decided to turn himself around and to devote his life to the cause of human rights. The Catholic Thomas Merton’s book that he read in the "hole" of Bradwell jail had a strong impact on Cha-Cha Jiménez, who had once contemplated becoming a priest. He reflected on his past and decided to quit drugs and the gang. Cha-Cha then asked for a priest and knelt down, and between the steel cell bars of this old civil war jail cell he told his confession. Books were given to him by a Black Muslim who was the inmate librarian that traveled down the galleries with a cart filled with books. Secluded on the third floor gallery he continued his readings about Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Black nationalism and about the organizing of the Black Panthers for self-defense. The Muslim at first looked at Cha-Cha Jiménez with scorn due to Jiménez's light skin and blue eyes. A cousin of Cha-Cha Jiménez, who was a Jiménez of dark complexion and locked up in the same "hole" smoothed things out. He explained to the Black Muslim that most Puerto Ricans are a mixture of three cultures: African, Spanish European, and Indigenous Peoples. This mixture of People was apparent even within families.
During this same period, rioters were being brought in mass into the jail after the King assassination. Undocumented Mexican workers were also rounded up in yearly raids by immigration authorities. They had to pass through the north cell house maximum security for processing. Some white and Black guards would mock the Mexicans and push them around. Cha-Cha Jiménez requested and was given permission to translate for these Mexican workers. But he was only allowed by yelling the questions and answers from the third floor bars of his cramped cell. These experiences made Jiménez realize the need to fight for human rights. He was determined to duplicate a Black Panther Party for self-defense within the Puerto Rican and Latino communities. It was his intention to give up gang fighting and drugs so that he could devote his time to this new People's Movement.
Under the leadership of Cha Cha Jimenez, the Young Lords transformed into the Young Lords Organization and staged a series of grassroots actions on behalf of the poor people of Lincoln Park. They disrupted Lincoln Park Conservation Association meetings in Lincoln Park, confronted the real-estate brokers and landlords, created the Peoples Church and the Peoples Park, and forced the McCormick Theological Seminary to provide resources for the community. In response to the police killing of Manuel Ramos they marched against police brutality, and contributed the seed money for the creation of the Peoples Law Office in Chicago. The Young Lords Organization also developed plans for low-income housing in Lincoln Park in an effort to prevent the displacement of the entire Latino community. With the slogan “Tengo Puerto Rico en mi Corazon” the Young Lords advocated and marched for the Independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. The original Chicago Young Lords became the national headquarters and provided leadership and grassroots guidance to other Young Lords chapters in places like: New York, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee.
The Young Lords also interconnected with other Latinos working for change in other neighborhoods of Chicago. In Wicker Park they connected with the Latin American Defense Organization (LADO) and supported their demonstrations for a welfare caseworkers union and for dignified recipient rights. The Lakeview Citizen's Council, with Hilda Frontany as its leader, became proactive, well organized and supportive of the Young Lords. David Hernandez and his La Gente Organization also of the Lakeview neighborhood was a strong ally in their fight against gentrification. In Humboldt Park, it was Mecca Sorrentini and the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP), the Spanish Action Committee (SACC), Puerto Rican Organization for Political Action (PROPA), West Town Concerned Citizens Coalition, and Allies for a Better Community (ABC). They were all tight partners with the Young Lords and proactive in the many downtown marches against Mayor Richard J. Daley.
The Young Lords were already connected to Oakland but were recruited by Chairman Fred Hampton into the original Rainbow Coalition with the Young Patriots and the Black Panther Party. Several survival programs modeled after the Black Panther Party were instituted by the Young Lords at the Chicago People's Church and in other cities. These included a free breakfast for children program, the Emeterio Betances Free Health Clinic, a Free Dental Clinic and the first Free Community Day Care Center in Chicago. The day care center was put in place to facilitate the involvement of women in the Young Lords' organizing activities. It was like a co-op with male and female parents taking turns baby-sitting their children. There were many large demonstrations organized by the Young Lords in Chicago and in other cities for welfare dignity, women's rights, against police brutality and racism, and for self-determination for Puerto Rico and other Latin American nations.
The struggle continues
The December 4, 1969 assassinations of Chairman Fred Hampton and Mark Clark demonstrated, to all, the reactionary violence of the FBI and the Chicago police aimed at preventing young people from building unity and addressing problems of poverty and exploitation in their communities. This was preceded in late October 1969 with the unsolved multiple stabbing murders, of the United Methodist pastor of the National Young Lords People's Church, Rev. Bruce Johnson along with his wife Eugenia killed in their home. Cha Cha Jimenez was persecuted for his political beliefs and his organizing abilities. After going underground in 1970 for two and a half years, he was eventually forced to serve one year in Cook County Jail for a charge of petty theft of lumber, related to reactions to court imposed, day care center code violations and fines.
Upon his release from Cook County Jail, Jimenez ran for alderman of the 46th ward and garnered 39% of the vote becoming the first Latino to run and oppose Mayor Richard J. Daley's political machine.Jiménez announced his campaign in September 1973 in Pastor Fines Flores' United Methodist Church. Some on the left criticized Cha-Cha Jiménez and the Young Lords for becoming electoral reformists, but the campaign was following the Black Panther Party line. Chairman Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers was also running for Mayor of Oakland. It was also a "Rainbow Coalition" of activists, always relating back to Chairman Fred Hampton. Remnants of the Uptown Young Patriots also worked within the campaign. Walter "Slim" Coleman re-organized white supporters of the Black Panther Party’s Intercommunal Survival Committees. They opened up the Uptown Community Service Center and supported the Young Lords and the Jiménez Aldermanic Campaign.
The campaign became more citywide in its reach but was fought locally. To Cha-Cha Jimenez, the election was not about his personal career but about the lives of the people of his neighborhood fighting in a protracted struggle for community empowerment. It was about the Richard J. Daley machine's destruction of Latino and poor communities to increase his tax base. Throughout the campaign, it was not the machine's liberal candidate, Chris Cohen who was being assailed for housing discrimination and the displacement of Latinos and the poor from the lakefront and downtown; but the conservative Mayor Richard J. Daley. Without much of a budget, campaign workers organized many "cafesitos" and rallies. In a ward with only 1000 Latinos registered; the final tally was 39% for Cha-Cha Jimenez. Only 51% was needed to win. It was supposed to be a loss but since it was Jiménez’ first campaign and a major Latino battle,it became a victory. Some even said that the election was stolen. But Cha-Cha conceded and vowed to continue the struggle. The campaign forced opened wide many doors in Chicago for Latinos,especially in the local political arena as Daley's machine worked hard in an attempt to co-opt and to silence this grassroots movement.
But it was not long after the Aldermanic campaign that the former drug abuser and former gang leader relapsed back into a substance abuse problem. Some time later, Cha-Cha for his first time sought help and entered for seven months into an inpatient substance abuse program at Tinely Park, Illinois. It housed 120 residents, primarily African American, and moved patients through a graduated level system. The residents themselves ran the program as they graduated from lower levels. Cha-Cha graduated from the bottom to the top until he ran the internal program for several months. He came out, and with help from a former resident of Tinely Park got a job as a janitor, and then as an entry level substance abuse counselor for BASTA Inc. After a year he studied and passed the requirements to become a credentialed substance abuse counselor. Much later in Michigan he became an assistant to the program manager or Senior Counselor of a Hispanic Residential Program.
Still, Cha-Cha's passion has always been the Young Lords and neighborhood organizing.In 1983 Cha Cha again reentered Chicago politics to campaign for Harold Washington, to become the first black mayor of Chicago. The Young Lords were the first Latino group early on, to publicly support Harold Washington for mayor. After volunteering and becoming north side Latino precinct coordinator for the Harold Washington mayoral campaign, Cha-Cha Jiménez held the first Latino rally for him in Humboldt Park at North West Hall.More than one thousand (1000) persons attended. Now working from the Fullerton and Western Avenue offices, Young Lord managed precincts were carrying an average of 73 to 90% for Harold Washington. After the newly elected Mayor Harold Washington won the election,the mayor decided to hold the first time "Neighborhood Festivals." The first one was to be held in Humboldt Park. The Young Lords helped to organize this first June,1983 festival by working together as new representatives of the mayor,with the office of Special Events and the Puerto Rican Parade Committee. Cha-Cha was the only community representative on stage and he introduced Harold Washington, the newly elected first African American mayor of Chicago, before a crowd he helped organize of 100,000 Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park. The first 30,000 of them were wearing Young Lords buttons that read "Tengo Puerto Rico en mi Corazon." At this celebration, Cha-Cha Jiménez introduced Mayor Harold Washington with the words,
You, the youth of our community. Some of whom have been misunderstood, forced to live under inhumane conditions, beaten by police, manipulated by everyone, and then blamed by all. You, the youth of our community are our future leaders and you will get us what we want. And what do we want? Auto determinacion para los Puertorriquenos: self-determination for the Puerto Rican People. And please stop treating our freedom fighters who have martyred their lives for our rights as animals. The Puerto Rican Diaspora Coalition will not tolerate it. If the People of El Salvador can ask for self-determination, if the People of Nicaragua can ask for self-determination, if the People of Ireland can ask for self-determination, if the People of Poland can ask for self-determination, if Black People in America can stand up and demand self-determination, then Puerto Ricans demand self-determination. Y con eso en mente le presento el mejor alcalde en toda la historia de Chicago, Mayor Harold Washington.
The crowd appeared stunned and was silent at first but then started clapping louder yet remained peaceful unlike previous years.They appeared more united and friendly.Other years violence was usually recorded following Puerto Rican Day parades. Mayor Harold Washington answered with "I agree with everything Cha-Cha said" and vowed publicly to place Latinos in upper and mid management positions in his new administration. After his speech the crowd was treated to the free music of Willie Colon. Willie Colon began with, "Soy un extranjero en mi propia tierra" or I am a stranger in my own land,as a tribute to Cha-Cha. That evening the event was reported in all local and some national media.The Young Lords buttons were seen being worn by individuals,at many bus and El Stops for several weeks.
Jose Cha Cha Jimenez has given his life to the revolutionary struggle of poor people, people of color, and particularly Latinos. Now working in Michigan as a gang and youth counselor, he continues to advocate for social change. He still speaks out against the mistreatment of the Puerto Rican Prisoners of War, the military occupation of Vieques, the need for Rainbow Coalition politics, and the displacement of poor communities due to economic development plans. He also continues to share the history of the Young Lords Organization and is a source of knowledge and inspiration for younger people of all backgrounds.
- Padilla, Felix. Puerto Rican Chicago. 1987.
- Perez, Gina M. The Near Northwest Side Story: Migration, Displacement, and Puerto Rican Families. 2005
- Judson Jeffries, “From Gang-bangers to Urban Revolutionaries: The Young Lords of Chicago,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (Autumn 2003)
- Frank Browning, “From Rumble to Revolution: The Young Lords” Ramparts (October 1970)
- National Young Lords, "Brief Notes"
- Padilla, Felix. Puerto Rican Chicago. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987
- Glenda Sampson, “Lincoln Park: A Community in Crisis” Chicago Today Magazine,” August 3, 1969
- Mike Royko, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, I971
- Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-60, 1983
- “The Young Lords and Early Chicago Puerto Rican Gangs” an Interview with Mervin Mendez, http://gangresearch.net/ChicagoGangs/latinkings/lkhistory.html
- Interview with Cha Cha Jimenez
- Lilia Fernandez, Latina/o Migration and Community Formation in Postwar Chicago: Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Gender and Politics, 1945-1975 (PhD Dissertation:2005)
- “Fight at Lincoln Park Meeting” Chicago Today, July 30, 1969
- Thomas Dolan, “600 March to Protest Youth’s Death, Chicago Sun Times, May 14, 1969
- Johanna Fernandez, “Between Social Service, Reform and Revolutionary Politics: The Young Lords, Late Sixties Radicalism, and Community Organizing in New York City,” in Theoharis, Jeanne and Komozi Woodard, editors. Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980. 2003
- Jon Rice, “The World of the Illinois Panthers,” in Theoharis, Jeanne and Komozi Woodard, editors. Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980. Palgrave Macmillan, February 2003.
- Brian D. Boyer, “Gangs Day Care Center to Open” Chicago Sun Times, August 22, 1969
- Jeff Haas, The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, 2009
- Young Lords
- “Young Lords’ Jimenez Surrenders” Chicago Sun Times, December 4, 1972
- Alice Klement, “Young Lords’ Leader Jimenez Eyeing 1975 Aldermanic seat?” Lerner Newspapers, March 16, 1974