We remember the legendary activist and journalist Pablo Yoruba Guzmán, who died from a heart attack Sunday at age 73. Guzmán was the former minister of information of the Young Lords Party, the revolutionary social justice group led by Puerto Ricans in the 1960s and '70s. He later became a beloved print and television reporter, known for his street reporting. Guzmán was the “first great public relations expert of the Latino community,” says Democracy Now! co-host Juan González, also a former Young Lord. “He was one of the first Afro-Latino people in the media,” adds Johanna Fernández, associate professor of history at the City University of New York's Baruch College and author of The Young Lords: A Radical History. She says Guzmán “brought to the Young Lords a theorization of race in Latin America” and built “common cause with Black Americans.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
We end today’s show remembering the life and legacy of Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán, the visionary former minister of information of the Young Lords, longtime print and television reporter, who’s died of a heart attack. In 1969, Guzmán co-founded the New York chapter of the predominantly Puerto Rican radical group the Young Lords, which fought against police brutality, racism, U.S. imperialism and militarism. The Young Lords also provided healthcare, child care and breakfast to impoverished people, most of them Black and Latino.
In this clip from December 1969, Pablo Guzmán speaks after the Young Lords took over the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem, which became known as the People’s Church.
PABLO ”YORUBA” GUZMÁN: And it ain’t just y’all in this church. You know, it ain’t just East Harlem. Remember, we relate to an international struggle. So, it may sound ridiculous, but this all links up to what’s happening, from Vietnam to Puerto Rico to Watts. Don’t ever forget that, that without you here, see, y’all children have had it. What you do here today and what you do after you leave this church, no matter what happens, whether we get busted or whether we have to walk out, either way, it’s still a victory. Whatever happens on after that is going to be important for the fate of the world, because we’re in the belly of the monster, and people all over are waiting for us to take care of business. Now, I don’t like people to be too optimistic, because I’m kind of a pessimist, you know. But remember that no matter what happens, one way or the other, we have won. We have a victory here today. They can never take that away from us. Everybody here, go out, and you go out proud, no matter what happens, because this church is ours. This is the People’s Church.
CROWD: Right on! Right on!
PABLO ”YORUBA” GUZMÁN: All power to the people.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán, speaking in 1969. In addition to being joined by Juan, who co-founded the New York chapter of the Young Lords with Yoruba, we’re joined by Johanna Fernández, author of the award-winning book The Young Lords: A Radical History. Juan, why don’t you introduce this?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Amy, I think one of the things that people underestimate, that Pablo, as our minister of information, grasped from the start, the critical importance for any people’s movement of controlling its own narrative, not allowing it to be determined or defined by others. It was he, for example, who launched the Pa’lante radio program on WBAI back in 1970 and who launched and initially supervised as the editor the Palante newspaper.
And as an 18-year-old, he had already studied one of the seminal figures of the 20th century media studies, Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, and had absorbed McLuhan’s theory that all mass media have historically functioned as extensions of the human brain, but that each medium — print, radio, television — does so in a distinct way, has its own language and message and seeks to directly provoke our emotions.
Pablo insisted that in order to control our narrative, we had to tailor our messages to each medium, and also to use humor and bravado. He was an extremely funny guy, and he basically captivated the corporate media in many ways. And thanks to his approach, the Lords received perhaps the most sympathetic press coverage of any 1960s revolutionary organization. Pablo Guzmán was, in short, the first great public relations expert of the U.S. Latino community.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Johanna Fernández, if you can talk about the significance of — he was known then as Yoruba, Pablo Guzmán, to the entire New York community for the decades he was a on-the-street journalist. Juan called him the best street journalist there was in New York, working for all the various networks, from CBS to NBC to WNET.
JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ: Yeah, and he received two Emmys. He was a street reporter, and he was bold, and he got his boldness from his experience in the Young Lords, that experience around the media, theorizing what it meant to be an activist, to engage in creative disruption, and how to use the media to speak to a larger audience — right? — something that activists around the crisis in Gaza are trying to do today.
But I think that Pablo got his pizzazz, his humor, from his heritage. His grandfather, Mario Palomino, was in Cuba when he enrolled and applied to the Tuskegee Institute, the first institution of higher education for African Americans, in Alabama, and got in and graduated after four years. So, he was a man of color, a Black Cuban, who instilled in his — in Pablo’s father a sense of pride in being Black and Latino, Black and Cuban. Pablo’s father took him to hear Malcolm X speak on 125th Street when he was 12 years old.
One thing about Pablo was that he was one of the first Afro-Latino people in the media. Before the Young Lords emerged, when you thought about Puerto Ricans in the media or in the public sphere, it was light-skinned Puerto Ricans. And so, Pablo brought to the Young Lords a theorization of race in Latin America. And he talked about the influence of colonialism on the psyche of the colonized and the oppressed Latinos, who tend to deny their Blackness. And part of what the Young Lords did, through Pablo Guzmán and others, was to build common cause with Black Americans and accept and be proud their own Blackness.
This is a spectacular figure who went to China with a delegation of 70 radicals in 1971 — Pablo Guzmán, that is. He was one of the people present at the formal announcement of the Rainbow Coalition initiated by Black Panther Fred Hampton in Chicago. And we can go on and on. There really is no time to talk about how significantly important he was as an actor in the history of the ’60s.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, you have 30 seconds to wrap up, and then we’re going to do this interview in Spanish after the show.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, he was just a unique figure in New York City history in the Latino and the Puerto Rican community. We’re all going to miss him. And our condolences to his wife Debbie, his children and to his mother Sally, who was always a big supporter and friend of the Young Lords.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan and Johanna, our condolences, and to the whole community, about the death of Pablo Guzmán, Pablo “Yoruba” Guzmán. Johanna Fernández is associate professor of history at the City University of New York’s Baruch College, also author of the award-winning book The Young Lords: A Radical History. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, for Democracy Now!