Harambee! ¡Venceremos!: Chanting Hope Into Reality

Hilda Hidalgo
Dr. Hilda Hidalgo, community activist, Rutgers professor, and member of the 1969 Black and Puerto Rican Convention, urged the community to vote in the mayoral election. She wrote, “Without attending the convention you will lose, Ken will lose, Blacks will lose, Puerto Ricans will lose, Newark will lose.”

 Although the 1967 Rebellion is more famous, Newark Puerto Ricans “rioted” in 1974 to protest police misconduct. In demanding political power, they worked with established Black organizations, but also created their own community institutions. 

CULTURAL BRIDGES & CULTURAL DIVIDES

By 1970, Puerto Ricans were 12 percent of Newark’s population, mainly clustered in the North Ward. Many migrants envisioned Newark as a promising new home but faced discrimination due to the cultural traditions they brought with them. To police, a group of Puerto Ricans gathered on a porch were loitering. To the Puerto Rican community, this was simply socializing like they did back home. Few officers spoke Spanish. The lack of interpreters led to further mistreatment. Frustrated, and sharing a history of disenfranchisement with Newark’s African Americans, Puerto Ricans saw an alliance as an opportunity to create change. 

 

Listen to the People - Black New Ark Newspaper
The publication Black New Ark (1972-74), following in the tradition of African American presses,  reported on African American and Puerto Rican issues. Segments like “Listen to the People!” asked residents their opinions on topics like creating a civilian review board. Joe Jackson supported the board because, “I’ve seen brothers terribly beaten while handcuffed for no reason at all and nothing is ever done about it.”

¡VENCEREMOS! HARAMBEE!: WE WILL WIN!

In November 1969, 2,700 members of Newark’s African American and Puerto Rican community assembled at the Black and Puerto Rican Political Convention to elect the “Community’s Choice” for mayor. Participants brainstormed a political platform that provided solutions for issues such as education reform, urban renewal, and policing. Among platform items were demands for more police officers of color and the establishment of a civilian review board. The convention concluded with the “Black and Puerto Rican crowd chanting together in Spanish and then Swahili: Venceremos! Harambee!” which meant, “We will win!” However, a major flaw of the black and Puerto Rican coalition was that Puerto Ricans were merely absorbed into the black community rather than seen as a separate cultural group.

 

  

You wouldn’t really tell someone you were Puerto Rican. You called yourself Spanish. And the reason you did that is because in those days, if you were Puerto Rican you were considered a bad person.

—Willie Sanchez