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The Look of Sovereignty: Style and Politics in the Young Lords

by Frances Negrón-Muntaner

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This essay examines the relationship between sovereignty claims and style through the political practice of the Young Lords of New York, a radical youth group that went public on July 26, 1969. The essay argues that the Young Lords are a rich archive for this inquiry as the group’s leadership was aware of the importance of style to becoming visible as political actors and being recognized as citizens. The Young Lords’ practice also dramatizes both the potential and limits of this framework. While the Lords’ military “cool” style was exceptionally fruitful in challenging the dominant premise of Puerto Rican political docility and attracting media attention to critical issues, once sovereign claims shifted from city resources to obtaining nation-state status for Puerto Rico, the Lords’ organization suffered internal and external ruptures. The state stepped up its surveillance and segments of the Lords protested the reallocation of energy from New York to Puerto Rico. The result is a complex legacy that enables a reflection on the impact of style and sovereign claims in the political praxis of modern colonial groups.

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