Iris Morales’ Biography

As the female Robin Hood of 21st century in East Harlem, Iris Morales is an inspiring change agent.

Since she has been a teenager, Iris Morales dedicated her life to the advancement of the Puerto Rican community, social justice and human rights. During her years at City College of New York, she helped to establish the first Puerto Rican group, called Puerto Ricans in Student Activities.  After organizing a tenant movement in East Harlem, she joined the radical Young Lords Party. This movement that originated in Chicago established a branch in Harlem with similar goals and methods like the Black Panthers. They had a 13-Point Program and Platform in which they expressed their goals and convictions. In the beginning, an only male Latino patriarchal organization, she was the first woman to join this group and quickly became a leading member. Furthermore, she brought forward an agenda concerned with feminism and the oppression of women.

As a grassroots activist she fought for better housing and schooling for her Latino community. Those days, housing was so poor that the water was poisoned and a lot of children suffered under lead poisoning. Iris Morales, together with her colleagues organized protests and succeeded in improving living conditions in East Harlem. Together with this movement, they also established free breakfasts for children and a daycare so that Puerto Rican women were able to find a job. Moreover, after people complained about the garbage and dirt everywhere in the community, the Young Lords organized a cleaning up. Then, they piled all the trash on 5th Avenue to block it and set it on fire. Due to this action, the Young Lords were able to draw media attention to the great nuisances in the neighborhood.  In 1972, Morales continued to advocate for women and workers’ rights by joining the Central Committee of the Young Lords.

After she withdrew from the Young Lords movement, she decided to go back to school. In 1975 she enrolled in New York University School of Law where she received her J.D. During her time at law school, she worked at the Academy for Black and Latin Education as a  drug rehabilitation educator, created youth media training organizations and worked with advocacy groups to challenge stereotypical media portrayals of Latino/as.

She also helped to create an organization and newsletter called la Luchadora that advocates feminist concerns of Puerto Rican women. Considering her active involvement in all those activities, we can conclude that Iris Morales had a great impact on her community. Thanks to her engagement the Puerto Rican community in general received more media attention and hence better education, housing and health conditions. She especially helped women by advocating women’s rights, especially the right of birth control. She still influences the local youth today as a director of MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center where they find access and education on media use and media representation.

Looking back to her involvement in the Young Lords Party, we can see that her work developed from a violent street organization to a peaceful way of revealing social injustices via media. If she had to tackle a social problem today, she would take advantage of all the networks she was involved in to form a new media-based organization. She would probably create online classes to reach a broad audience and give them an alternative view on reality. Moreover, she would not rely on help from big organizations as she advocates for grassroots organizations. All in all, Iris Morales still is an inspiring activist that adapts to the changes of time and is able to build bridges between people.

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