Puerto Rican author Iris Morales came to campus on Friday to talk about fighting colonialism with grassroots activism.

New Haven students and residents gathered at Yale Law School on Friday to listen to Morales, an activist and filmmaker, discuss her book Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords, 1969-1976. The Yale U.S. Health Justice Collaborative, the Citywide Youth Coalition and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ Environmental Media and Arts Interest Group together invited Morales to New Haven for three events centered on grassroots activism: a book talk, a screening and panel discussion.

Robert Rock MED ’18, co-leader of the Health Justice Collaborative, developed the idea of the two-day event when he attended a screening of Morales’ documentary ¡Palante, Siempre Palante! in New York.

“There was a screening in Harlem, so I went to see it. Iris was there, and they had a Q&A after, and the conversations she was having really got my imagination flowing,” Rock said. “I thought this is a conversation that students at Yale need to have, that students in New Haven need to have, that everybody in the city needs to have.”

Morales, who has advocated both for the advancement of the Puerto Rican community and for social justice more broadly, discussed the struggles against colonization, racism, sexism and poverty inside a movement like the Young Lords.

Yolanda Quiñones, program coordinator of the BioMed Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, attended the event and said she was moved by her childhood memories of the Young Lords. Quiñones grew up in South Bronx during the 1970s, when the Young Lords movement was iconic for cleaning up garbage and providing health care to marginalized communities, she said.

“I still remember living with a single mom on welfare,” Quiñones said. “We were very poor and thanks to their services we were able to move from that. I’m very grateful to them.”

Quiñones recruits minorities who are interested in STEM from all over the country, and she believes conversations about diversity, like her book talk, are necessary at Yale.

Sara Santiago FES ’19 attended the event, wanting to know more about the Connecticut’s Puerto Rican community.

“I come from a Puerto Rican family, and I was really curious to find Puerto Rican communities here on campus and outside of Yale,” Santiago said. “I was looking for a sense of community. I find it really important because we have to understand our history to know our place and what we are capable of and where we can go moving forward.”

Sarana Nia, youth program director for Hartford Food System, Gabriela Álvarez, chef and founder of Liberation Cuisine, and Jeremy Cajigas, youth advisor at Citywide Youth Coalition, joined Morales for the panel moderated by Brunilda Pizarro FES ’19.

At the panel, activists discussed ways to organize against environments rooted in colonialism and how to reshape them. They also talked about the role that academia, specifically at Yale, must play in support of community organizers.

“We don’t need a savior or a leader,” said Cajigas. “We need resources.”

Berenice Valencia | brenda.valenciafernandez@yale.edu