Denise Oliver-Velez

American activist

Denise Oliver-Velez (born August 1, 1947) is an American professor, contributing editor, activist and community organizer. She was was a member of both the Young Lords Party and The Black Panther Party.

Denise Oliver Velez in 1971


  • It is important for us to know the history of Puerto Rican and Black women who fought for freedom of our peoples. We are not taught about them because even today people believe that women had no role in history. People still believe that women are only supposed to stay at home, cooking and sewing and raising children. These are the same things that were said to Sojourner Truth over a hundred years ago and they are still being said now. Women who speak out against injustice and fight for revolution are accused of acting like men, and we must understand that revolution is the job of men and women, brothers and sisters. We must learn from great women like Lolita Lebron, Carmen Perez, Antonia Martinez, Kathleen Cleaver and Ericka Huggins. This is what Point 10 of the YOUNG LORDS PARTY 13-Point Program and Platform means when it says "We want equality for women; machismo must be revolutionary and not oppressive."
    • "Sojourner Truth: Revolutionary Black Woman" (June 1970) in Palante

"Yanquis Own Puerto Rico" (1970)

  • Puerto Rico is being turned into the "showplace colony" of the united states. American corporations are everywhere, all over the island, using Puerto Rican people as cheap labor. Everything that cannot be sold in the states is dumped in Puerto Rico-plastic palm trees in people's homes instead of the real thing that grows outside, makeup that is not needed, wool maxi-skirts and boots to be worn in 80 degree weather. And the people are brain-washed into buying this shit. The radio blasts American music and advertisements-"radio San Juan-turns me on." We turned it off. You get better service if you speak English, the tourists act like they owned the island and the Borinquenos are just there to be servants and part of the scenery.
  • all of our people are prostitutes for the American capitalists.
  • The machismo is so strong that there are almost no sisters in the leadership of the independence movement. Where are the Lolita Lebrons, the [[Blanca Canalas]'s, the Viscals?
  • We should be proud of our Afro-Indio culture. We must fight against racism because it is a tool used to divide us.
  • Many Black Puerto Ricans wind up voting for statehood because the only Black Puerto Rican leader was Jose Celso Barbosa (an American puppet), and he was for statehood.
  • Puerto Ricans-WAKE UP
  • Our people are beautiful, Puerto Rican people have a revolutionary history, Puerto Rico is beautiful.
  • We must follow the examples of Lolita Lebron, Pedro Albizu Campos, Julio Roldan, C.A.L. and MIRA. We must struggle against the american pigs and Puerto Rican vendepatrias.

Interview with Democracy Now (2019)

  • The role of women, initially, in a cultural context, was, on one hand, to be passive. That’s what we were programmed into believing. But when we started studying history—and Juan, as minister of education, made sure that we learned about radical women leaders in Puerto Rico. And so, for most of us, including those of us who had been to college, we had never heard of people like Mariana Bracetti. We had never heard of even Doña Fela, who was the mayor of San Juan for so many years. And we began to examine—remember, the women’s movement was also—the second wave—was also coming along. We laid out our newspaper at The Rat, which was taken over by women. So, we began to push back against the ideas of—in the program, it said revolutionary machismo. And we said, “That’s really ridiculous. Machismo is not revolutionary; it’s oppressive.” And the young men in the organization joined with us women, and we made that change.
  • I think that the mainstream media has been focusing on the chat, you know, the exposure of the things said in a private chat. But on the island, people are demanding: One, they want the junta, the fiscal control board, out; two, they have been raising issues about violence against women; three, they’ve been talking about the fact that Rosselló brought an American woman in to revamp the educational system on the island, turn it into charter schools and shut down public education. And parents and teachers are protesting.
    • About the protests in Puerto Rico
  • One other thing I really want to bring up is that, in September, 900,000 people on the island are due to lose their medical coverage. And that’s going to be—we’re talking about 4,000 people who died in the hurricane. Imagine 900,000 people, where a lot of them are elderly and they’re not going to be able to get their insulin. Children won’t get their asthma medications. I mean, the number of deaths is going to be phenomenal. And I don’t want to see us go, “Oh, this is so terrible. Look at all the dead people in Puerto Rico. Let’s maybe do something now.” So people are raising these issues ahora, now, in Puerto Rico and also in the diaspora.

Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords 1969-1976 by Iris Morales (2016)

  • So many things were changing in our world. We looked, and we searched in revolutionary literature. Maybe we found a few pieces, but there really wasn't much because the world had never really dealt with this. We did take as heroines of our struggle Lolita Lebrón and Blanca Canales because they had been in the Nationalist Party struggle in Puerto Rico. We looked to women like Angela Davis. There were two women in the Panther 21 case at the time, Afeni Shakur and Joan Bird, who had been arrested with the brothers. We were proud that women were going on posters. That was real important because this was new. The face of the civil rights movement had been male.
  • if there is no unity within an organization as long as there is a disparity between men and women in the struggle, there will not be that ability to strive for change in the world.
  • Many marriages broke up because we were trying to be different, and we didn't know how to maintain marital ties, or even know how to define what marriage was. We looked at it as chains, cadenas. You're not free! You're this new, liberated woman, but your husband keeps telling you what to do.
  • Divorce is now par for the course in most families. Women are still trying to cope with how to run an organization, work a job, go to school, raise a family, and almost become superwomen. Maybe generations to come won't have to deal with these issues because we dealt with them then, and we're dealing with them now.
  • I've walked through the streets in East Harlem, and people have said, "Dónde está los Young Lords?" Where did they go? People miss the Young Lords. They had been an integral part of that community in the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Philadelphia, New Haven, Hartford, and New Jersey.
  • But the racism in the island, nobody wanted to deal with because I was told "no hay racismo en Puerto Rico." But that was not true. Color, caste, class, were major contradictions, even within left-wing political groups.
  • That last migration in 1947 spawned a generation who had one foot in the United States, and maybe they had dreams of Puerto Rico, but the reality of their existence was here.
  • The destruction to the Lords and other movements was a traumatic experience. I've learned similar to what Vietnam vets go though. They call it post-traumatic stress disorder; I call it post-traumatic revolutionary failure stress disorder-I have my own name for it. After the collapse of this revolution, many of us had to go on journeys of self-exploration. I had to bottom out. I got into drugs, alcohol, workaholism. The Young Lords were my family. It was my dream. I didn't know what to put there. I didn't know how to deal with it. And I did it in isolation. Many of us did it in isolation. It's only now, years later that I can look at it more comfortably and understand what happened. I did become very disillusioned and didn't want to have anything to do with organizing anything for a period of time. But that healed. It's taken twenty years. The wounds are not there anymore-as open wounds. And the scabs are no longer there. There is some scar tissue, but it's not uncomfortable so I can look at things from a different perspective. And I keep returning to doing the kinds of things that I feel are necessary for social change. We need another Young Lords.
  • We are fighting against an enemy, the Yankee, and the Puerto Rican lombrices. The one major thing that holds us back in our fight to liberate Puerto Rico and all oppressed people is a lack of unity.
    • 1972 article
  • Capitalism is a system that forces us to climb over our brothers and sisters' back to get to the top. It is like a race, in which the prize is survival....We fight against each other to live, and we are divided into groups that fight against each other. These groups are formed out of artificial division of race and sex, and social groupings....Many of these divisions that exist are a result of colonization...As a result of the oppression suffered for generations and generations, first under Spain and then under the amerikkkans, we all develop a "colonized mentality"
    • 1972 article
  • We are afraid to lead, because we are taught to be followers. We have been told that we are docile so long, that we have forgotten that we have always been fighters.... We can only unchain our minds from this colonized mentality if we learn our true history, understand our culture, and work toward unity.
    • 1972 article
  • Having slaves for ancestors is not something to be ashamed of; one should be proud to know that one's ancestors were strong enough to live through the horrors of slavery, strong because of the rich and beautiful history of Africa. We are taught that Africans were savages, and this makes us non-consciously ashamed of our past.
    • 1972 article
  • Because of the Black Power movement inside of the united states, American Blacks are now able to hold their heads up high and be proud of their past. It is necessary that we study Puerto Rican history, much of which is African history, so that we can move on ridding ourselves of the barriers that exist between Afro-boricua and jibaro.
    • 1972 article
  • We should not be afraid to criticize ourselves about racism. We are all racists, not because we want to be, but because we are taught to be that way, to keep us divided, because it benefits the capitalist system. And this applies to racism toward Asians, other Brown people, and toward white people. White people are not all the oppressor-capitalists are. We will never have socialism until we are free of these chains on our mind.
    • 1972 article

Quotes about Oliver-Velez

  • the Afro-Caribbean origins of Puerto Ricans make them people who have had to continually negotiate the black-white racial divide, both in the United States and in Puerto Rico. In the organization's analysis of race, the Young Lords explored the differences between Afro-Boricuas (Puerto Rican blacks) and Jibros (light-skinned Creoles). Capturing this distinction between light-and dark-skinned Puerto Ricans, Pablo Guzmán claimed, "before they called me a spic, they called me a nigger." The resignation of Young Lords leader Denise Oliver and her subsequent membership in the Black Panther Party is further testimony to the close and interconnected political and racial relationship between Puerto Rican and African American leftists during this period.
    • Cristina Beltrán, The trouble with unity : Latino politics and the creation of identity (2010)
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