After being hit with Hurricane María a month ago, Puerto Rico’s situation is still very delicate. This entire situation has hit me hard. I am a very proud Puerto Rican. I lived in Puerto Rico my entire life until August, when I moved to New York City.
The Wednesday of the hurricane, I couldn’t get off Facebook and Twitter. It was a terrible day. It took 32 hours for me to communicate with my mom and it wasn’t even directly. She was using her best friend’s mom’s phone to call a number in the United States that would connect our call. The five minutes I got to talk with her were precious. I had been really worried, and I didn’t hear from her again until four days later. I didn’t hear from many other loved ones until a week after the hurricane. Many people were uncommunicated, because there was no power anywhere on the island for the first couple of days.
For a while, I could not focus. It was terrible. The worst part was seeing all the tweets of Governor Ricardo Roselló, Ada Monzón (a well-known meteorologist in Puerto Rico), and El Nuevo Día with pictures of all the devastation and not being able to do anything. I started talking with other people who live in the United States. Their emotions were similar to mine, so we helped each other a lot. We created our own support system for those of us that live outside Puerto Rico, but have our entire families over there. There is a Facebook group called “Huracán María Puerto Rico” with 116,663 people. In that group, people that have signal in Puerto Rico post updates about others they’ve found in their communities, so their family members outside the island can see they’re well. This is one of the slightly positive effects growing out of this terrible event. Puerto Ricans are uniting more than ever, which is how we will grow out of the devastation.
Today I stand in a more positive and firm position than when the hurricane first hit. Many people back home are helping within their communities which is really heartwarming to see. There are non-profit groups such as Mentes Puertorriqueñas en Acción that look for volunteers and train them to do jobs that vary from cleaning damaged areas to surveying communities all over the island. My mom is a volunteer in this group. Initiatives like these are inspiring and truly great contributions.
There are many public figures trying to help. Those people that use their platforms for good are exemplary. For instance, Puerto Rican singer/songwriter René Perez, also known as “Residente” from the band “Calle 13,” has been going to many of those municipalities that have been ignored, without media coverage, to bring them food and any other tools they might need.
“Despacito” singers Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee have been collecting supplies at their concerts, promoting various donation areas, and sharing links to donate on their social media platforms. Daddy Yankee has also visited the island to distribute the supplies collected at his concerts.
One of the bigger initiatives has been Lin Manuel Miranda’s song “Almost Like Praying.” The song features many artists ranging from worldwide known artists like Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony to award winning legends like Gloria Estefan and Rita Moreno to many Latin American favorites like Ruben Blades, Juan Luis Guerra, and Tommy Torres, among many others. All the profits from the sales of this song will go to Puerto Rico.
Smaller, but still very significant, initiatives include a GoFundMe created by Puerto Rican students living in the U.S. and supply collection locations in New York. Also, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez started an initiative to help Mexico and Puerto Rico called “One Voice.” The event was on October 14th, and the concert part of the event in Miami included a large variety of celebrities. In total, they raised 26 million dollars.
Another concert that took place was Tidal x Brooklyn on October 17th in New York to help aid hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico but also to help aid people in Mexico. People caring about recovering from catastrophes is something truly beautiful. Initiatives like these are what keep the people going, regardless of the negativity from the government.
Getting hit by a hurricane is not something Puerto Rico can avoid. And, unfortunately, neither is our current political situation. Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, so we rarely are treated as a priority. At a press conference, six days after Hurricane Maria hit the island, Donald Trump said that Puerto Rico is “an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean.” This was his absurd excuse for why the help couldn’t easily get to the island. He also uses his personal Twitter account to whine about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency can’t help Puerto Rico forever, as well as, remind Puerto Rico reminders of its debt. If that wasn’t enough he also claims that Puerto Rico is partly to blame for the consequences of this event.
"Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making." says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
…accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
In his five-hour visit to Puerto Rico on October 3rd, he said that Hurricane María had thrown his budget “out of a whack” and that we should be grateful that this wasn’t a real catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina. What, exactly, is a real catastrophe? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a catastrophe is “a sudden event that causes great suffering or destruction.” I think that is exactly what is happening in Puerto Rico. If the President doesn’t acknowledge the magnitude of the situation there is no way the island will receive any help. His childish behavior was even more noticeable when he threw paper towels to the public in the same visit, as if their struggle was a game. The help Puerto Rico needs should be genuine. We don’t need paper towels that are thrown at us with disgust. His insensitivity is unacceptable. With this conduct the only thing I can think is: If your job is really draining you that much, and you don’t enjoy it; you should just quit.
The fact that Puerto Rico’s local government is contributing to all of Trump’s uselessness is also very upsetting. The New Progressive Party, the political party that is currently governing the island, is a very conservative one that aspires to be the 51st state. Therefore, they all praise President Donald Trump, who is not doing anything useful besides tweeting, making fun of Puerto Rico, and tweeting a little more. How do you praise someone for barely doing anything?
Many residents have started to take the situation into their own hands as a result of the lack of help from the government. They are not waiting for someone to clean up the streets; they are cleaning up the streets themselves, even if that is not their job. Others are taking out all of the debris on the roads that lead to their homes so they can get out. Some are volunteering in all types of organizations. This is all truly admirable. Some people have made comments on social media that they are even willing to reconstruct their houses because of the sentimental values they hold. This is a very courageous act the privileged people in the government of Puerto Rico and the U.S. do not respect.
Many people in Puerto Rico are desperate. The government is not providing any actual help. According to El Nuevo Día, one of the local newspapers, as of October 7th, over three weeks since Hurricane María hit, only 11.7% in the island had electricity, but that is not consistent. As of now, not even 15% have constant electricity. Many people get power for a couple of hours but then lose it again for days. It could take up to six months to bring all the electricity back.
According to Politico Magazine, three weeks after the hurricane, 29% of people that do not have potable water. This leads to a growth of diseases in certain communities which is a massive problem, because it is way more difficult to treat them now. The lack of water and electricity causes many struggles, especially regarding health. However, another problem is that if people get sick, there is no way they can communicate with family members within or outside the island. To this day, only 24.1% of cellphone service towers have been rebuilt, most of them being around the capital San Juan, leaving many other areas uncommunicated.
Not only are people’s basic needs not being met, they’re being ignored as well. Public image right now is more important to the government than the safety of its people. All they care about is that the United States looks like a savior and to sell to Puerto Ricans a false idea that we are being helped, but this just applies to certain areas, particularly the capital. Some municipalities, especially in the mountain side, have been completely devastated, but there is almost no media coverage of those areas. It is truly heartbreaking seeing how the focus is just on the metropolitan area, but the rest of the island is just being pushed aside.
The government says they have brought in help from FEMA and other organizations, but the progress they’re claiming is not seen. On October 16th, El Nuevo Día published updated statistics that state that there are around 25,000 to 30,000 houses completely destroyed and 250,000 partially damaged. The purpose of FEMA is to help the people who have lost their homes, but they have many specifications that make the process very tedious, limiting the people who receive help.
Some of the conditions, according to El Nuevo Día, are: proof the people actually owned the houses, that they were constructed on governmental terrains, and that they have titles of property. But if your house was completely destroyed, how will you find this evidence? Many of these expectations are not realistic, and they just force people to leave the island because they cannot receive any help. In an unexpected situation like this, the government should give broader options and always choose the people over maintaining a political image. However, the lack of progress shows that their only interest is political. It is very hard dealing with a situation, when the systems of power that are supposed to aid the community do the exact opposite.
This is not an easy situation we’re facing, not for people in Puerto Rico nor people in the diaspora. After this, Puerto Rico will come back better than ever, but everyone needs to be willing to create efforts to get the island back up again. There has not been noticeable progress yet, except in the capital, which is not enough. The U.S. and Puerto Rican governments need to recognize their responsibilities and start doing their jobs right.
Another useful tool for growth is the internet. Social media helps spread awareness when used in the right way, so I encourage people to use it with the different hashtags that have been made to spread the word about how things are really difficult. Seeing people care about our home gives us all strength and hope. However, more things need to be done too, particularly from the government. The President tweeting a video of “what the media doesn’t show you” does not actually help the island.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2017
Real effort needs to happen. The good thing is that Puerto Ricans are resilient. We are good at finding strength even when things are not so great. The important thing is that we have each other. In and out of the island, Puerto Ricans always stand together. This experience is serving as a learning opportunity for everyone. It is essential that we don’t give up. Even if the United States excludes us of their priorities, we are strong. The key is to stay focused on the goal of having our enchanting island back at its peak. With inclusiveness, with the government recognizing that other municipalities besides San Juan deserve help, with unity, and most importantly with big efforts, the island will grow again. ¡Puerto Rico se levanta!
Illustration by Ashlie Juarbe