It has been two years since the high-end category 4 hurricane Maira made landfall in Puerto Rico. Since then little has been done to help and fix the damages done by the hurricane on the island and its people. The natural disaster brought more than just destruction of the environment and disaster, it uncovered a veil that had been put over all the systemic issues the people of puerto rico faced everyday. This course has brought these underlying issues into my view and has exposed me to what the real issues that come after a natural disaster are. Being a Dominican in New York City, my experience with Maria was very different from even fellow Puerto Ricans here in the city. The Dominician Republic did not come close to the damages faced by Puerto Rico and in the days leading up to the hurricane touching down I was not too worried about my family in The Dominican Republic. I was also just starting my 1st year of college when the hurricane passed and was overwhelmed getting used to it. This all added to me not being as invested in what was going on at the time in the carribean and especially in Puerto Rico. However, now learning more about Maria in this class and the history of Puerto in classes I have taken for my minor, I know that the media I consumed was doing a poor (if not awful) job in truly capturing what was happening before and after the hurricane hit. I was minimally aware of the injustice faced by the island and its people throughout history. The little I knew came from knowing the history of the Dominican Republic and the carribean as a whole. What I knew of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth was positive. I never knew the extent to which Puerto Ricans were negatively affected by being labeled a commonwealth and being a territory of the U.S. This npr article and this article explains what it means for Puerto Rico to be a territory. They are owned by the U.S. and at the whim of the government. They were not able to receive aid from other countries due to the U.S. having to approve the aid. On top of this most of the help and aid that was sent were extremely poorly managed.
It is amazing, however, how Puerto Ricans have dealt with all these challenges and injustices. While the problems brought up by Maria are nowhere near solved the actions taken after like getting the governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign is amazing. There were hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets and organizing their power. I work in chipotle and am a leader in organizing workers to fight for a union. The difficulty of giving people the courage to fight and demand from the company that employs them what they deserve is large but it pales in comparison to organizing protests to get a political leader to resign. However, it shows that these people are through with the injustices they have faced. They are willing to put what little normalcy of their lives they have at risk to demand the justice they deserve.
The readings we have done from the aftershock book add to this. The Puerto Rican people are the ones that have lived all their lives under trama. The Spanish slaughtered the native Tainos as well as the Africans they brought to the carribean. The Spanish then enslaved these Africans and exploited them for their labor in sugar fields. After years of being under Spanish rule, America came and replaced the Spanish and continued exploitation of the people and the island. This is a country that has gone through a lot and the people are still finding a way to survive. Saying that they are just hurricane survivors is not enough and does not tell the full story of what has happened. The effects of this constant trauma can be seen in many of our readings. In most of the essays, it can be seen that to cope with all this trauma, people often chose to lie to themselves. I couldn’t imagine going through all that they have gone through and losing all they did. I feel like this closing off and lying to ourselves and those around us also comes from the machismo that is ingrained into latino culture. It is seen as “weak” to express sadness and to not be self-sufficient. So for these people being strong means saying you’re okay and just trying to get by. On top of this being a colony for so long has made it the norm that people do not get the help they need and should be getting from the government. A lot of the people in campos and mountains were okay with the little they got because they were so used to getting less or nothing.
Something positive to come out of Maria was that people that were marginalized were able to essentially come out of their hiding and be their true selves. The articles we read is class touched on this. With the tragedy of the hurricane a lot more than just physical structures were torn down. A lot of societal borders came down as well after the hurricane. This meant a lot of queer folks being able to express themselves and be comfortable with who they are. This was something that was surprising at first to me but after reading about it, it made sense. While there were a lot of people leaving the island the queer folk were a population that did not typically have the resources and therefore the liberty to leave. So when Maria passed they were all left to survive like a larger population of people and this brought everyone together. This is also made me see how a lot of disasters and crises affect marginalized communities because they are often the ones left behind.
I hope to continue to learn more about not only Puerto Rico after Maria but about all of its rich history and support its people become their own nation.