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Women re-inventing Puerto Rico

Gender norms was always prominent in Puerto Rican society. Men had to live up to the “Machista” mentality and women often being the caregivers to the family. However, within these gender norms were gender inequality. It was found that women take up about 52 percent of the island’s population. The poverty level in 2018 in Puerto Rico was also found to be a staggering 37% majority being women. The inequality between women and men in Puerto Rico were always evident, but sadly it got worse after Maria hit Puerto Rico. Women were more vulnerable to sexual assault and domestic violence. Not to mention, lack of resources to provide for Women’s reproductive health concerns. Their responsibilities of looking after their families increased as These families’ homes were decimated.  

What’s remarkable is that through all this adversity, women rose and formed a sisterhood that led to the re-invention of Puerto Rico. By re-invention I mean from rebuilding homes that were destroyed after the storm, to reforming the government.

After the storm hit Puerto Rico homes were completely destroyed, leaving families with no idea of when these homes would be rebuilt. Two women teamed up, Maria Gabriela Velasco and Carla Gautier forming housing startup Hivecube.  They created affordable housing for Puerto Ricans that could be built quicker than most homes.

These brilliant women used shipping containers as a quick solution to help an awful problem. This is just one brief example of how women helped rebuild the island. The article goes on to explain how women banded together to help provide local and healthy food for the island. Women consistently came together taking care of Puerto Rico, showing their strength, intelligence and perseverance.

These programs mentioned in the article, such as HiveCube, still exist and continue to strengthen Puerto Rico.

HiveCube housing

Not only did women literally rebuild houses and fight against hunger in Puerto Rico, but the women of Puerto Rico became an essential part in forcing the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

      On July 10, 2019 chats between Ricardo Rosello and his administration were leaked. These chats made homophobic slurs, sexist remarks, and mocked the lives taken by Hurricane Maria. These chats ultimately lead to his resignation. These chats were leaked by Journalist Sandra Rodríguez. A few days later journalist Carla Minet released more pages of these chats. Thereafter, more women journalist and photographers joined together to create a social movement Puerto Rico has never seen before.

After the revealing of these chats feminist movements arose everywhere in Puerto Rico, rallying non-violent protest throughout the streets of the island.

A Puerto Rican blogger, Aliana Margarita Bigio-Alcoba wrote, “Women took the lead, mostly because we are the ones who had to historically carry the burden of having a corrupt government: moms dealing with a bad economy, women suffering domestic violence,”

One of the best parts to these feminist movements is that there are no leaders taking charge or main runners of these protest. It is women coming together, fighting for a better Puerto Rico. Their movements and protest became successful on August 2nd when Rosello announced his resignation.

From rebuilding homes, feeding Puerto Ricans, to fighting for a better a government, the women of Puerto Rico proved their strength. Feminist groups are still emerging and rising. Their plan: to fight for a better future for Puerto Rico, demanding their recognition.

Journey After a Hurricane

From October 22 to November 2 of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States in catastrophic and destructive ways. Sandy hit New York October 29, 2012 leaving homes destroyed and the metropolitan area in shock. One of the neighborhoods that had severe damages was Breezy Point. Breezy Point is a beach town in Queens, it’s a tiny peninsula with a large community filled with heart and love. When the storm hit breezy, electrical fires were caused burning down hundreds of homes, the bodies of ocean that surround this small community engulfed the peninsula. As a consequence, nearly every home was affected and needed re-building. One of the homes effected, belonged to Owens’ family. The daughter, Victoria, was there the night Sandy made land fall and witnessed the wrath of the hurricane firsthand. I interviewed Victoria, aka Vickie, about the hurricane and how life was after it.

Vickie is a great friend of mine; I consider her family. She was my sister’s best friend before, during and after Sandy. After Sandy hit her community, her house was incredibly damaged. This is where our friendship began. After sandy hit, Vickie lived with my family and I for seven months. When I Asked Vickie “What was your experience with Hurricane Sandy?”  she told me “Hurricane Sandy hit New York when I was in my senior year of high school. I live in the Rockaways right on the Atlantic Ocean and my house and community were destroyed. We got 6 feet of water on the first floor of our house and our foundation cracked. Our town had no water or electricity for 3 months. My house was completely unlivable for six months. My parents had to figure out what we were going to do with our severely damaged house while figuring out a place to stay, all while I finished high school and applied to college. It took us 4 years to rebuild our house and move back completely.”

Image result for breezy point after hurricane sandy
Breezy Point after Hurricane Sandy.

I saw her experience behind her displacement, and I witnessed her journey of returning back home. Most people think of a natural disaster and think about what the storm was like during its land fall. However, after living with her I realized the real disaster was the aftereffects, the unknowns of what will happen to her community and to her home. I wanted to unravel her recovery and what she learned from the experience.

I asked her “How did you feel after Sandy?” she told me, “Post Sandy I think we were all grateful to have gotten through it and scared to think about the future and what would happen with our house and community.”

I followed this idea of Post Sandy by asking “What did you learn from Sandy?”, with her head held high, she responded “I learned a lot from Sandy. I learned how lucky I am and to never take anything for granted. I learned the impact a natural disaster can have on people, communities, and cities. I learned how risky it is to own a house in a coastal flood zone. I learned how generous and caring people can be. I learned how tough and resilient people are. Sandy taught me a lot of life lesson.” It was remarkable to me after all the pain she had to endure, she still saw light from such a traumatic experience.

Part of Vickie’s recovery and journey back home had to do with the actual building of her home.

A huge part of her homes rebuilding was the aid she received from the government: “The government helped immensely. The federal government and the city government both provided funds and services to the hardest hit communities. The city backed program Build it Back helped to rebuild our house a few years after. The government was understanding and provided tax breaks and other help while people got back on their feet. “

At the end of our conversation she told me something positive that came from the storm, she said “The positives were that it taught everyone to be prepared and always be thankful for the things and people you have around you. I learned that for a future disaster I would have a plan. Listen to officials when they tell you to evacuate. Be ready for the unexpected. Pack up anything valuable. Stay together with family. “

She ended our interview telling me that “With all the money in the world I would definitely travel a lot, but I would always call home a house on the beach in Breezy Point.”

After this conversation with Vickie I realized some similarities and differences about Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Sandy. Both caused significant damages, some in places worse than others. Thousands of homes were lost and unlivable in. Displacement was a common and tragic theme to both Hurricane survivors.  Unfortunately, government aid was not as permissible to Maria survivors as they were to Sandy survivors.

It’s been seven years after Sandy and Breezy has improved but not to its best. During the chaos of the storm home owners banded together to fight Sandy. After the storm they banded together and rebuilt.They have come up with a future plan of attack to prevent catastrophic destruction such as Hurricane Sandy. The community is still growing together.The community raised money  to build a dune that would prevent flooding from a future storm surge. This article was written five years ago, explaining how they banded together and plan to continue to grow as a community. When I reached out to Vickie recently, I asked her how Breezy was doing. She told me that the community is still rebuilding and taking each day by day. 

However, the most amazing and meaningful impact to me was that the survivors always seemed to keep their heads held high with hope towards the future. They always stayed strong not just for themselves, but for their family.

2nd Anniversary Reflection Piece

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2019. It had a catastrophic impact that left this “U.S territory” in shambles. More than one-third of the island’s homes were destroyed, and there was no fresh water and no power for months. Thousands of lives were lost to this disaster. The islanders had hope of help and aid from America, except they remained decimated for weeks. Weeks became months, and months became a year, and even two years after the destruction, there is still so much to build.

Not only was there a lack of aid being sent to Puerto Rico, but there was barely media coverage. Especially, when comparing the media coverage to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. At the time of Maria, the U.S had survived through Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. The response to Harvey and Irma were significantly different to the response given to Puerto Rico. For example, FEMA had stated that their resources were already limited by the time Hurricane Maria had made landfall in Puerto Rico, and that key emergency supplies were short. Why was the aid and the response to help so low? Maybe, it is because of the lack of media coverage on Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico. One source shows the difference of coverage amongst Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria. This piece was published a week after Maria had hit Puerto Rico, a time in which its impact should be spoken about most.

The author explains this graph as “Data from Media Cloud, a database that collects news published on the internet every day, shows that the devastation in Puerto Rico is getting comparatively little attention.” (Mehta, P 2). I remember when Maria was occurring. I remember the very little attention it received on news outlets. I saw maria, as just another Hurricane. I did not know of the significant damage it had caused. I especially was unaware of its death toll. I remember seeing one news outlet saying that less than twenty people has passed; I thought to myself that it didn’t seem as catastrophic as other Hurricanes, such as Katrina. One media clip that I constantly saw was President Trump throwing paper towels into a sea of survivors. This one clip got every media’s station attention. I remember seeing that clip more than I had seen any video showing the damages of Maria. In my opinion, I believe that clip had gained more attention from media outlets than Hurricane Maria. President trump’s paper towel stunt had become the heart of twitter memes. After seeing the memes in response to Trump I began to follow the story of Maria and how it had left Puerto Rico crippled. Soon, Puerto Rican celebrities were raising money to rebuild Puerto Rico and also raising awareness of Maria. Finally, there was recognition of how powerful this storm and how damaging it was to Puerto Rico. I believe News outlets did not show the damages of Puerto Rico and did not raise the attention it deserved. I believe the attention on Puerto Rico and Maria was brought upon by celebrities. Unfortunately, it still was not enough, and Puerto Ricans are still suffering from the aftermath of Maria.

It has been two years since Hurricane Maria and its two-year anniversary went unmentioned on most media sources. I would not have known of its anniversary if it was not for one of my courses. Although, this anniversary went unknown to most American’s, many Puerto Ricans spoke out demanding that Puerto Rico must become a topic of discussion during the presidential elections of ‘2020. On this anniversary there was a climate change strike in Manhattan. Activist performed a demonstration to show the effects Hurricane Maria had on Puerto Rico; these activists would wear a blue tarp above their heads. The climate change strike was to show support for anyone who had experienced the consequences of a natural disaster, Hurricane Maria’s effects where shared amongst the effects of Harvey, Irma, Sandy and ect. This protest went documented and had relevancy on news outlets. The topic of Maria did not gain much coverage. Images of the climate change strike surfaced all over the internet. But to no surprise, its relevancy was short live. I saw the climate strike on news outlets for a brief amount of time. There was also a protest held in Puerto Rico, with nearly 600 protesters holding a demonstration in front of “El Capitolio”. This came to my knowledge only because I was trying to find a topic relevant to the 2nd anniversary of maria. The climate change movement in Puerto Rico is known as “Maria Generation.

Unfortunately, Puerto Rico felt an earthquake with a magnitude of 6 the week of the 2nd anniversary of Maria. This earthquake has also left homes destroyed and the fragile land even more broken. I did not see much coverage on this either. I asked my peers around me if they had known about this earthquake and sadly got the same response of “no.” Just like Maria, I have seen minimal coverage on this event. I hope to see proper coverage in the future.

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