Puerto Rico imports 90% of its food from mainland agribusiness companies despite its fertile soil and tropical landscape. Puerto Rico imports 98% of its energy from mainland fossil fuel companies. Puerto Rico relies heavily on imports from the United States and other countries, as a result, electricity, and food are more expensive than in the mainland. Hurricane Maria demonstrated the unreliability of the United States government to help the people of Puerto Rico and just how dependent on the mainland the people are. Puerto Rico is naturally abundant with the resources to become self-sufficient. Sustainability will be a way for Puerto Rico’s road to recovery.
Due to the Jones Act of 1920, only vessels operated and owned by the United States can carry goods to Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria exposed the world to the reality of Puerto Rico, the United States extracts profits from the island. The profits brought in for the U.S. explains why Puerto Rico has become the oldest colony of the United States. When Maria hit Puerto Rico, it destroyed fields of mono-crop farms and shattered the electric grid. Puerto Rico has the opportunity to begin a new chapter where they can be self-sufficient but also economically and environmentally be better. Farming in Puerto Rico has been on the decline, and those who have monoculture farms lost a way of life because they farmed one crop for export. Monoculture farming leaves the farmer dependent on one crop for the source of income when Maria hit Puerto Rico farmers were unprepared for food shortages. Monoculture farming is not only a disadvantage for the farmers, but it also depletes the soil from its essential nutrients causing problems for future crops.
After Hurricane Maria, almost 80% of the crops in Puerto Rico were destroyed leading to many farmers to retire or leaving the island for the mainland. Puerto Rico’s economy depends on the importation, Puerto Rico produces to export not to consume and what they do consume is imported. Groups like Frutos de Guacabo founded in 2010 have created a collective of local farmers that are creating an ecosystem that impacts the local economy. By promoting and growing locally sourced foods, this allows for the profits to stay within the community. This leads to economic freedom for Puerto Ricans and food sovereignty where they are no longer dependent on mainland imports. Frutos del Guacabo acts like a middle-man they deliver locally-sourced food to over 200 restaurants and hotels on the island.
Another group that encourages food sovereignty is Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, they educate people on “agroecology” a farming method that revives local agriculture through traditional farming methods rather than a monoculture system. The Organización delivers seeds for community members to plant, thus stimulating the local production. Food sovereignty for Puerto Rico could leave to revolutionary change for the people of Puerto Rico, liberating the Puerto Rican community from the reigns of the mainland. Their goal is to promote food sovereignty and environmental conservation focusing on decolonizing the western ideals of farming and food and going back to ancestral knowledge and education.
Puerto Rico is abundant with sunlight, solar power has begun to the boom on the island after Hurricane Maria. Across the island, many are installing solar panels and battery systems after the Hurricane many people realized that they could not depend on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. Resilient Power Puerto Rico is a non-profit organization based in Puerto Rico. The organization has deployed 30 solar and battery systems to community centers across the island. Over the last two years, the organization has increased local access and knowledge on the tools, resources for sustainable and equitable community development. They engage communities that have been underserved and underfunded to provide technical and financial resources for the installation of renewable energy methods.
Casa Pueblo is an organization that is devoted to educating the community on eco-friendly technology and methods. The organization was started by Alexis Massol-González for anti-mining activism to currently wide-scale renewable activism. After Hurricane Maria, the organization was an energy oasis for the nearby communities who found themselves without power. They distributed more than 14,000 solar lamps, solar refrigerators, and fully charged machines for respiratory therapy and dialysis. Organizations and groups like Resilient Power Puerto Rico and Casa Pueblo allow for an increase in the capacity of the communities in Puerto Rico to respond to climate change and natural disasters common to the location of the island.
The argument against sustainability in Puerto Rico has been about the funding and the time that it would take to switch from fossil fuel energy and monoculture to clean renewable energy and sustainable farming. There is also the problem of politics which could become an obstacle for a sustainable future in Puerto Rico. The problems are there with past infrastructures, moving forward for Puerto Rico no matter how small the step is still a step towards a better, sustainable, eco-friendly and self-sufficient Puerto Rico. The first step to freedom is decolonizing our foods, and resources from western traditions.
On the 19th of September 1985, Mexico City suffered an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. At around 7:17 AM the violent earthquake interrupted the usual mornings of Mexico City’s morning rush. The 1985 earthquake was the deadliest earthquake in Mexico’s history, the estimated number of deaths is 5,000 people. Mexico City is a city built on the remains of an Aztec empire Tenochtitlán, over a massive lake called Texcoco. Because of Mexico City’s geography earthquakes are not only prone to happen but they are exacerbated by the construction of the city. Mexico is located on a subduction zone, the oceanic plate Cocos is gradually sinking beneath the North American continental plate.
The memory of the 1985 earthquake lives on through the generation that experienced it, Paz Luna and Juventino were in Mexico at the time of the earthquake. Currently, they both live in New York City with their families. Paz experienced the earthquake in a small town an hour away from the City and Juventino lived in the City with at the time his ex-wife.
Luna’s family was affected vastly by the 1985 earthquake, although they were not in Mexico City they were closer to the epicenter. When the earthquake hit nearby Luna and her family first heard the dog’s of the town crying. They sensed the earthquake before Luna’s family realized it. When they felt the earthquake, Luna recalls that it felt as if a massive wave was underneath them. Luna tells that her and her family all threw themselves onto the floor belly side down somehow this was reassuring to them.
“Se escuchaban los ladrillos de los perros bien feo, y se sientia como una ollá, que se mueve arriba y abajo. ” – Paz
Many of Luna’s family lost their homes or had their homes fractured during the seconds that it lasted. Earthquakes have the main shock that is usually higher rated in the Richter magnitude scale and then they naturally have aftershocks that are smaller. The local government gave few resources in 1985, for Luna’s family this meant they only received material to build up or fix the houses. How they build up the houses was left to them, the government only provided bare minimum of material like cement, bricks, and rods. Luna’s father was forced to hire nearby construction workers to rebuild his house.
” El Gobierno nos dio materiales para reconstruir las casas como el cemento, barillas, tabique, alambron. Tambien nos dieron cosas como cobijas a los del pueblo.” – Paz
Juventino was in Mexico City 20 minutes from the most devastated area. In his neighborhood, he recalls that everyone was terrified when the earthquake hit and its a feeling he does not forget. The entire city had just finished an earthquake drill when a few hours later the real thing occurred. He remembers the ground shaking violently, his family rushed out of the building. Outside there were neighbors on the ground, children were crying and no one was aware of the terrifying scene just miles from where they were standing.
Paz recalls the earthquake vividly especially after the last earthquake of 2017. Peculiarly the earthquake of 2017 struck on the same day September 19th as the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City. Two years ago the 2017 earthquake was 7.1 magnitude, the devastation it left in Mexico reflects the ghost of the 1985 earthquake. The similarities don’t just stop on the same day, both earthquakes reflect the inadequacy of the Mexican government to help its people out during times of disasters. As the picture below demonstrates, normal citizens were left to pick up the piles of rubbish that has fallen from the buildings. This all in the effort of finding people alive below the rubbish and dirt.
Luna’s family was affected by the 2017 earthquake as well because the epicenter was just miles away from her hometown where her father and aunts reside. Luna describes the church of her hometown collapsing, she says that as of today the government has still to rebuild the church. The community was advised that it would be a while before they reconstruct the church due to the long waitlist. The 2017 earthquake lets the world and Mexican citizens know that the government has yet to change the methods in lack of resources for natural disasters. Luna says that the community of her town had to build a small “capilla” for the saints that hung in the church, before that someone had to stay with the sculptures and paintings so that they were not stolen.
“Contruyeron la capilla y ahi estan los santitos…dicen que hay una grande lista para que vengan a arreglar la iglesia.” – Paz
I have lived my 26 years of life in “El Barrio,” a section of Manhattan that has always been predominantly Puerto Rican. Growing up here, I was always surrounded by the Puerto Rican flag flying high up on the streets. Like Puerto Ricans or any other group that migrates to New York City, my family moved from Mexico to find a better way of life and more opportunities. El Barrio is my home with its piraguas cart, coquito cart on the corner every summer, and the salsa music blasting on every porch. If you know El Barrio or have ever visited you know that it is the epicenter of the Latinx community in New York.
As I reflect on the second anniversary of Hurricane Maria, I think of my own community and how this natural disaster affected El Barrio. Many of my friends and I sought to bring awareness of the catastrophe in Puerto Rico through social media. Communities like my own made it a priority to gather everyday essentials such as bottled water, paper towels, canned food, batteries, etc and send them over to the island for those in need.
The people of Puerto Rico and the diaspora are still recovering from this natural disaster, they have been ravaged by Hurricane Maria. This disaster shed light on the abuse of power by the government, the lack of resources and media coverage to Puerto Rico that left them to fend for themselves. This story of political, and economic abuse is one we continue to repeat in the history of the United States specifically towards communities of color who have consistently been disregarded. Not only must we survive human-made disasters but we must survive natural disasters on our own. Climate change does not see race, it does not see income or the color of your skin, it does not care about your gender, it affects all of us and yet communities of color are being disproportionately affected by climate change. The basic needs like air and water are controlled and designed by people; companies and governments monetarily profit from these inequalities. Racial inequalities also explain the distribution of air pollution, the location of municipal landfills and incinerators, abandoned toxic waste dumps, and lead poisoning in children.
Studies have shown that “three of every five African Americans and Latinos live in a neighborhood with a hazardous waste site.” Not only are communities and people of color being pushed to outskirts of cities, but the neighborhoods are also being threatened by pollutants. Thousands of families have no access to clean water in Flint Michigan. Water being the basic need for anything to survive, many times communities of color are economically disadvantaged. The poorest communities are being forced to buy water when they can barely afford a living. While white upper-class communities do not have these disadvantages are protected from these toxic pollutants.
These processes were also evident in the battles at Standing Rock where the government approved the construction of Energy Transfers Partner’s Dakota Access Pipeline across the land of the indigenous community. The Sioux’s actions are only the most recent in a long history of indigenous resistance to resource extraction and treaty violations on their land. Standing Rock like Puerto Rico has been victims of colonialism, having no rights under the constitution and laws of the United States. And yet both Standing Rock and Puerto Rico continue to be resilient to the forces of colonialism.
There were thousands of deaths in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit them, and many of those lives were African American residents living in the lowest income areas of the city. There were many decisions that led to such a high death toll in New Orleans, the mayor Ray Nagin failed to issue a mandatory evacuation order in a timely manner. And then failed to accurately assess and mobilize the available resources. Residents of the lower-income neighborhoods had only their homes, which led to many of them staying in the city. The lack of resources that these communities of color have access to are connected and due to the long history of institutional racism and corrupt policies in the United States.
There is the continuous vicious cycle of where racism, economic and the other forms of inequalities are both a cause and a consequence of environmental devastation that continue to disproportionately affect communities of color. It is not just that we are being affected by natural disasters, natural disasters demonstrate the inequalities of power, resources, economics, income, and race. The official count of the death toll was 64 while in reality, the actual death toll was more than 4,700 in which a majority of the deaths resulted due to the lack of resources. Power was lost in hospitals and clinics, critically ill patients were unable to receive treatments. The people of Puerto Rico were deprived of the essential resource water as were communities Flint Michigan and Standing Rock. These places are part of the wealthiest country in the world and yet lack the necessary resources to survive, Puerto Rico was without electricity and “fell to the levels of some of the world’s poorest countries” and still many people remain without power. Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, many of the island’s infrastructure was depleted before Hurricane Maria hit. Hurricane Maria made the world see that the island Puerto Rico continues to be devastated by colonial powers.
Similarly in El Barrio, we are experiencing displacement as affordable housing has been disappearing from the community. Communities of color live in overcrowded conditions that are poorly maintained. Environmental and climate changes, natural disasters, and hazards can devastate any country, city, location but affect communities of color disproportionately.