The anniversary of hurricane Maria has shaped and changed the way we look at the relationship between the U.S government and Puerto Rico. For decades, Puerto Rico has been excluded from many different opportunities and have been denied many legal rights. Puerto Ricans have had to be on their own when it comes to building themselves up whenever anything has ruined their island. In 2017 the island of Puerto Rico was hit with a category five hurricane named Maria. The hurricane destroyed the island and left thousands without a life or a home. As “part of the U.S” Puerto Rico was left without the right resources, aidless, and uncommunicated for months. The hurricane was the factor that woke up Americans to see how our government mishandled their funds as well how they pick and choose which territories have access to those funds when a natural disaster occurs.
Puerto Rico has always received the short-hand of the stick when it comes to receiving aid from the United States. Before Maria, the island had gone through many hurricanes and they were left in the dark when it came to being supplied with the appropriate fund to rebuild the island. The reading “Puerto Ricans are Hardly U.S Citizens. They are colonial subjects” by Jaqueline N. Font-Guzman speaks on how Puerto Ricans have never really been treated equally as “Americans”. She talks about the separation the United States creates when it comes incorporating Puerto Rico in economic and legal affairs. For example, she says “ Puerto Ricans suffering the devastation of Hurricane Maria are not fellow American citizens; they are colonial subjects of the United States”(3).
This illustrates that the United States has never had the intention of giving Puerto Ricans the same equal rights as Americans born in the United States, and by excluding them it also gives them enough leeway to not invest their funding in rebuilding colonized territories such as Puerto Rico after natural disasters occur. Another article touched on how many of youth in Puerto Rico were dying from many different factors. Before the hurricane Puerto Rico was already in a bad place from having intoxicated water to having toxins from factories poisoning their communities and the United States never did anything to help them rebuild themselves.
The article “The Maria Generation: Young people are dying and suffering on an island with a highly uncertain future” by John D. Sutter shines lights to some of the deaths that have been occuring in Puerto Rico due to hurricane Maria and other factors that played into the deaths of many young children. Puerto Rico was never in a good financial standing even before Maria. Many of the funds donated to the Island were mishandled and undistributed putting Puerto Rican natives in a worse situation after the storm hit. For instance, the article mentions “Before the storm, their island was bankrupt and hemorrhaging its 3.3 million US citizens. Now, there are serious questions about how many young people will be left when the “exodus” slows”. The hurricane really gave a platform for Puerto Ricans to expose some of the underlying financial issues that were occurring on the island. Many of these issues were already there from many years before but the injustice that the island faced after being basically washed out by the storm left the impression on many Americans that the United States in reality only helps the island when it benefits our government. Fast forward till today, the anniversary of Maria just finished happening and many Puerto Ricans on the island and on the mainland were once again overwhelmed by different emotions. The livestream of the anniversary of Maria touched on many issues that were affiliated with the storm being handled completely wrong. Today many people have found that majority of the aid donated to the island and most of the money given to them for reconstruction purposes, were being misdistrubated also not used appropriately to help them rebuild themselves. In addition, the event also elaborated on the issues of a corrupt government and governor in Puerto Rico which allowed for the funds being added to the island to be handled completely wrong.
Puerto Rico has been used, abused, and excluded on their own island and this is an issue many today are bringing awareness to. Today we have a bigger platform to expose the issues happening on the island and with Puerto Ricans over throwing its governor they have a chance to actually push for a change on the island. Millions of people today due to this event are becoming aware and educated on the financial crisis Puerto Rico has been placed in and how the United States government plays a huge role in keeping them in this never ending bankruptcy. As an outcome Puerto Rico remains in a state of vulnerability when it comes to natural disasters and rebuilding itself.
A natural disaster can affect a person more profoundly than the superficial things we see. When thinking about a natural disaster, we tend to think about the mundane damage or the genetic damage it does to a place. What we tend to forget is that a natural disaster will take a person and not only wreck the environment around them but will also wreck them internally. Natural disasters lead people to become overwhelmed with different types of emotions because they know that the life they once had, has been turned upside down and destroyed. Puerto Rico has been that island that has been affected by many hurricanes, which have devastated the island multiple times. Over the years, Puerto Ricans have been able to develop a strong backbone when it comes to natural disasters and reconstruction. The people on the island have experienced many hardships while being neglected help from the United States, which have led them to develop a strong character or face when facing things like a category four hurricane. What many don’t get to see behind those firm faces is the hurt and emotional distress Puerto Ricans are dealing with behind closed doors. Today, I choose to interview a friend who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but like many was affected and pushed out of Puerto Rico.
My friend Norman was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He came to the United States when he was 21 years old. When meeting him for the first time, you can tell he is an island boy, like some like to call it. He wears Puerto Rico around him, loud and proud. After knowing him for a couple of years, he finally explained to me how he never truly wanted to come to the United States but was forced to because of the economic hardships he faced while living in Puerto Rico. He said during the interview, “Yo me tube que ir, Porque la cosa en Puerto Rico en realmente estaban muy mal.” He elaborated that he knew that after finishing college, leaving the island was his only choice because he knew that even after completing his degree, the possibilities of him attaining a job in his field was very low.
Additionally, he also mentioned that the minimum wage in 2015 was about 5 or 6 dollars, depending on where you worked. Norman knew that it wasn’t enough for him to sustain himself, let alone support his family. I asked him how has his life changed after he came to the United States, and he responded to me that he’d been faced with many challenges like language barriers, becoming financially stable, leaving his family in Puerto Rico. He said, “I had to do it for myself, me sentí muy mal dejando a mi madre allá pero ella me empujo para que yo tomara la decisión que yo hice.” He didn’t want to leave his mother because he knew he was all she had. Norman said to me that growing up, he knew that they didn’t have much but that his mom always put a strong face for both of them and still found a way to give him what he needed.
Moreover, I asked him to give me a comparison of his life on the island and his life here in the United States. He told me that he hated it here and that at times would get to a point where he just wanted to go back home. “Here is depressing, en Puerto Rico yo podía estar afuera todo el dia, Y la comida, la comida no se compara.” When he mentioned to me about feeling homesick, I related to him a lot, because I wasn’t born here either, and at times I do miss back home. This quote he said brought me back to space where I remember just playing outside all day and my grandmother’s cooking.
Furthermore, he described to me that his everyday routine has changed from doing multiple things in a day to work and then go home. Now, I brought back the conversation to my focal point which was the economic crisis in Puerto Rico and what it has done over the years to the island, I asked him about the crisis and how it impacted his life and the lives of the people around him. He answered by saying “Hay mucha corrupción en Puerto Rico, hay mucha corrupción aquí también solamente que allá le toca peor. allá nosotros tenemos que hacer lo que sea para sobrevivir because you know at the end of the day life keeps going and you either move with it or stay behind.” This statement to me was the most powerful in the interview because I could see how even though his whole experience changed his life and well change him, he didn’t let it break him.
Lastly, I touched on how hurricane Maria affected his life recently. He expressed to me that when it happened, he was devastated and highly concerned because when it happened, he was living here while his whole family was back home. He said that at that very moment, he felt helpless. “I couldn’t call my mom to find out if she was okay because the power was out. I didn’t know if our house was destroyed.” Norman explained that he was able to get in contact with one of his uncles, which told him that his mom was now staying them. A month after, his mom ended up having to come to the United States until their house in Puerto Rico was able to be repaired. He mentioned that there wasn’t a lot of significant damages but just broken windows, doors, and a flood. However, when he was telling me this, I could how hard that must have been for him. Now not only did he have to take care of himself but his mother as well, which is very difficult if you live in New York City while working in a retail job. “Ella tuvo que gastar sus savings, fue muy duro para ella dejar todo y venir aquí. Nueva York es una cultura diferente que ella no conoce bien, so it was a real adjustment for her at first”. He stated that she went back home in like three months because she had a family to stay with over there, but he said that in many people’s case it wasn’t that easy and that he knew that some had to migrate over here without knowing when they would be able to return home. He said to me, moving over here after living your whole life there is like losing a part of yourself. Similarly, saying that although people like me do it to give ourselves a chance to have a better experience, it is not as easy as some paint it. Having to be pushed out of Puerto Rico due to a financial crisis or because of a hurricane can impact a person far more profound than it would ever affect them materialistically.
This interview grounded me. It allowed me to step in the world of someone who has been affected not only by a financial crisis of territory but as well someone who has been affected by a natural disaster. Norman’s story I feel moved me because when first meeting or even knowing him years after, I never really knew how deep everything happening on the island affected him. Like most Puerto Ricans, he put on his brave face and continue to move forward. Although he loves his island very much, he says that he doesn’t see himself going back unless the situation in Puerto Rico becomes better. The emotions one faces when going through a traumatic experience like this is not understandable if all you know is what the media feed us. An experience like this is never genuinely mediatized correctly. The emotional distress or the stories of the people who were affected by it is never shown in media outlets unless it is benefitting the news station airing it. I am glad more people are joining together to publicize the real stories occurring today in Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria.