Home » Reflections
Category Archives: Reflections
The women of Puerto Rico have been the center of movements that created lasting change on the island so it is no surprise that they have stepped up to help others in need. After Hurricane Maria, a series of profane chats from Rosselló and his cohorts showed chats including, sexist, and homophobic attacks, which three days later the women-led Center For Investigative Reporting published the text messages that kicked of a wave of protests against the #RickyRenuncia.
There are hundreds of thousands of women across the island that come from all ages and backgrounds that are participating in the revolution. While some are in the front lines of confronting riot police, others are behind the scenes helping their communities by tending to farms, leading community workshops, healing, and education.
This is an incredible thing that women in Puerto Rico has done for the people like building homes, taking care of those in need, making sure their families were fed but one thing some people may forget is how women are marginalized not only do they not get treated unequally but after hurricane maria violence against women was an all-time high. According to RI interviews with organizations providing services to GBV survivors, and as was documented in several news reports, violence against women in Puerto Rico increased after Hurricane María.
This is hardly surprising given that GBV almost invariably increases with any natural disaster. In Puerto Rico, however, documenting the full nature and scope of the increase in GBV incidents in the hurricane’s aftermath has proven challenging for two main reasons. First, the three hotlines used to report incidents went dead with the collapse of the island’s telecommunications system. Even weeks after the hurricane, the 911 call center, the Office of the Women’s Ombudsperson’s emergency line, and the line to the Center for Assistance to Rape Victims were not fully restored. Second, key systems designed to prevent and respond to GBV collapsed. After the hurricane, only five of the island’s eight domestic violence shelters were functional. According to shelter staff, at no point did any authorities visit the shelters to undertake a needs assessment or request input from shelter directors on the emergency response. So while the women were making sure that everyone else was taken care of it seemed as if they forgot that women in Puerto Rico need to be taken care of as well.
By Alexus Rios
By Alexus Rios
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20th, 2017, it wreaked havoc on the island causing widespread destruction and disorganization in American History. Two weeks had passed after the storm and most of the island residents lacked access to electricity and clean water. This was the worst storm to strike the island and will haunt the residents for many years to come.
The scale of the destruction of the hurricane was devastating and for months after the initial disaster, most families and businesses remained without power, clean water, food, medicine, and limited cell phone service. Unable to have their basic needs met, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans left altogether but what did this mean for those who choose to stay.
I interviewed a family friend (who prefers to keep his identity private) that currently lives in New Jersey and is a retired security officer, who grew up in Puerto Rico. Growing up he remembered Puerto Rico being a lot of things “ Man growing up in Puerto Rico was definitely something different before I came to New York, I never thought I would be bullied for my accent, but looking back at it, I’m glad I left because look at it now”. He had a very humble upbringing and grew up in a house with his mother, father, and 6 siblings. He recalls being in the sun all the time and enjoying the presence of his family, culture, and food. Although he does not regret his decision moving to New York he was saddened by the way his people back home are getting treated in this time of need.
He felt that he was lucky enough to be able to afford moving out of Puerto Rico and to get a job that would help support his mother who decided to stay. He expressed that even though he did not experience the hurricane himself, he was mentally distraught and will never forget that feeling and horrible thoughts running through his head of what could have happened to his mother who is 90 years old and was all by herself at the time without knowing if she was alive or not. “It was the worst feeling ever, I was scared and felt hopeless and I really thought she had died. I was never going to forgive myself for not being there to help her out. Man I tried calling so many time but since the electricity was out I never got an answer and it was just horrible. “
After this interview took place I realized how a disaster can not only destroy someone’s home but also their hope and faith in a government that is supposed to help them in a time of need. Luckily enough the people of Puerto Rico were resilient to come together and help each other. Even though they should not have to only depend on themselves, they realized that if they were not going to help themselves then who was? Some were reconnected with their families and others sadly were not so lucky.
The world we live in is one ruled by capitalism and revolves around those who are making the effort to maintain a capitalist world economy. How much you have in wealth is tied to your self worth and perceived worth, so basically, who you are and how people see you. If you benefit from capitalism, you are seen as successful, with no regard given whether the system is intentionally created to benefit you or not. Likewise, if you are not benefitting from capitalism, it is perceived that you are a failure. Taking or using welfare tools or donations is seen as needy or greedy or avoidable when in reality you are merely taking the needed steps to survive in an economy created to fundamentally work against you.
This sets up a system where the exploitation of workers for a larger and larger amount of capital has officially become the norm. Ideas of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and shoving your own way into capitalist benefit literally originated in Puerto Rico with “Operation Bootstrap” in the late 1940s. In this plan, the United States created exploitative work for people of the island, while making sure that there were not enough jobs for everyone, making it easier to convince people to migrate onto the US mainland as a new, desperate, and most importantly exploitable source of labor both on and off the island. The United States said that this would create employment for the island, giving the population more funds which all imply that Puerto Ricans will gain the opportunity to better climb the class/social ladder.
The United States as a government, in support of both itself and its affiliated companies, investors, and lobbying groups wants to minimize their bottom line and pay their workers as little as they can so more can go in their pockets. This way of thinking is majorly flawed because the capitalist needs someone to buy their goods and of all the workers are just enough to live there is gonna be no one to buy their goods. Right now the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for workers not covered by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act is 6.55, 70 cents lower than the federal minimum. Lowering the minimum wage below that will do nothing but depower the working-class people and make it more difficult for them to get by and live their life.
Articles like this one and this one justify lowering the minimum wage by saying that there is not enough evidence saying that raising it will be any good and even go as far as to say that raising it will be catastrophic. The biggest case made is that raising the minimum wage will also come with an increase in unemployment while a decrease in the wage will create more jobs as capitalists will be able to pay more people. They also argue that prices will rise to meet the payments and will put us back where we started. All these reasons are not only flawed but short sited.
Cutting the wage might lead to more jobs due to more money being available to pay but it does not do anything to increase the buying power of those with money and makes it worse for them. Without the price of living also going down cutting people’s pay is just going to make their lives more difficult and deter them from consuming goods. With how crucial money going back into the system that is capitalism and people buying things it makes no sense to lower the buying power of the people in it.
This way of thinking is flawed as it makes it seem like the company has no other way to make more money to pay employees other than cutting them or raising prices. It stems from the idea I mentioned earlier of capitalists trying to maximize their profits. CEOs are making more than they ever have now and this greed has made it so the working class is struggling just to live. It is also why plans for raising the minimum wage might not work. Instead of taking the money they are making and hiring more or paying more these CEOs are keeping it to themselves. If they took a pay cut they could very easily compensate for the rise in the minimum wage.
As much sense as raise in the minimum wage in Puerto Rico, it is only a band-aid in the problem that is its economy. As of 2019, Puerto Rico is 74 billion dollars in debt. This unescapable amount is the root of many of Puerto Rico’s problems and can not be solved in just one easy move. While raising the minimum wage would help the people with jobs and most likely stimulate the economy unless there’s also a system set up to create jobs for those that do not have one it will be meaningless. Subsiding job-creating opportunities or creating more government jobs would do a lot to a country with 7.7% unemployment.
These plans to lower the minimum wage are only to further the exploitation of the working class and to widen the wealth gap that is already huge. It only benefits the capitalist to lower them goes against how the capitalist system is meant to work. More meaningful and proactive policies can be done if the U.S. government really wants to help the people of Puerto Rico but the history of the U.S. says otherwise. Protests growing in Puerto Rico demonstrate that the people are tired of being exploited by not only capitalist but their own government as well. With the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló hopefully, brighter days are ahead for Puerto Rico.
Disasters come in various forms; there are hurricanes, earthquakes, monsoons, tornados, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of disasters in the modern day are correlated with the effects of colonialism, capitalism and climate change. The ways people experience disaster also varies based upon location, country, race and gender. Often times when disaster strikes a developing country that is either still colonized or that has recently been “decolonized”, the effects are exacerbated due to the fact that there are already standing issues within the country. This has been exemplified in countries such as Puerto Rico and more recently the Bahamas. For the United States and its territories, the agency that steps in to provide aid is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Their mission statement is “helping people before, during and after disasters”; unfortunately, the length of time the presume is okay to provide assistance after a natural disaster is not adequate.
There are currently poor procedures in place to aid people who need help the most. FEMA provides aid to countries in need for a limited amount of time. There aren’t any procedures in place to provide help to these individuals in a long term manner. Arguably, this is because there is a limited understanding of the long term effects of trauma towards people of color. In disaster situations that impact a predominantly white population, there tends to be a sense of urgency to fix the problems caused by the disaster. Essentially, these people are given the opportunity to return back to normal in an expedited fashion. It is clear that FEMA has organized their timelines around privileged people, whether that be racial or via class.
Currently, FEMA has a multitude of services geared towards helping individuals and businesses get back on their feet. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the services provided to individuals. To try and highlight the issues within all of FEMA’s disaster support programs would take an entire novel. We will focus solely on FEMA’s housing assistance and the issues with the programs that fall under the temporary housing assistance category. FEMA does not provide as much help as the average person might consider. The things that fall under FEMA’s housing assistance include temporary housing, home repair assistance and home replacement assistance. At a glance, it seems that they have covered their bases, however that’s not true.
FEMA’s temporary housing is only for homeowners who are uninsured or underinsured that have been displaced after a natural disaster. This temporary housing assistance consists of initial rental assistance, utility outage rental assistance, inaccessible rental assistance, continued rental assistance and lodging expense reimbursement. The initial rental assistance covers an individual for two months; this is only given to people whose homes have been deemed uninhabitable or homes where people have been forcibly relocated. According to Forbes, 78% of workers in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck. The likelihood that a person requesting temporary housing from FEMA will be able to get their finances in order directly after a disaster is low. There are so many personal factors that this short time period does not consider. A person may lose their job and continued financial stability as a result of the disaster. Providing assistance for a mere two months is not only biased towards helping the gainfully employed individual, but it is also biased towards people who fall into very binary categories.
FEMA’s temporary housing becomes even more complicated once we take a look at their utility outage rental assistance. This covers those that experience “extended” utility outage in their area, and thus need rental assistance for another home. The coverage is provided typically for one month. The period of time that qualifies as “extended” is unavailable on their website. So not only will a person who has relocated because of extended power outages have one month of rental assistance, but they might not even qualify for assistance and will only find out after requesting this assistance. This is not the only example on FEMA’s website of language being vague; this is important to note as it allows for the agency to cover its bases and still be able to be selective about which individuals will receive aid and support from them.
Moving forward, there is inaccessible rental assistance. As inclusive as this title may sound, it is not. At a glance, one might assume that FEMA provides further assistance to those that need to relocate to a more accessible home due to disabilities they suffered before the disaster or as a result of the disaster. That is not the case; FEMA’s inaccessible rental assistance actually covers those whose homes are literally inaccessible to them as a result of the disaster. This inaccessibility to a home is usually due to flooding situations or issues where air quality is unsafe, therefore there is restriction to the home. This support is also only typically provided for one month.
Interested by this short amount of time that support will be provided to disaster survivors in this case, I took a look into the reality of repairing a home after flooding occurred. The act of drying out a room after flooding can take anywhere from twelve hours to several weeks depending on the size of the flood; the average time it takes to dry out one room after flooding is 72 hours. Assuming it takes the average amount of time to dry out a room to dry out multiple rooms in a house, there still must be consideration of the time it will take to repair the damages caused by flooding. Often times, flooring must be pulled out and drywall must be replaced after being submerged in water to avoid mold. The entirety of this process can take a month if everything happens quickly and nothing goes wrong during the repair process. After flooding however, items within the house usually need to be replaced as well. Referring back to the statistic provided by Forbes, 78% of people in the U.S. are living check to check. It is unrealistic to assume that people will be able to repair their homes and then replace the items in their home within just a month. FEMA’s inaccessible rental assistance then proves itself to not be helpful in the long term.
Now, FEMA does provide continued rental assistance in some cases. This form of assistance can only be provided for up to 18 months from the date of the disaster declaration, not from the time that the award is given or requested. FEMA claims to take approximately two to three days to approve people for assistance. However, most people may not qualify for this long term assistance and even if they do, it does not cover the full cost of rent needed. It is actually a monthly allowance that is based on the market at the time. Again, this is not a long enough period of time given to disaster survivors.
There are many factors to consider in terms of trauma being experienced after a natural disaster. After a disaster, people experience loss in a range of forms. Some experience of family members, loss of a home, loss of access to clean water, long term financial loss depending on the severity of the disaster and in some cases loss of access to healthcare. Those losses affect everyone, but then there must be consideration of people who were previously disadvantaged before the disaster. Homeless and impoverished people experiencing these losses coupled with the financial loss that comes with experiencing a disaster are often overlooked in these plans to help people recover.
Based on the information provided above, it is clear that these assistance programs not only neglect a vast majority of the in-need population, but also neglects the part of the population that was in need of assistance before the disaster. As I’ve highlighted the issues FEMA’s housing assistance program, I want people to consider that this a program that is based in the United States of America. If this is the quality of assistance that the U.S. government plans to give to its own, imagine how that quality of assistance diminishes when considering the support they should be providing to people in U.S. territories, or countries with high U.S. influence. This is something that needs to be fixed; this is a call to organizations and agencies such as FEMA to reform.
The evening of September 12th, 1988 has been stamped into the memory of so many people; it was the night that Hurricane Gilbert ravished the Jamaican island. There are very few Jamaicans who experienced Hurricane Gilbert that don’t reference it today. However, those individuals were old enough to recognize the severity and importance of the hurricane despite whether or not they’d be severely impacted. To have lived through Hurricane Gilbert has always been referenced to me as a blessing growing up as a young Jamaican woman. However, the unimaginable for so many Hurricane Gilbert survivors is living through another. Unfortunately, Tameika Halliman experienced both Hurricane Gilbert and Hurricane Sandy. I had the opportunity to interview her and be able to document her experiences.
Ms. Halliman was only 9 years old when Hurricane Gilbert hit, and it’s amazing to see how vivid her memories of the event are. Her ability to recount these events and even recall the emotions that she was experiencing really put into perspective the long-term impact of trauma and traumatic experiences.
For Tameika, the days leading up to Hurricane Gilbert’s arrival seemed to drag along. She recalls being a little girl and eavesdropping on conversations that the adults around her were having. The town she lived in was just outside of where Hurricane Gilbert would be doing its worst damage. She knew this because her parents ensured her that despite what other kids at school were telling her about how terrible the hurricane would be, they would be fine. In the U.S., people often receive hurricane warnings and are given access to resources that will help them prepare. When asked, Tameika said that she could not even recall buying extra food. At the time, her family had animals of their own, so the only preparation that was made was bringing in the goats and cows into the barn. During my discussion with Tameika, she stated that her siblings had enjoyed the night, but this was only because they could not actually comprehend what the hurricane would have in store for others.
The afternoon that Hurricane Gilbert hit, Tameika, her older brother and her younger sister went to the roof of their house. They had never experienced a storm like this, and thought it’d be fun to play in the rain. She vividly recalled the zinc flying around in the sky as she played with her siblings in the rain. The three siblings played in the rain on the roof and in the backyard until it got too dark and they went inside. They went inside that night without knowing how much the hurricane’s activities would impact them. That night, Hurricane Gilbert ravished the entire length of the island of Jamaica, resulting in over 50 deaths.
Jamaica was in despair after Hurricane Gilbert passed over the island. Houses were destroyed, electricity was lost, and water supplies for some became contaminated. Tameika recalls experiencing lack of electricity in her town; for her as a little girl, that meant that her and her siblings couldn’t play for as long as they were used to and bedtime was just earlier. Ms. Halliman discussed with me how she had a fear of the dark as a young girl and that was exacerbated during this time period. She discussed feelings of betrayal from her parents; they had told her that Hurricane Gilbert would not do any damage to them, but here she was experiencing the damage. Tameika recounted memories of sitting on her roof and looking down at the town below them that lay in ruin. The news reports surrounding Hurricane Gilbert documented the extensive damages that the island suffered. Over 100,000 homes were damaged, water and electricity supplies were damaged and many healthcare centers were damages as a result of Hurricane Gilbert passing along the length of Jamaica.
Over thirty years have passed since Hurricane Gilbert struck the island of Jamaica. Tameika has since relocated to the United States and has started a family of her own. However, she has not shed the entirety of the trauma that she gained since experiencing Hurricane Gilbert. Though her immediate family didn’t feel what she called “devastating effects” of the hurricane, there were traumatic aftershocks that she endured. Examples that she gave me ranged from losing extended family members to losing her favorite teacher at school. Tameika also recalls family members from Kingston coming to stay with her for various ranges of time. Though these things at the time didn’t seem like a big deal, as an adult she often recognizes how the trauma has impacted her.
Interestingly, while in discussion with Tameika, she stated that whenever there is a hurricane warning in NYC, she makes herself over prepared each time. When she experienced Hurricane Sandy a few years back, she stockpiled canned goods, invited family members living close to water to stay with her and ensured that her landlord have a backup power generator. Because of where she lived, none of these precautions were necessary and no one directly related to her felt any “devastating” impacts. However, it just goes to show that trauma can be long standing. From Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Tameika Halliman has continued to work through the trauma that comes with being a disaster survivor.
Two years ago, Puerto Rico was plagued with debilitating Hurricane Maria. The hurricane tormented Puerto Rico for days, causing severe physical and emotional damage to the country. The hurricane destroyed homes and schools, led to the spread of illness and disease through contaminated water and has scarred those who experienced it for life. It has led to the creation of a new way of life for many Puerto Ricans. It has also exposed a great deal of injustices; a lot has been learned about natural disasters. Unfortunately during this time I, like many others, was greatly removed from this tragedy. At the time, I was living in the United Kingdom and the only information that reached me regarding the hurricane was Donald Trump’s insensitive reaction to the natural disaster.
There have been many lessons to learn from Hurricane Maria. One of the most important, that so many government groups and officials have not learned, is that superpower nations have an obligation to help nations in need after these natural disasters. Of course, many would question why that would be the most important lesson to learn. This is precisely because superpower nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom have not only stagnated the growth of many nations due to colonialism/imperialism, but they have also been the largest contributors to climate change. Many find themselves asking “why is that relevant to a hurricane?”. Well, without delving too deep into the science of climate change, we can establish that climate change impacts sensitive areas first. Those sensitive areas include islands, mountains, etc.
There have been many lessons to learn from Hurricane Maria. One of the most important, that so many government groups and officials have not learned, is that superpower nations have an obligation to help nations in need after these natural disasters. Of course, many would question why that would be the most important lesson to learn. This is precisely because superpower nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom have not only stagnated the growth of many nations due to colonialism/imperialism, but they have also been the largest contributors to climate change. Many find themselves asking “why is that relevant to a hurricane?”. Well, without delving too deep into the science of climate change, we can establish that climate change impacts sensitive areas first. Those sensitive areas include islands, mountains, etc.
Two years after Hurricane Maria and there is still so much work to be done to help those recovering from the aftermath of the hurricane. In the Carribean, hurricanes and other natural disasters often have particularly devastating effects and the damages are frequently amplified. This is clearly exemplified in Puerto Rico post-hurricane. It’s a shame that two years after the hurricane, Puerto Ricans have not been able to recover even 50% of the way.
When thinking about Hurricane Maria, many people don’t see the bigger picture. There is far more to consider than simply rebuilding infrastructure and distributing funds to individuals, though that is also not being done. One thing that is a part of the bigger picture when considering how countries like Puerto Rico can recover from a natural disaster like Hurricane Maria is disaster risk. This is a function of a place’s physical hazard exposure, which is how directly it is threatened by disaster; it also is a countries social vulnerability and how resilient the nation is.
Another important consideration and factor to reflect on during this two year anniversary is geography and gender; the intersection of the two actually plays an important role in how best to assist countries post natural disaster. What exactly does this intersection mean though? To start, poorer residents tend to live in more disaster prone areas. This is due to the housing of those disaster prone areas being far cheaper. The majority of these poor residents spend their income mostly on their livelihood, meaning food, water, shelter, etc. This limits their ability to be prepared for a disaster to come and disrupt their lives. Now, certainly as the reader you’re wondering what all of this has to do with gender. Well, women are disproportionately exposed to illness post-disaster when living in these disaster prone areas. This is because water sources tend to become contaminated when disaster strikes; due to gender roles, women have to do things such as tend to the house, harvest, and other domestic responsibilities. These responsibilities that women have lead to their exposure to illnesses such as cholera and yellow fever. On this anniversary of Hurricane Maria, and with consideration of the hurricane that just ravished the Bahamas, it is important to consider ways to reduce women’s exposure to these illnesses and to actually consider the different ways that women are impacted post natural disaster.
While on the subject of gender and gender roles, a final thing I regarding gender and the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is femicide. An interesting thing to note about Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria is that there was a huge issue regarding femicide. Once Hurricane Maria came, one can only assume that the rates either increased or it became easier to get away with the act of femicide. This is heart wrenching, but as we reflect on Hurricane Maria, it is necessary to consider those who lost their lives due to the storm and those who lost their lives because of the aftermath of the storm. It’d be interesting to have a study done to find out how the rate of femicide has been skewed after Hurricane Maria.
Finally, the most important thing to note as we reflect for the two year anniversary of Hurricane Maria is that superpower and first world nations have a responsibility to the nations that they have debilitated. More specifically, the United States has a responsibility to help rebuild the infrastructure, economic climate and social climate in Puerto Rico. As the United States is the reason that far more countries cannot directly help Puerto Rico, they need to step in and do their job. It’s easy to understand the colonialism, imperialism and racism that has led to the United States being able to turn away from issues in Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria. However, it’s time that people and nations take a more humanitarian look on things and begin to help the people who they have exploited.
We see it all the time, people are failed by those they are supposed to trust, government corruption, illuse of funds that are meant for the citizens. It has been a common theme we have been exploring throughout this class and how it affects the people of Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria, residents of Puerto Rico looked to the Government to provide them with what they needed, however the government constantly gave people the run around, excuses for why they weren’t receiving help or making it so that only certain people would receive help and that there was a “How bad is your damage standard?”.
Many people believed that Puerto Rico actually got the aid they needed and that the government was supportive in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, however, I believe that Puerto Rico was deserted and left to fend for themselves. In times of natural disaster, the people are left to rebuild and help each other in times of need. The government leaves the burden of their responsibility on the people that they are responsible for. Natural disasters shed light on the true intentions of countries, it sheds light on the idea that many countries are not equipped to successfully handle crises. Hurricane Maria occured in 2017, it left people’s lives upside down. President Trump takes pride in failing as a president, he failed Puerto Rico when he went on twitter rants instead of aiding Puerto Rico in their recovery. According to the Washington Post “On Thursday, after the governor of Puerto Rico publicly denounced Trump’s failure to fulfill a promise of a meeting to address issues with recovery from Hurricane Maria, Trump proclaimed that he had treated Puerto Ricans better than not just any U.S. politician but any “human being.”” President Trump spent more time speaking of how much he helped Puerto Rico than he did actually helping them. He bragged and boasted about the effort that he put in, however, footage from Puerto Rico surfaced of trump throwing paper towels at the citizens of puerto rico, in a “you get one, and you get one” fashion.
It is as if having control over Puerto Rico was the help that he had given them. Instead is the fact that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US and depend on them for help during times like this. It is the United States’s responsibility as an “empire” to provide support to Puerto Rico. This idea is something that is often explored after many major natural disasters. However, this is not limited to only the United States and Puerto Rico, but has been seen with Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gilbert and most recently Hurricane Dorian. These have one connection, the United States. It brings the question to mind, what does the United States, the best country to live in, really have to offer survivors of natural disasters, and why does is so easily influence the governments of the places that are affected and why do they have a say in what happens to the lives of innocent people simply affected by natural disasters?
The United States sat back while Puerto Rico suffered. They watched as the people cried and begged for the help of the giant while president Trump sat back and complained about how much Puerto Rico was making a dent on the budget and how needy people were. This was a big slap to the Puerto Rican people who are a part of the United States due to Puerto Rico being a colony. It is as if the US had forgotten its moral obligation is to help Puerto Rico in the time of need. Puerto Rico is being affected unfairly due to climate change. Bigger global powers such as the United States pollute the environment and leave small island like Puerto Rico to deal with the wrath of Mother Nature with her very unpredictable and dangerous storms. The incompetence of the United States and FEMA only proved that the Puerto Rican people can only really count on themselves.
It was the people of the small communities that created soup kitchens and support groups to help one another get through the toughest times of recovery after Maria. It was neighbors that helped rebuild when FEMA didn’t provide enough aid to even get supplies. It was people within the community that fed others that couldn’t afford to be fed, or ran generators to help others.
The differences didn’t stop the people of Puerto Rico. People gave when they had nothing to give, gave because that is all they knew. Puerto Rico didn’t need the help from the United States because they had each other, an island of loving people who overcame the odds and differences they had to support one another through this horrendous tragedy.
Hurricane Sandy was classified as a Category 3 hurricane and categorized as the deadliest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season. Hurricane Maria was classified as a Category 5 hurricane and also regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect Dominica, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. FEMA also known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, responds to these types of natural disasters and provides aid for those in need. I’m going to compare some similarities and differences between the two hurricanes and how FEMA responded to each.
I decided to interview one of my good friends Robin Christopher Santos. He used to live in the Far Rockaways up until Hurricane Sandy wrecked his home. Robin was just in the 8th grade at the time. He didn’t really understand the magnitude of a hurricane, to him it was just another rainstorm. It wasn’t until the storm hit, that Robin and his family would face the effects of Sandy. Interviewing Robin gave me an inside look from someone who was affected by a hurricane. This allowed me to compare and contrast Hurricane Sandy with 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
Something I noticed about the two hurricanes were the effects they had on the people who lived in the vicinity of the hurricane. In both cases, lives were lost, property was damaged, and power outages took place. In 2012, Robin and his family were living in an apartment, paying rent monthly. When Hurricane Sandy hit, their entire floor as well as many of their belongings were destroyed. “It was like something out of a movie… I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. Everything my family had was gone within the hour”, Robin said. Victims of hurricane Maria had also suffered the same anguish. Their houses were destroyed, their loved ones lost, and their basic essentials to survive were scarce. Marta Rivera, a literal survivor of hurricane Maria, says “My home is at the bottom of a hill here in Arecibo. When the hurricane came there was a big wave and we had to be rescued from the home; it was destroyed”. Both were victims of each hurricane.
With similarities come differences. Though Sandy and Maria were both hurricanes, they each impacted their victims in different ways and with different levels of severity. Not only was that different, but the way FEMA and other aid/relief services responded to both events was different as well. Robin tells me about how he got his electricity back fairly quick, and how his landlord received aid checks from FEMA and was able to start fixing the damages. This greatly differs from how FEMA reacted to hurricane Maria. People in Puerto Rico didn’t have electricity for months and some for almost two years. According to an article by the New York Times, it was said that FEMA was sorely unprepared for Puerto Rico’s hurricane Maria. The writer Frances Robles, said “And when the killer storm did come, FEMA’s warehouse in Puerto Rico was nearly empty, its contents rushed to aid the United States Virgin Islands, which were hammered by another storm two weeks before. There was not a single tarpaulin or cot left in stock.” This just shows us how lagged the aid victims of Puerto Rico received was. People were without electricity, fresh food and water, improper shelter, the basic necessities of life and FEMA was lacking the necessary resources to help these people. FEMA exists for these types of situations and though they didn’t completely ignore Puetro Rico, I strongly feel like they could have done much more to help the victims.
After interviewing Robin and hearing his story, I realized how different FEMA acted towards both Hurricanes and the geographical places they affected. I also got an inside look and a better understanding of what victims of natural disasters go through. I also realized how many of the problems could have been avoided if FEMA was prepared. Personally I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for Robin and survivors of natural disasters.
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.
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.
In the era of climate change where warmer oceans are amplifying hurricane season, causing bigger storms to happen with increasing frequency it’s useful look back at Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was until last year, when Michael hit, the last Category 5 to make landfall on the mainland United States.
It’s hard to imagine that a place like South Florida with it’s well known natural hazard risk and location next to a major Air Force Base would be so socially vulnerable. The reaction to and recovery from Andrew was a major test of how this country with all its wealth and resources can handle even the expected in hurricane-prone areas.
I recently caught up with my Aunt Terry to get her survivor account of this experience. She had coincidentally just finished a local move from the house in Northern Florida she’d moved to in 1996 after leaving Homestead. Friends and family had already left. But it was the increased crime and failing schools—where Terry also taught—that forced them to move for the sake of her kids. Before Andrew they had never expected to move. “We had good jobs down there. We came up here with nothing I mean we had no jobs,” she said.
At 5am on Monday August 24th Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida 10 miles east of Homestead and 25 miles south of Miami. My family was from Homestead. They’d settled there after moving around often because my grandfather was in the Air Force.
Terry was born in Texas in 1956, “And so, I was four when we moved to the Philippines and then we moved to Homestead and that’s where dad retired in 1960… I could see it, the house all white, by the railroad tracks and a lot of water.”
And in 1960 Hurricane Donna hit. It was the last major hurricane, defined as anything above a Category 3, to strike South Florida before Andrew.
“Yeah, I think we were still moving in… mainly the storms then were just wind and a lot of rain,” Terry said. “That one most of what you had was the rain because we could put a boat out and you could canoe down the roads. And I mean there were some people that had motorboats, little small boats, that were going down the road. That’s how much water was in there.”
Andrew was a small and fast-moving storm so tracking it was especially difficult for the forecasting technology at the time. Even those around Homestead Air Force Base like Terry were surprised, “They were still having planes taking off… they were still open trying to get rid of all the planes and stuff and evacuated. But the people, we didn’t get an evacuation notice. That that was one thing that ticked everybody off. If they’d have said evacuate, we’d have been long gone and we wouldn’t have stayed in the houses.”
“But then all those tornadoes that were with it, that was, that’s what got us. We were sleeping. We didn’t know it was going to be that bad. We just redid our whole house two days before that stinking thing hit and what happened was our window got blown out in our bedroom. Then you started hearing this ‘flap flap flap flap flap.’ It was taking the shingles off the roof, so the roof was opening up.”
“When the limb or the branches, a huge like half a tree came through the bedroom window. Our first thing was, go get the kids because Liz was eight and Matt was 10 or 11. We got Liz and then the limb came right through the roof in her bedroom just as we had dragged her out. And we got Matt out of his room and went back to our bedroom, but the door had come off. So, then I tried to push Liz’s door up against her window so we could get back in it and get in her closet because she’s the only one that had a mattress.”
“Our idea was to wrap the mattress around and get in the closet because we all had waterbeds back then. We got in the closet and wrapped the mattress around and me and my husband John stood and we were holding it and he was in front leaning on it so the mattresses would stay around the kids and keep them safe.”
“I mean it’s pitch black you don’t know what’s happening. There was no idea you just heard this sound. I mean when they say the tornado sounds like a train on the tracks. That’s exactly what it sounds like coming through the house. And that’s when everything started blowing all to pieces and gone and walls and stuff. But when we finally got daylight and you can see stuff in the storm, after the first half when the eye of the storm passed over then you can see that our place where we were at was the only thing that was there. The back walls were gone.”
“We found our fish in a puddle down the street. But we couldn’t do anything with him.”
The recovery was a disorganized mess.
“You couldn’t drive in for a week. What came first was the Air Force and Army with their big helicopters. It was scary, like being in a war zone but just bringing stuff. And they were constantly passing over because there was a big field down the street.”
“It took a while to get the Red Cross and other people in there to help. The insurance companies could only come in the main roads US1 and we had to go meet them. Where we lived it was covered over and it took a week or two to clear it out with chain saws.”
“Red Cross was wonderful. When I got that first ice cube, because that’s all I wanted was something cold just give me an ice cube I don’t care about the water give me an ice cube.”
Hong Kong and Puerto Rico seem worlds apart. But recent global protests show there are deep commonalities as people organize against austerity, inequality, and the legacy of colonialism.
That was the topic of a recent panel this month at the CUNY Graduate Center.
The panel featured five experts, two from Puerto Rico, two from Hong Kong, and one from Taiwan.
The purpose of the event, according to organizer Wilfred Chan, was to “hopefully get toward some kind of shared vocabulary, or even interesting new avenues for inquiry.”
The panel positioned itself as part of a larger global discussion about building frameworks for community, political futures, and consciousness raising.
“As activists we should really think about in what ways a community is born,” said panelist Dr. Wen Liu, a professor of gender studies at SUNY-Albany. “It happens through action, through practice, through care.”
“How to rethink that whole global system is the question,” panelist and CUNY anthropology professor Dr. Yarimar Bonilla said. “To decolonize the decolonization movement.”
Hong Kong and Puerto Rico are both former outposts of global colonial powers that were later annexed by different rising global powers. Hong Kong became rich, and more unequal, thanks to its strategic position as a nexus of global capital. The city currently functions as an interface with China as it reemerges as an economic superpower.
At the same time, Puerto Rico’s diminished strategic importance to capitalist interests throughout the 19th and 20th centuries led to its current precaritized and pauperized state.
“In Puerto Rico, we’re told we should be more like Hong Kong in terms of wooing more financial capital and of having a stronger economic base,” Dr. Bonilla said.
The impetus behind the event was the newly formed Lausan Collective. Organized on WhatsApp in July in the wake of the Hong Kong protests, the group came together to talk and create space for perspectives that were largely absent in mainstream discourses around the city’s political unrest.
“There’s a simplification about what’s happening that tends to reinforce a lot of the binaries of East vs. West, or freedom vs. democracy,” Chan told the audience. “And these stories are more complicated than what you often see on the front page of the newspaper.”
The panelists noted how online left-wing discourse around the Hong Kong protests is often disappointing and wrapped in dated binaries, like the “tankie narratives” – that Hong Kong protesters are just another Color Revolution backed by the U.S. – that lead to a loss of solidarity with leftists around the world.
In addition to expanding the discourse around Hong Kong, Lausan Collective seeks to connect with and form solidarity with other oppressed and colonized peoples around the world.
Questions raised during the panel included:
What does it mean for different sites to erupt in protests at the same time? Can we think about similarities in terms of their methods, practices, or challenges? And also, in the way questions of sovereignty and possibilities are being articulated?
What happens when you are a place that doesn’t have nation-state sovereignty? How do you imagine your future? What kind of ideals or models can you look to? What statehood means? What is the nation? What is a state?
What can a people do? How can they cope in a space where sovereignty will not necessarily liberate them?
“What I’ve written about before is the search for a non-sovereign future, which does not mean a search for a future without sovereignty, but a search for something other than the Western model of sovereignty,” Bonilla said.
With emerging movements, clearly articulated political ideology is often absent. To catch a glimpse of the possibilities or potential futures, Bonilla says we need to look for “emerging structure of feeling.”
This means not only asking why people are mobilizing, but also looking at art, music, dance, memes, any form of cultural expression.
For example, panelist Jun Pang brought up the protest slogan “Restore Hong Kong.” Pang – a researcher based in Geneva but who’s worked for various Hong Kong NGOs around migrants’ and women’s rights – raised the question, what does “restore” mean in the context of Hong Kong’s history?
“We can’t be talking about restoring our British colonial history because that was also an oppressive regime,” Pang said. “But then also the word restore gestures towards more than just colonial nostalgia and more than our desire to return to a period before the protests. It’s also a response to grief, loss, and also a posture of hope in response to previous disappointments and unrealized possibilities.”
Even if a movement fails, it’s important to remember it created new possibilities and socialities, the panelists said. In Puerto Rico, it’s currently unclear how they will move forward after successfully removing the governor. Protests still rage in Hong Kong, but what follows if protesters’ demands are met is unknown.
And that’s okay.
“There is also another form of power within, that was built on the streets [of Puerto Rico] in July,” said panelist philosophy professor Dr. Rocío Zambrana. “This power of interrupting. This power of saying no. And without necessarily knowing just yet what political future is available.”
Watch the entire conversation recorded live here:
LIVE: Non-Sovereign Revolutions? Thinking Across Puerto Rico and Hong Kong at CUNY Graduate Center!
Posted by Lausan 流傘 on Thursday, December 5, 2019
A video Op-Ed by Andrys Tavarez that explores the racial inequalities in the mental health field.
Hurricane Maria was a category 5 hurricane which cause a tremendous amount to several Islands in the Caribbean like Virgin Islands, Dominica and Puerto Rico. This class open my eyes to so much things that is going wrong in Puerto Rico. These things stem from the political systems that takes advantage of its people and adhere to United States wishes. These issues were made worse when Hurricane Maria hit. This Hurricane was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Puerto Rico in the last hundred years and the reason for this is climate change. Climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of these catastrophic events.
Climate change is the overall increase in temperature worldwide. This increase in temperature is primarily caused by the increase of certain greenhouse gases in the air. These greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution these greenhouse gases have been trapping more and more heat and not letting it escape our atmosphere. As a result, the amount of energy available in places adjacent to the equator has made it conducive for stronger more frequent storms to occur.
As many of us already know the industrial revolution is the cause for this large release of greenhouse gases, we have seen in the last 200 years. The main greenhouse gas released is carbon doxed and it has risen from 200 part per million in 1800 to over 400 part per million today. This means there is a lot more carbon dioxide in the air trapping even more heat on Earth. This can be seen from the graph below showing the gradual increase of carbon dioxide emission over the last 200 years.
Now the thing we have to notice is who is responsible for this increase in carbon dioxide emission and the answer is the western world also known as global north. These are countries like United States and many countries located in Europe. These countries benefited the most from the industrial revolution and introduced the most carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. However, the people who are being most negatively affected by climate change are not these people who contribute the most. People who live in the global south are suffering the most. This is due to the fact that most hurricanes start near the equator because of the warmer waters and higher amount of energy available. Also, the sea level is rising and many island nations in the Caribbean like Puerto Rico will have largest issues dealing with loss of coast lines due to rise in water as seen by the graph below. Another reason these countries like Puerto Rico are being more negatively affected than countries like the United States when it comes to climate change is the amount of founds available for infrastructure to help protect against climate change.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. There are estimates that hurricane Maria will cost Puerto Ricans over 130 billion dollars in total to fully recover. When the storm hit power went down in most of the island and took month to come back on more many people. This was due to the poorly constructed electric grid in Puerto Rico. As the class as shown me the Storm not only showed how poorly Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is its open people eyes to other issues Puerto Ricans have been facing for years like political corruption. They have also been facing a massive debt which the government is more focused on paying then helping their own people.
There are many things going wrong in Puerto Rico today and most be done to fix these issues. The main issues is the struggle between the people to become an independent country or stay as a part of the United states or even try to become a state. As it is now the amount of support, they receive from the United States is not much and in fact the United States is more focused on Puerto Ricans paying back their debt to them. How can a country which is only worried about profit and capitalism be responsible for the wellbeing of another country? They simply wish to reap all the benefits. In my opinion independency is what is necessary.
Unfortunately, this alone will not be enough to help Puerto Ricans get on their feet. There must be something done about the huge debt Puerto Ricans faces and most importantly somethings have to be done about climate change. The negative effects brought on by climate change are only going to get worse for Puerto Ricans. Hurricanes will get more frequent and more intense. How can a country with so poor infrastructure continue to survive? Something has to be done to fight climate change. The world especially countries who benefited the most have to implement plans which will reduce carbon emission and maybe even one day find ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere directly.
Severe natural disasters tend to have an everlasting impact, for many Puerto Ricans this is true, as Hurricane Maria changed their lives forever. It also brought attention to many issues Puerto Ricans were facing even before Hurricane Maria hit the island, in September 2017. Enlightened, by the lack of aid and supplies after Hurricane Maria and the popular leaked chats, many Puerto Ricans, were encouraged to look at the bigger picture. Climate change, the substantial amount of economic debt, their corrupt governor which at the time was Ricardo Rossello, amongst other things. For many Puerto Ricans, their trauma of great loss and abandonment in their time of need triggered their power to fight for the betterment of their country.
That being said, July of 2019, a political scandal brought distraught to the country, involving the governor Ricardo Rossello and his staff and or “inner circle.” Hundreds of pages of leaked messages were made public. It was extremely shocking, in these messages Mr. Rossello used derogatory language in reference to his own Puerto Rican people. Mr. Rossello’s sexist, misogynist, homophobic, comments questioned his leadership at large. He even had the audacity to talk about the dead, of Hurricane Maria, “joking about bodies being piled up in government facilities.” He mocked those with disabilities and the obese, while also reflecting corruption within these messages.
Unfortunately, the fact is many Puerto Ricans were already disappointed with the way their country was being managed. Provoked by ridicule and dehumanizing messages, led to the outrage that filled the streets of San Juan. A protest began, thousands of Puerto Ricans set out to make a powerful change. For several days, people from communities far and near, came together as one with one specific goal, to get governor Ricardo Rossello to resign.
#RickyRenuncia was yelled and echoed until it was finally heard and followed through. On August 2, 2019, Ricardo Rossello’s resignation became effective as he stepped down as governor. Now Wanda Vázquez Garced is governor of Puerto Rico.“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”
This step towards change is just the beginning for the Puerto Rican people. This just shows, if they stand together and fight for what they want, despite the wrath they might face from the law, great change is likely to result. For the passionate activist and even the general Puerto Ricans, this #RickyRenuncia protest was extremely empowering and made nonbelievers believe in the power of the people and their voice as it makes a difference. “The key to success is to focus on goals, not obstacles.”
In 1898, The Americans invaded Puerto Rico for their natural resources, mainly sugar and promised Puerto Ricans that under their rule the Americans will protect their life, liberty, and happiness. The Americans won the Spanish-American war with the help of Puerto Ricans, who were under the assumption that they will receive the “American Dream” as presented like such in the Treaty of Paris.
With that said, Puerto Ricans started to attack Spanish owned businesses and property, but low and behold tigers never change their stripes, the United States manipulated and colonized Puerto Rico extorting them for all their natural resources until the island of Puerto Rico ran into debt.
Shortly after the United States established their presence, gearing up to complete their mission to take over Puerto Rico’s economy, the citizens of the island started to question where they stood with the United States being that the U.S did not include Puerto Rico within the country. Instead, the U.S made Puerto Rico a U.S territory. Being a U.S territory and not a state means that you generally have a territorial governor appointed by the Federal government. You usually do not have any elected body of representatives and have no representation in Congress.
I try to picture this as if I were at a restaurant and I kept ordering different types of food on the menu, but everything I taste is just not good enough for me, so I keep wanting more which leads me to ordering more.
The end of the night has come, the beautiful restaurant is closing down and as the waitress is bringing me the check, I run and then try to sue later on for harassment! This would be me showing a lack of respect and humbleness being that I walked in intending on not paying, but yet in the back of my mind felt no guilt because I hold no regard for the business being that I ate everything they had to offer but did not think of them enough to be fair and pay for what I ate.
The U.S runs out on the bill every time it pertains to a minority group. The U.S holds no regard or remorse for manipulating and extorting Puerto Rico throughout the years. The United States literally extracted Puerto Rico’s sugar and oil while making huge contributions to the islands standing debt, but when citizenship that was promised by the U.S to the people of Puerto Rico was not fulfilled, this eventually lead to the Jones Act of 1917. The Jones Act was a way to naturalize Puerto Ricans through a process that would eventually lead them to citizen status however, that does not change territorial status, so was this act just beating a dead horse? But it would not be in the U.S fashion to just do things solely because it is right. The U.S used this new act as a way to gain more soldiers for World War 1 being that Puerto Ricans were considered “citizens” they were now drafted in the war.
In my eyes, its as if the people of Puerto Rico was being teased and that citizenship was being held over there head. I am embarrassed to know that I am apart of country that values the dollar over a life
By the island of Puerto Rico being territory of the U.S, this does not technically make them apart they just belong to. Puerto Rico does not receive any public assistance from the U.S or any healthcare benefits, but the U.S can build factories and trade from their island leaving them open to diseases and bad air/water. How can you dump waste onto a place you own, harming the people that you are responsible for with toxins and not make sure that they are healthy enough to endure those chemicals.
At this current moment Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy in July 2017, and they are supposed to be one of the top for exporting pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. What makes Americans so superior to Puerto Ricans? The U.S is using Puerto Rico’s grounds to produce medicine and pharmaceuticals but can not supply the people of Puerto Rico with health insurance and assistance. This is a blatant slap in the face to the people of Puerto Rico being that they experienced a hurricane (Maria) in 2017 and ran out of electricity, clean water, food, and lost their homes but yet the chart above shows that we are still profiting off of them a whole year after we could not seem to find any extra money to help these displaced islanders.
One day we will get to the bottom of why the U.S constantly takes minorities land and space but refuses to deal with the actual people who were settled there. But we should probably not expect much of a direct answer being that America was built on the back of displacing minorities for power and profit.
In the era of climate change where warmer oceans are amplifying hurricane season, causing bigger storms to happen with increasing frequency, it’s useful to look back at Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Andrew was the last Category 5 to make landfall on the mainland United States before Hurricane Michael in 2018.
It’s hard to imagine that a place like South Florida, with it’s well-known natural hazard risk and location next to a major Air Force Base, would be so socially vulnerable. But the reaction to and recovery from Andrew was a major test of how this country with all its wealth and resources can handle even the expected in hurricane-prone areas.
I recently caught up with my Aunt Terry to get her survivor account of this experience. She moved to Gainesville after Andrew. But the move wasn’t because of the hurricane. It was because of the increased crime and failing schools, schools where Terry worked as a teacher. Before Andrew, Terry thought she would live the rest of her life in South Florida. “We had good jobs down there. We came up here with nothing. I mean we had no jobs,” she said.
At 5 a.m. on Monday August 24, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida 10 miles east of Homestead and 25 miles south of Miami. My family was from Homestead. They’d settled there after a lot of moving around because my grandfather was in the Air Force.
Terry was born in Texas in 1956. “I was four when we moved to the Philippines and then we moved to Homestead and that’s where dad retired in 1960 … I could see it, the house all white, by the railroad tracks and a lot of water.”
In 1960, Hurricane Donna hit. It was the last major hurricane, defined as anything above a Category 3, to strike South Florida before Andrew.
“Yeah, I think we were still moving in … mainly the storms then were just wind and a lot of rain,” Terry said of Donna. “That one most of what you had was the rain because we could put a boat out and you could canoe down the roads. And I mean there were some people that had motorboats, little small boats, that were going down the road. That’s how much water was in there.”
Andrew was a small and fast-moving storm so tracking it was difficult for the forecasting technology at the time. Even those around Homestead Air Force Base like Terry were surprised. “They were still having planes taking off… they were still open trying to get rid of all the planes and stuff and evacuated. But the people, we didn’t get an evacuation notice. That was one thing that ticked everybody off. If they’d have said evacuate, we’d have been long gone and we wouldn’t have stayed in the houses.”
Andrew wasn’t just one storm. It resulted in multiple tornadoes.
“All those tornadoes that were with it, that’s what got us. We were sleeping. We didn’t know it was going to be that bad. We just redid our whole house two days before that stinking thing hit and what happened was our window got blown out in our bedroom. Then you started hearing this ‘flap flap flap flap flap.’ It was taking the shingles off the roof, so the roof was opening up.”
As the night wore on, trees uprooted and infrastructure crumbled.
“A huge, like, half a tree came through the bedroom window. Our first thing was, go get the kids because Liz was 8 and Matt was 10 or 11. We got Liz and then the limb came right through the roof in her bedroom just as we had dragged her out. And we got Matt out of his room and went back to our bedroom, but the door had come off. So, then I tried to push Liz’s door up against her window so we could get back in it and get in her closet because she’s the only one that had a mattress.
“Our idea was to wrap the mattress around and get in the closet because we all had waterbeds back then. We got in the closet and wrapped the mattress around us. And me and my husband John stood and we were holding it and he was in front leaning on it so the mattress would stay around the kids and keep them safe.
“It’s pitch black you don’t know what’s happening. There was no idea, you just heard this sound. I mean when they say the tornado sounds like a train on the tracks. That’s exactly what it sounds like coming through the house. And that’s when everything started blowing all to pieces and gone and walls and stuff. But when we finally got daylight and you can see stuff in the storm, after the first half when the eye of the storm passed over then you can see that our place where we were at was the only thing that was there. The back walls were gone.”
Even one of family pets wasn’t spared. “We found our fish in a puddle down the street. But we couldn’t do anything with him.”
The recovery was a disorganized mess, according to Terry.
It took a while for Red Cross to get to people in need.
“When I got that first ice cube, because that’s all I wanted was something cold. Just give me an ice cube, I don’t care about the water, give me an ice cube.”
It took a week or two just to clear out the area with chain saws. Air Force and Army helicopters constantly hovered above because there was a large field down the street from her home. No one could get in or out of the area because of the wreckage in the streets. Contractors stole money for repairs that never happened. People’s belongings were stolen in shelters and off the street.
“It was scary, like being in a war zone.”
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
The devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was far greater and long lasting than most had expected. When discussing the aftermath, immediately thoughts of destruction and survival surface to the forefront of the conversation. In the moments immediately after, that is what’s important. What was lost? Who was lost? Who is alive? Who is in need? What do they need? The focus is on helping survivors make it another day, and hopefully find normalization again. Rarely is it that simple, however, as reconstruction is never a one day fix. The question for Puerto Ricans would become, How do we fix something that was always broken?
As time went on, the aftermath of hurricane Maria exposed many systemic problems on the island. Many confuse Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States as a commonwealth as full statehood instead of a colony. Although Puerto Rican’s have citizenship they do not have the right to vote, nor do they have representation in Congress. The governor is responsible for vocalizing the needs of the island, and this was Ricardo Rossello at the time of the storm. With Donald Trump as our president, the media was looking at him for his response to the disaster.
Both Rossello and Trump took little action and a lot of credit for the aid in Puerto Rico. The lack of government aid throughout the island left people without homes, electricity, water, supplies, jobs, schools, and the list goes on. With everyone’s focus on survival and returning to normalcy, some aspects of life in Puerto Rico were forgotten about.
There are elements of a culture that become essential outlets of self expression and ritualistic lifestyle. Both art and sport are so universal but become unique and symbolic of one’s homeland in the context of a single nation. While these two elements are embedded in our everyday lives, they are categorized as a leisurely activity rather than a necessity. In times that prioritize survival, like hurricane disasters, non necessities get brushed to the side. A lot of time has passed since hurricane maria first hit the island, and locals have already begun considering taking steps back to these cultural aspects, but funds make it difficult to have a lasting impact. Fortunately, some celebrities have decided to respond to the lack of aid, and help rebuild themselves.
One celebrity making strides for Puerto Rico is Lin Manuel Miranda. Miranda is a composer, lyricist, singer, actor, and playwright best known for his works In the Heights and Hamilton, both widely successful Broadway musicals. On Fortune, Emily Price describes how Miranda has been using ticket sales from Hamilton to donate funds to the arts in Puerto Rico, raising over $14 million by February of 2019. Partnering with the Flamboyan Foundation, an organization dedicated to philanthropy, Miranda created the Flamboyan Fund for artists and art institutions throughout the island. The money raised has particularly gone to the rebuilding after Maria, but also to some recipients selected by the foundation’s board. Amongst the recipients include the Puerto Rico Art Museum, a theater company Y No Habia Luz, and Música pa’ Culebra.
More recently, the salsa and latin trap artists Marc Anthony and Bad Bunny have come together to contribute as well. Both singers are Puerto Rican born stars that dominate the music charts in and out of the Latin community. HOLA!’s Robert PeterPaul discusses how the two partnered with several organizations to form the “Play Ball Again” program, in which they will rebuild six baseball fields that were destroyed by the hurricane. The specific field are located in the cities of Vega Baja, Loiza, Isla Verde, Yabucoa, and Yauco. The grand opening is estimated to happen around December of 2019, and after that the program plans to expand on restoring more fields. These playing fields are geared towards children, and it is important to the singer’s that kids have a place to play.
Mental health is a topic that has been very taboo throughout the history of the latin community. Fortunately it is a topic that has been highlighted in recent years, especially in Puerto Rico after the island as a whole experiences trauma. In Alejandra Rosa & Patricia Mazzei’s article, “A Space Where You Could Be Free’: Puerto Rico’s L.G.B.T. Groups Rebuild After a Hurricane” they highlight the importance of a safe communal space for the gay community, and what having these spaces can do for these people. Human beings need to have outlets to rely on where they can express themselves and work out their emotions. Although the arts and sports are passed off as activities of leisure, people need places of leisure. It is important to provide them with a source of social interactions and community spaces, which these centers of leisure offer. Art and baseball are a huge part of Puerto Rican culture, and allowing citizens to continue aspiring in these fields provokes growth for the island. The foundations behind Lin Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, and Bad Bunny stress the idea of a safe space for both artists and children. Focusing on projects like these allow Puerto Ricans to access a healthy way of living and a strength to push forward.
In selections from Aftershocks of Disaster we learn about stories of resilience and rebuilding from residents of Puerto Rico. In Giovanni Roberto’s “Community Kitchens” he discusses his experience running a soup kitchen that becomes a center of community, but faces many problems from the local government and institutions. Stories like these remind us that Puerto Ricans have the willingness to work towards self recovery and regulation, but often face obstacles from outside forces. The aid of celebrities help to overcome these obstacles.
The wealth and popularity that comes with fame opens up many doors of opportunity that are closed off to the general public. More celebrities should use their positions of power as a non government official to contribute to the people’s causes. It is a wonderful thing what Lin Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony and Bad Bunny are doing but there is still so much left to do. To this day Puerto Rico is fighting many battles such as lack of electricity, schools closing, and gender inequality. The people have been protesting and pushing back for a long time. With more help from celebrities providing resources and adding pressure through the media, the job will get done much faster and have a long lasting impact.
Hurricane Maria was an outlet that revealed many issues to Puerto Rican citizens. As Puerto Rico emerges in this state of revolution, little by little people are finding ways to answer the question, how do we fix our nation? For celebrities with a platform, people like Lin Manuel Miranda, Mark Anthony and Bad Bunny have chosen to organize the rebuilding themselves. It is not just in the money they provide, but the example they provide, of taking action into their own hands that makes these gestures so important. What I love most about Puerto Ricans like myself is the pride we have and the willingness to work for what we want. Moving further into this revolution, each day more and more Puerto Ricans are stepping into that mindset, and working towards rebuilding a nation for themselves. With more celebrities on the people’s side, it will be much easier for Puerto Ricans to achieve their goals in sustaining the island in ways that benefit them.
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.
Since the emergence of technology and basic broadcasting methods, Americans have turned to different outlets of media (television, news updates via cell phone, social media, etc.,) in order to stay updated on present events. As the years have passed, the focus of different channels has shifted greatly. This was especially evident during mid-September 2017, when Hurricane Maria struck and devastated thousands of residents of Puerto Rico.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, it was established that nearly 200,000 Puerto Ricans emigrated out of their native territory and into other states within the U.S., and that was not including the thousands of impoverished and elderly people remaining that were plunged further into poverty. The effects of the massive relocation also cascaded a series of other events such as schools closing, government services being cut off, and increased difficulty in finding employment. The hurricane was crippling to the entirety of Puerto Rico in every aspect possible, so it is not by any means reasonable that there was so little media coverage surrounding it as compared to Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey.
It also is not logical that only eleven months after the natural disaster struck, FEMA cut back aid because the “state” of emergency was over, however, it is also true that just five months after the hurricane (February 2018), there were still over 200,000 people left without electricity, running water was not available on the outskirts due to the lack of energy for the pumps, there was an increased crime rate/homicides, and the overall population was entering a state of distress, which could be evident through the increased suicide rates. Furthermore, in the months continuing, the circumstances only continued to worsen. By month 7 post hurricane, public schools continued to close and thousands of people were still left without electricity.
When the statistics of the situation are analyzed and connected to the lack of media coverage, it could be concluded that the lack was due to the fact that enough was not being done to assist Puerto Rican residents. There was no way the media could “spin” the story to make it sound better; simply put, there was not enough being done. There was nothing to broadcast. The residents of a territory not immediately visible to us were just that: out of sight and out of mind. While it could be pointed out that the media failed to cover Hurricane Maria inadequately because it happened shortly after the coverage of two other major hurricanes within the United States (Hurricane Harvey at the end of August 2017 and Hurricane Irma just ten days prior to Maria), this does not excuse the insufficient coverage nor care revolving the catastrophe.
The media’s inadequacy in addressing the urgency and true tragedy of the situation in Puerto Rico was a direct reflection of the overall attitude towards Puerto Ricans as a whole. Various polls conducted showed that only 54% of Americans were actually aware that people born within Puerto Rico were considered citizens. The disconnect could also be a metaphor of the hostility towards the territory by the United States. As time progressed, the media only strayed further and further from topics pertaining to the crisis and instead focused on irrelevant topics. Personally, I believe that this was done intentionally as a means of diverting attention from the problem and also the fact that so little was being done by the U.S to assist the residents of Puerto Rico. The media consistently failed in educating the general public regarding the severity of the problem at hand, which was completely irresponsible. This only worsened the issue since so many people were unaware, and there was no way for anybody to speak up and get others involved in pressing for further aid to be sent to the victims: either through fundraisers, petitions, or protests for the government to be a more proactive force in helping Puerto Ricans get back on their feet.
How are the 3 connected?
When interviewing earthquake survivor Giovanni Roy, he seemed to be indifferent to speaking about his experiences. No part of him was reluctant to share information, but no part of him spoke as if he wanted to relive it.
Giovanni came here almost 10 years ago in early February on a cold NYC winter day, with nothing but a jean jacket after having to pass through the Dominican Republic and Miami, Florida. Not to mention, he came in the middle of the academic school year.10 years later, he is a 24-year-old student at Hunter College living under TPS (Temporary Protected Status). Giovanni is a member of the Haitian Student Association of Hunter College and has been for a few years now. Many of his peers refer to him as “Gio” and he is usually known for his boastfulness and pride in beating anyone at dominoes and his love for food. To the naked eye, it seems that he has successfully transitioned into living in the United States, but what is hidden is his experience of living through a disaster.
The earthquake of Haiti in 2010, was a life-changing event for Gio. He was around 14 at the time when he said that the second floor of his building became the first. When interviewing him, I asked how he was doing because I think not many people get asked that question enough with serious intent. He replied: I feel amazing and I’m in a lovely relationship. That cheery attitude soon diminished when I started asking questions about his trauma with the incident.
“I didn’t believe it until I saw the people that I knew that were dead, I was just crying”
The issue of PTSD and other forms of trauma are not the only issues victims face but are the most talked-about issue. Varying forms of trauma may or may not be easily identifiable depending on the person. When I asked if he had taken any measures to seek help in processing his trauma his view on it was negative, but I don’t blame him because it is what he truly felt. He said “That would change nothing. It happened. They aren’t coming back to life are they?” Giovanni explained to me that the entirety of the disaster felt unreal, like a dream. He said he only began to understand things when he saw the dead bodies of loved ones.
This feeling of disconnecting completely from the disaster itself is a form of disassociation.
This is “a psychological experience in which people feel disconnected from their sensory experience, sense of self, or personal history. … Dissociation often occurs in response to trauma and seems to have a protective aspect in that it allows people to feel disconnected from traumatic events.”https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-dissociation-22201
Not only is trauma and issue that Giovanni has to face. Another problem for him is his immigration status. He is under something called “Temporary Protective Status” others refer to it as being under asylum. “It’s biased, the wait is long, almost a year long.” He explains that maintaining employment in the period that it takes to get it is long and difficult, and he could be let go at any moment. He also explained that as a college student, this status didn’t provide him with any sort of Financial aid to fund his studies. Now in 2019, Giovanni works full time, over 40 hours a week and is a part-time student who also has to pay rent.
As a New Yorker, I only had a small taste of what a disaster was when Hurricane Sandy hit. I only realized the gravity of this disaster when I learned the next week at school that my earth science teacher, Jennifer Rondello-Dixon’s house was completely destroyed. Not only did this teacher go through such a grave disaster for where she lives but she had to continue coming to school to teach every single day without showing that she was struggling back home.
Jennifer was born and raised in Queens, NY and had moved to Far Rockaway in later years. When I had Mrs. Dixon as a teacher she was then known as Ms. Rondello. I was her student during her transition from fiancee to wife. When asked about how her daily routine was before Sandy hit she simply stated: “My daily routine is still the same as it was when sandy hit 7 years ago… I wake up and go to work as a science teacher before coming home, cooking, cleaning and sleeping (though now I also have tyler to take care of.)” Though my interview with her was short and brief over Facebook messenger, I had a feeling she was typing this with the positive, warming smile that I knew her to always have.
Jennifer made it clear to me that her mental health was also taken into consideration. “Mental health is super important” she stated. I have known her to be one of the few teachers that students spoke to her about their personal lives and have even confided in her with my own self so this is almost an understatement in her terms. “Unlike Giovanni, Jennifer had a therapist but the natural disaster wasn’t something they discussed. “I leaned mostly on family and friends,” she said, stating that they were her main source of support during the recovery and relief efforts.
One thing that struck me the most was the photos Jennifer had sent me. There were tons of pictures fo her earth science books, regents preparation books and etc. I knew that Jennifer was a passionate teacher so I’m sure that these books had sentimental value to her.
In Jennifer’s case, she stated that her mindset on life had changed. Though she did struggle a bit, she was able to make a big decision with her now-husband. I asked her how this disaster has changed her family dynamic and received such a beautiful answer. Jennifer said, “Sandy definitely affected my family dynamic because we decided to have Tyler (her son) after we bought our home because we realized how fragile life is.”
In a sense, Jennifer was able to see the positive of this event and start her family. She was able to come out of this situation with her family, friends, and neighbors by her side.
I was a 17 year old high school student who did not watch the news, I would just roll over in the morning to my mom telling me “Janelle, its going to rain; Janelle its going to snow”. I never had to think hard about any extreme weather conditions or relocating of any kind because I live in a pretty sturdy building with bricks, the most troubling thing on my mind during extreme weather conditions were leggings or long-johns. September 17th, 2017 was a Sunday to remember in retrospect, I was very obnoxious that day when I heard about the storm that hit Puerto Rico. Not knowing the damage this Hurricane would later result to, as a teenager the only thing that ran through my mind was “Is the rain going to hit New York, so I can stay home tomorrow?” Till this day those words haunt me every time I go to my “Puerto Rico: After Maria” class and hear those who have family members in Puerto Rico directly effected by the storm. I live in predominately black neighborhood, so its not until I got to Hunter College when I started meeting people from different cultures and taking classes that taught me about them as well. Two semesters ago I took this Puerto Rican history class that basically gave me many examples of how the United States of America values what Puerto Rico can offer rather than appreciating their people. Ever since then I have been taking interest in these courses because I feel like it is my job as someone who lives in America to educate myself on whats going in a country that even though Trump hates to admit, is apart of us! Now I’m in a class that focuses on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and current day Puerto Rico. On the second anniversary of Hurricane Maria According to the New York Times article, “Hurricane Maria, 2 Years Later: ‘We Want Another Puerto Rico’” the citizens of Puerto Rico are still holding together assembly’s in the San Juan neighborhood, to discuss what they want their future to look like.
It is hard to believe that 2 years passed and the people of Puerto Rico are still without power, clean water, and food. Reading about to the conditions that Puerto Ricans are living in, makes me commend them for their logical ways of trying to get a reform by being patient while still advocating for themselves. Slowly but surely Puerto Ricans will get their island cleaned up completely and this will all be worth it. Some of them are even looking at this gap that is supposed to be filled with the U.S giving reparations and cleanup as something that was crucial and necessary. Emilio Pantojas García, a sociology professor at the University of Puerto Rico states “What Maria did was very important in political terms: It showed that the government of Puerto Rico was the equivalent of a failed state; We survived Hurricane Maria because of solidarity among churches, community organizations, neighbors. The government never arrived.” This quote is relevant to the point of “it takes a village”, when the government and FEMA became useless the people of Puerto Rico stepped up to the plate they took matters into their own hands.
World Vision and volunteers from church partner Calvary Church in Utuado, Puerto Rico, provided food, water, hygiene kits, and tarps to 32 families in Jayuya- area communities of Parceles Ponce and Paso Palma following Hurricane Maria (2017 World Vision/Photo by Chris Huber)
Not only are the people of Puerto Rico pitching in but so are celebrities and college students. Right after the Hurricane hit Marc Anthony alongside Jennifer Lopez, who is a six time Latin Grammy award winner started up a humanitarian relief initiative called “Somos Una Voz” (We Are One Voice) backed by an “alliance of celebrities working together to rush food shelter, medicine, power and communications to areas affected by recent natural disasters” in the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Also, rapper Pitbull sent his private plane to Puerto Rico to transport cancer patients seeking chemotherapy treatment to the U.S mainland. In the New York Daily News, Pitbull humbly said “Thank God we’re blessed to help.Just doing my part” that statement should make a light-bulb go off in Trump’s head because it is actually Donald Trumps “part” to assist the people of Puerto Rico and to get them back on their feet being that Puerto Rico is territory of the United States.You even have CUNY students flying out during their summer break to help Puerto Rico rebuild, everyone is taking accountability except government officials.
Seeing people who are just like me pitch in to support gets me inspired to want to help as well. In my opinion, I think that as people who are not originated from Puerto Rico we should first start by educating ourselves and then looking for solutions or outlets to further support Puerto Rico. Just because our president holds Puerto Ricans in no regard does not mean we should too. Learning about Hurricane Maria helped me become more involved with supporting those in need. My mom is a teacher at a school in Bushwick, and we came up with the idea of making a safe space for not only the children but also the faculty who have families in Puerto Rico struggling to piece their homes back together. I always felt so guilty for being ignorant that Sunday morning after hearing about what was going on, and insensitive to what I could not see, but just because it was not around for me to see does not mean it did not happen or damage was not done, so I look at this as a way to redeem myself in a sense. Even though, these group members are not directly effected I still think its a step towards knocking down stereotypes and misconceptions about Puerto Ricans that are spread throughout white America. Just from hearing them speak about the benefits and assistance that is not afforded to them, tells me that the strain this Hurricane is putting on their loved ones are still bothering them 2 years later. I believe everyone has a story to tell, you just need someone willing to listen.
There is no doubt that climate change is happening, and it is clear that the negative effects of this change are increasing at an alarming rate. As a young person, climate change is an issue that terrifies me, and I am sure will continue to effect my life in the future.
My country, the U.S., is one of the top consumers of fossil fuels, and in September 2017, one of our territories was hit with the strongest climate change disasters it has ever seen: Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Corporations and political leaders hold power over decisions such as fossil fuel use, and without any regulation or change, normal citizens will continue to suffer. I am going to look at the specific case of negative climate change effects in Puerto Rico, how these effects exposed corruption in Puerto Ricos government, and the underlying issue of colonialism.
The rainfall that occurred during Maria was incredibly destructive to the island’s infrastructure. It caused widespread flooding, destroyed crucial dams, and helped knock-out drinking water to nearly the entire island. It also triggered tens of thousands of landslides, which isolated communities for days or weeks at a time.
Climate change is the reason that storms like Maria are happening more frequently and becoming more intense. Warming oceans are responsible for increased rainfall and flooding, and the storms are thriving with warmer atmospheres and higher moisture availability.
But, the issue of climate change is not the only problem Puerto Ricans face. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria unveiled a corrupt government and problems of colonialism that were only recently brought to the worlds attention.
When Hurricane Maria hit, many Puerto Rican residents said that their lives changed over night. Fully, 83 percent reported either major damage to their homes, losing power for more than three months, employment setbacks or worsening health problems, among other effects of the storm. A year later, residents were still struggling with basic necessities. Both the U.S. and local Puerto Rican governments seemed to ignore or underrepresent these facts, and after Maria, basically left Puerto Ricans to fend for themselves.
Puerto Ricans have witnessed a failure of help from all levels of government. Donald Trump has long spewed the rhetoric that his administration’s recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Maria were appropriate and effective, saying that the federal government did “a fantastic job” there. Overall though, Puerto Ricans gave terrible feedback when rating the presidents response to Maria.
Locally, Puerto Ricans had an unsupportive government that underrepresented Maria’s death toll for months after the disaster. Then, a few years later, Puerto Ricans witnessed their Governor, Ricardo Rossello, targeting victims who had died during the storm after nearly 900 pages of messages were released between the Governor and his colleagues.
This was the last straw. After this news, thousands of Puerto Ricans gathered on the streets of San Juan to protest the resignation of Rossello. Immediately after, the Governor refused to step down, but after he was faced with impeachment and persistent protestors, he resigned a week later.
This protest was not simply about Rossello though. It has stemmed from decades-long economic crises and political mismanagement in Puerto Rico. Also, according to many Puerto Rican political observers, Hurricane Maria, and therefore climate change, was at the heart of their resistance.
The relationship between resistance and climate change is an important one. These issues in Puerto Rico were no secret to Puerto Ricans, but the protests against Rossello may not have happened if it had not been for Hurricane Maria. Therefore, this allowed Puerto Ricans to gain nation wide attention to the underlying issues of colonialism that has been occurring in their country since the 1500’s.
Changes that are happening with the earth are causing huge amount of suffering, and it is mostly concentrated in marginalized groups. Yet, we have a government and a President who does not acknowledge climate change, has changed fossil fuel regulation, and has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, and even after science has continually acknowledged that storms such as Maria are accelerated by climate change, the administration still does have any empathy or a solution for help.
We are one of the top consumers of fossil fuels in the world, and even when our own territory is experiencing the negative effects, we turn our backs and deny them help. Hurricane Maria is only the beginning of climate accelerated storms, and I believe the governments responsible for this acceleration should hold some accountability.
Support is still needed. The effects of Maria are still lasting through the island, and the U.S. should be there to help its citizens in need. The government seems useless in this manner, so I think it is up to fellow citizens to offer help in any way they can. While Puerto Ricans are able to make their own internal changes, they cannot fight the lasting effects of climate change alone.
Racial inequalities in the mental health field throughout the United States
Hurricane Maria served as an example on how the American government failed and mishandled its citizens. Specifically, it highlighted racial disparities in the United States. Time and time again, history has shown that the American system was created to serve a very specific type of American: white Americans. Citizens of color do not have an equal voice to those privileged white citizens. With this Op-ed, I hope to explore racial inequalities in the mental health field throughout the United States. I plan to explore the increased incidence of psychological difficulties in the Black / Latino community as a result of lack of access to appropriate and culturally responsive mental health care, prejudice and racism inherent in the daily environment of Black / Latino individuals, and historical trauma enacted on the Black / Latino community by the medical field.
I am tossing around the idea of creating a video Op-ed for this final project. Personally, I would like to use this as an opportunity to explore a creative outlet and incorporate another art form.