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Hurricane Maria 2 years later: A Wake Up Call

Discussing issues last week at a people’s assembly in the Hato Rey neighborhood of San Juan, P.R. The people’s assemblies sprang up in the wake of protests this summer.Credit…Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

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.

 

Reflection on Hurricane Maria

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.

#RickyRenuncia

Protest

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. 

Ricardo Rosselló: Former Governor of Puerto Rico

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.” 

The Anniversary of Maria

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.

Anniversary Reflection

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. 

The view from a helicopter over Toa Alta, a town outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 6, 2017.
The view from a helicopter over Toa Alta, a town outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 6, 2017.
source: Andres Kudacki for TIME

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. 

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Image via JEAN-FRANCOIS Manuel / Shutterstock.com

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.

Puerto Rico And Its Forced Resilience

By Alexus Rios                        

It was two years ago on September 20th, 2017 when one of the deadliest category five Hurricane hit Puerto Rico and other islands alongside it. Not only did this damage the island but it also damaged the people living on that island, both physically and mentally. Now although this was not the first time Puerto Rico was hit by a Hurricane which can stem back all the way to 1956, Hurricane Maria definitely made a huge impact on the people of Puerto Rico as well as others who watched how this disaster was handled by our President of The United States. This disaster gave the people a glimpse of how Puerto Ricans are treated as second class citizens. Many may think because they are allowed to travel in and out of the United States without being deported means they must also have all the rights that come with actually being a citizen. That is where this claim or thought is completely wrong and unfathomable.

Old San Juan, two years after Hurricane Maria

Let’s go back to when Hurricane Sandy hit Texas which let’s keep in mind are their own state and do not belong to the United States but are a part of it. All I can remember is the support and resources they received during this devastating time which of course was the humane thing to be done when a disaster like that happens. But where was that same treatment when Puerto Rico needed the support and help. Many people alongside the President were so insensitive towards this devastating time, not only did the people of Puerto Rico not have clean water but they had no electricity which was crucial for keeping hospitals running to help or keep alive injured people. Remarks were made saying they did not need electricity because they did not need to be on their phones but left out the fact that they needed electricity for actual necessary purposes like air conditioning, keeping hospitals running and being able to communicate with their loved ones to make sure they were okay or even alive. No one talks about how this tragedy and not being able to communicate with a family member affected that person mentally, imagine not being able to a loved one and not knowing whether the last time you saw them would really be the last time. People on the island were left with dirty water, no electricity, and no help with food resources. Containers were found filled with food and supplies that were rotting away when people who needed it had no access or idea it was even there.

The President was not interested in helping them and did not care. Not only did he spread false information about the death toll and the amount of money that Puerto Rico was supposed to obtain after the Hurricane he also did not speak about Hurricane Maria until after seven days it happened. He did not show any kind of leadership or responsibility of the people in Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico were forced to be resilient because if they did not uplift themselves from this horrific situation and have the help of others they probably would be in a much worse situation spiritually, mentally and physically.

Some people think because Puerto Rican’s have bounced back before that they could easily do it again after this but that’s just not the case. Not having the proper support and help that an island needs when something like this happens is not fair and traumatizing. Puerto Rican’s should not have to be forced to be resilient or to be okay after something tragic like this happens. Last month I had the privilege to go to Puerto Rico after two years since Hurricane María and just being on the Island and being around such caring and loving people makes me sad to think that at one point they were suffering and being ignored of the true horror that they had to face. Below are some pictures I was able to capture the beautiful island two years after Hurricane María. 

Ocean Park, Puerto Rico
Rainy day in Puerto Rico

The Media Coverage Surrounding Hurricane Maria

In September 2017, disaster struck Puerto Rico when it’s residents were hit with one of the deadliest hurricanes the island had ever seen. Yet, many people in the United States, myself included, were not entirely aware of the damage caused by this category 5 hurricane, let alone the aftermath and troubles that are still facing the island today. While Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, I wondered why fellow Americans know nothing of the history of Puerto Rico, or the pain and suffering that occurred here during and after Hurricane Maria? I am not from Puerto Rico, nor do I have family there, so my knowledge of Hurricane Maria came entirely from media coverage. Now, two years after the hurricane, I want to look at the media coverage surrounding this disaster and how it may, in part, be responsible for this overall lack of understanding. 

One of the most ‘iconic’ moments in the coverage of Hurricane Maria was the press’ coverage of President Donald Trump visiting the survivors in Puerto Rico. Specifically, it was this moment when Trump was throwing paper towels into a crowd of hurricane survivors, almost as if he was shooting t-shirts from a canon at a sports game. I remember seeing this, and thinking that these people needed much more than paper towels to help. Either way, there was insane media coverage on this event, both good and bad, but this does not matter. What matters is the fact that the media cared more about Donald Trump than they did about Puerto Ricans and their actual suffering. The coverage for Puerto Rico only started after Trump’s silence on the issue, and picked up again when Trump started a fight with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. I feel that this is the problem. According to CNN, nearly half of Americans are unaware that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. I believe that fact, paired with a president who was clearly apathetic to the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, lead to a decrease in media attention for this disaster. 

Now, I want to compare the media coverage from Hurricane Maria, to other hurricanes that happened in the United States. According to the Washington Post, “An examination of over 80 print and online media coverage… shows that more than 1,100 news outlets carried stories about Harvey and Irma … while only 500 carried stories on Maria in a similar time frame.” Additionally, “… U.S. media outlets ran 6,591 stories online about Maria one week before the formation of the hurricane through one week after the storm… By comparison, news outlets published 19,214 stories online about Harvey and 17,338 on Irma”. So, I questioned, why was there this lack of coverage? The media responds to what the public wants to hear, and I think these statistics show concrete evidence that the U.S. was not interested in Hurricane Maria. 

Yet, on the two year anniversary of Maria, the media coverage looks a little different. One refreshing take came from The New York Times. They recently published an article titled “Hurricane Maria, 2 Years Later: ‘We Want Another Puerto Rico’” in which they interviewed Puerto Ricans about what they want their future to look like. In this class, I learned that too often, people on the outside are making suggestions and decisions for the people of Puerto Rico, so this article gives them at least a small platform to share with the U.S. exactly what they want for their future. In addition to this, NPR wrote an article titled, “Two Years After Hurricane Maria Hit Puerto Rico, The Exact Death Toll Remains Unknown”. A major issue that surrounded Hurricane Maria was the unknown and misrepresented death toll of individuals who had died in the hurricane. The article states, “…we only have a rough idea of how many people died in and after the storm,” with the article outlining the issues Puerto Ricans had finding medical attention when they needed it. The official death toll made by the government during the time of Maria was 64, and now it hovers around 3,000. But the article states that Puerto Ricans acknowledge that it was somewhere around 4,645. There were many other articles showing the struggles that Puerto Ricans are still facing, and while the articles surrounding the two year anniversary of Hurricane Maria are good, they are clearly not enough. They cannot capture the true pain and suffering Puerto Ricans still have from the devastation that occurred. Puerto Ricans have been handling the destruction of the hurricane by themselves for far too long, and there still seems to be no support for them.

I still have one question though: why exactly should Americans care about Puerto Rico nearly two years after Maria happened? There is no further focus or Harvey or Ima, which happened around the same time. After a little thought though, the answer to this is pretty simple, and has been highlighted throughout. While Harvey and Irma were rebuilt with ease, Puerto Rico seems to be struggling with the same problems they had right after Maria happened. After the hurricane, some parts of Puerto Rico went months without power, they still have to travel far for ‘fresh’ water (even though Puerto Ricans are concerned their drinking water is filled with contaminants), and toxic coal is being dumped into their environment. These survivors are still suffering two years later, and it seems to me that no one in the U.S. cares.

Climate Change Is Accelerating

 

Disaster is most visible at the margins. As climate change accelerates, Puerto Rico functions as a harbinger of what’s to come, much like it and the rest of the Caribbean have throughout modern history. 

For me the indelible images of Maria are San Juan Mayor Cruz speaking in front of pallets of canned beans while Trump tweeted about NFL players, the junk food FEMA was distributing to survivors, endless video of the chef Jose Andres cooking and delivering meals, Trump tossing paper towels, and a VR Mark Zuckerberg high fiving while touring the destruction virtually

Hurricane Harvey a month earlier in Houston had its flooded, choppy highways. Irma in Miami a week and a half earlier turned the roads around the condos in downtown Miami into rivers and caused cranes to collapse

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a Category 4 it was still recovering from Hurricane Irma which passed less than 100 miles to the north as a Category 5 two weeks earlier. After Nate hit Mississippi in October, 2017 would be the first time since 2005 that four hurricanes made U.S. landfall in one hurricane season.

My mom grew up in South Florida, in her lifetime there was a major hurricane every generation, or about every 25 to 30 years. Donna hit in 1960. Andrew hit in 1992. But the 2004 and 2005 seasons seemed like the first indications of a new normal. Storms hit one after another. Then a decade of calm until 12 years later when Irma hit Miami in 2017. 

In September Bloomberg wrote about a woman living in the Florida Keys two years after Hurricane Irma in very similar circumstances to those in post-Maria Puerto Rico. In it they note, “By the end of the century, 13 million Americans will need to move just because of rising sea levels, at a cost of $1 million each.” Survivors in Florida’s panhandle are also struggling a year after Michael in 2018 became the first Category 5 to make U.S. landfall since Andrew in 1992, the fourth on record. This year Category 5 Dorian would come very close to hitting Florida from the Atlantic side.

In 2005, four days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast as a monster Category 5 storm, it crossed South Florida as a Category 1. The destruction was mild, knocking out power to large parts of South Florida. 

Six Florida summer days without air conditioning is miserable. But when everyone is going through it, it doesn’t seem so bad. There are a lot of BBQs. Hurricane season is about the only time Floridians come together as neighbors. 

In 2004, when a record four major hurricanes hit the state, FEMA gave out vouchers for generators, so many Floridians were prepared for Katrina. Low-wattage needs were taken care of: food in refrigerators stayed fresh, lights turned on, you could turn on your TV to watch the news. Generators buzzed around the neighborhood as residents watched Katrina hit New Orleans.

Two months later Wilma hit and it was a different story. The destruction was far worse. Supplies were already short from Katrina, so hours-long lines were the norm. Whether you got supplies after waiting in line was pure chance. Thankfully, Wilma was followed by a cold front so you could open the windows and sleep in comfort for a few days. For three long weeks the streetlights on my block were dark. Cable and internet didn’t work. 

Our homeowners insurance from USAA gave us a check for $16,000 and said that though they were no longer writing new policies, we were grandfathered in. It was the first time my mom had ever had to file a windstorm claim since buying her first home in the ‘70s. Shortly after all the national insurers pulled out of the state.

Fourteen years later, in September 2019, I find myself helping my father-in-law look for condo insurance. As Dorian hovered over the Bahamas, GEICO told me they weren’t writing policies until the storm passed. When the storm finally did pass, GEICO said none of its partners would be writing new policies. 

Currently, the only national insurer writing homeowners insurance policies in Florida is State Farm. The rest are a slew of no-name private companies that only write policies in Florida, and Citizens, the state’s publicly owned insurer.

Citizens was established as the insurer of last resort when the insurance market collapsed after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Its rates are expensive and coverage is paltry. It’s now the largest insurer in the state and often the only option.

A recent study says, “thousands of Florida homes — valued at a combined $3.38 billion — were built in zones at risk for inundation by 2050, only 30 years from now…which is about the amount of time that’s on a mortgage if you bought a house today.”

Spencer Glendon, of the Woods Hole Research Center says, “No one should be lending for 30 years in most of Florida. During that time frame, insurance will disappear and terminal values — future resale income — will shrink. I tell my parents that it’s fine to rent in Florida, but it’s insane to own or to lend.” A report covering this story noted, “Insurability is the main issue. Thirty-year mortgages come with the condition that a borrower have insurance, which is renewed annually. But insurers can choose to stop offering insurance at any time, or make prices prohibitively expensive, which would cause a homeowner to violate their debt. Eventually, lenders would be forced to stop lending, causing prices to plummet.”

Full List of Atlantic Category 5 Hurricanes

The list to the left doesn’t include 2019 which had Dorian and Lorenzo, a rare extratropical hurricane that hit Ireland and the U.K. That made a record fourth year in a row the Atlantic had one Category 5. And only the fifth year on record with more than one. 

Climate change is accelerating and the disaster is heading towards the middle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monsters of the Atlantic The Basin s Category 5 Hurricanes The Weather Channel-

Anniversary Reflection

Many people have issues dealing with emotion in their everyday lives. Puerto Ricans mental health is higher than ever before because of Hurricane Maria. The mental health of Puerto Ricans is negatively affected after the tragedy of Hurricane Maria. Living in bad conditions, months of living without power, in damaged homes without enough food, left many suffering from anxiety, stress and depression. Having to travel long distances to get food is depressing.

After the disaster, Puerto Ricans have been going through mental health issues in relation to emotion, physical, economic and other matters. I choose to talk about individual and family experience living in such a dysfunctional environment. This is a trauma and psychological issue to the community. As a territory of the United States, Puerto Ricans were supposed to received a total resilience from the United States government. Going thought this disaster and not having the support from the people expected to support them, have an effect on people’s lives. People are forced to adapt to the environment they live in. This situation leaves them with no hope for the future of Puerto Rico. Everyone affected by the hurricane, did not recover. The wealthy people did not have to struggle with the lack of electricity or water. Whereas the poorest are suffering to have water or electricity. Homelessness rate increased because it was hard for them to survive where everything was inaccessible to them.

Image result for hurricane anniversaries maria

As today we are celebrating Maria’s anniversary, Puerto Ricans are living a catastrophic disaster. Hurricane Maria did not only destroy homes but also increased the issue of homelessness which was already an issue. As their community totally changes as they adapt to a new environment and survive with what they have access to, for example, people were using natural resources to provide for themselves. Puerto Ricans had already been in crisis way before Maria and after Maria. Negative events happening chronically to this community, like having hurricane every season. Hurricane Maria hit the island two weeks after Hurricane Irma, the back to back disasters cause mental illnesses. These people have lost close relatives, which have a huge impact in their emotional stability. The Hurricane itself left the community with a higher mental health crisis. Should this be considerate as an American disaster?

Every family and individual was dealing with a psychological distress due to their own experience and what people around them were experiencing. The idea of normalcy is missing in this community, because they lost everything. Which can make you forget about yourself to make others feel better. Puerto Ricans wanted to hold each other up in a certain way, as they did not want their family members to break down emotionally. The stage of mind that these people are experiencing is not imaginable. Socialization was their strongest weapon, the community was dead and were trying to live again on their island. Some people did not want to leave their home. Others do not have an opportunity of leaving because they do not have nowhere to go, neither they can not build their houses again. They cannot have access to resources to recover.

https://www.npr.org/2019/08/22/752451731/mental-health-toll-of-hurricane-maria-still-palpable-in-puerto-rico

Thinking of the children and parents relationship after the disaster. I can relate to these parents, sisters, and brothers. These adults have to hold on to their emotional feelings. They have to pretend that they are well to make the younger feel better, loved and safe. Puerto Ricans have to give up a lot of stuff for their relatives. People have half of their family on the other side of the world, because there were no jobs and migration was separating families. Some parents have to send their children to migrate, where they stay in the island, because they could not afford to send the whole family. In the aspects of what sacrifices parents make for the well being of their children, giving up to their personal desire to seek a better life for their children, even if they are away from them. Parents overall goals is to save their children even though they are not safe. This has to deal with their emotions of fear, afraid to not offer the best life for their children.

After the hurricane their community seen to be strong and also got weaker in different ways. The depression level have gone higher, because people have gone through a huge disaster that affect their mental health. This has an indirect impact on the death rate in Puerto Rico. Even people who needed help the most was hard to research out to because they could not move around the island, traveling was challenging. These people are still waiting for the government to help. Out of personal experience, you can also feel for others, who were dealing with worse things than you. You might be helping others, when you need held at the same moments, because they need mental support more than you do. Over all Puerto Ricans have negative thoughts about being able to overcome this disaster. Most Puerto Ricans might develop some kind of mental health. Hurricane Maria tragedy have chance a lot of these people’s lives. The trauma in this community has gotten worse after Maria.

2 years later

It has been two years since the high-end category 4 hurricane Maira made landfall in Puerto Rico. Since then little has been done to help and fix the damages done by the hurricane on the island and its people. The natural disaster brought more than just destruction of the environment and disaster, it uncovered a veil that had been put over all the systemic issues the people of puerto rico faced everyday. This course has brought these underlying issues into my view and has exposed me to what the real issues that come after a natural disaster are. Being a Dominican in New York City, my experience with Maria was very different from even fellow Puerto Ricans here in the city. The Dominician Republic did not come close to the damages faced by Puerto Rico and in the days leading up to the hurricane touching down I was not too worried about my family in The Dominican Republic. I was also just starting my 1st year of college when the hurricane passed and was overwhelmed getting used to it. This all added to me not being as invested in what was going on at the time in the carribean and especially in Puerto Rico. However, now learning more about Maria in this class and the history of Puerto in classes I have taken for my minor, I know that the media I consumed was doing a poor (if not awful) job in truly capturing what was happening before and after the hurricane hit. I was minimally aware of the injustice faced by the island and its people throughout history. The little I knew came from knowing the history of the Dominican Republic and the carribean as a whole. What I knew of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth was positive. I never knew the extent to which Puerto Ricans were negatively affected by being labeled a commonwealth and being a territory of the U.S. This npr article and this article explains what it means for Puerto Rico to be a territory. They are owned by the U.S. and at the whim of the government. They were not able to receive aid from other countries due to the U.S. having to approve the aid. On top of this most of the help and aid that was sent were extremely poorly managed. 

It is amazing, however, how Puerto Ricans have dealt with all these challenges and injustices. While the problems brought up by Maria are nowhere near solved the actions taken after like getting the governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign is amazing. There were hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets and organizing their power. I work in chipotle and am a leader in organizing workers to fight for a union. The difficulty of giving people the courage to fight and demand from the company that employs them what they deserve is large but it pales in comparison to organizing protests to get a political leader to resign. However, it shows that these people are through with the injustices they have faced. They are willing to put what little normalcy of their lives they have at risk to demand the justice they deserve. 

The readings we have done from the aftershock book add to this. The Puerto Rican people are the ones that have lived all their lives under trama. The Spanish slaughtered the native Tainos as well as the Africans they brought to the carribean. The Spanish then enslaved these Africans and exploited them for their labor in sugar fields. After years of being under Spanish rule, America came and replaced the Spanish and continued exploitation of the people and the island. This is a country that has gone through a lot and the people are still finding a way to survive. Saying that they are just hurricane survivors is not enough and does not tell the full story of what has happened. The effects of this constant trauma can be seen in many of our readings. In most of the essays, it can be seen that to cope with all this trauma, people often chose to lie to themselves. I couldn’t imagine going through all that they have gone through and losing all they did. I feel like this closing off and lying to ourselves and those around us also comes from the machismo that is ingrained into latino culture. It is seen as “weak” to express sadness and to not be self-sufficient. So for these people being strong means saying you’re okay and just trying to get by. On top of this being a colony for so long has made it the norm that people do not get the help they need and should be getting from the government. A lot of the people in campos and mountains were okay with the little they got because they were so used to getting less or nothing. 

Something positive to come out of Maria was that people that were marginalized were able to essentially come out of their hiding and be their true selves. The articles we read is class touched on this. With the tragedy of the hurricane a lot more than just physical structures were torn down. A lot of societal borders came down as well after the hurricane. This meant a lot of queer folks being able to express themselves and be comfortable with who they are. This was something that was surprising at first to me but after reading about it, it made sense. While there were a lot of people leaving the island the queer folk were a population that did not typically have the resources and therefore the liberty to leave. So when Maria passed they were all left to survive like a larger population of people and this brought everyone together. This is also made me see how a lot of disasters and crises affect marginalized communities because they are often the ones left behind.

I hope to continue to learn more about not only Puerto Rico after Maria but about all of its rich history and support its people become their own nation.

The Injustices of Environmentalism and Climate Change

 

I have lived my 26 years of life in “El Barrio,” a section of Manhattan that has always been predominantly Puerto Rican. Growing up here, I was always surrounded by the Puerto Rican flag flying high up on the streets. Like Puerto Ricans or any other group that migrates to New York City, my family moved from Mexico to find a better way of life and more opportunities. El Barrio is my home with its piraguas cart, coquito cart on the corner every summer, and the salsa music blasting on every porch. If you know El Barrio or have ever visited you know that it is the epicenter of the Latinx community in New York.

As I reflect on the second anniversary of Hurricane Maria, I think of my own community and how this natural disaster affected El Barrio. Many of my friends and I sought to bring awareness of the catastrophe in Puerto Rico through social media. Communities like my own made it a priority to gather everyday essentials such as bottled water, paper towels, canned food, batteries, etc and send them over to the island for those in need.

The people of Puerto Rico and the diaspora are still recovering from this natural disaster, they have been ravaged by Hurricane Maria. This disaster shed light on the abuse of power by the government, the lack of resources and media coverage to Puerto Rico that left them to fend for themselves. This story of political, and economic abuse is one we continue to repeat in the history of the United States specifically towards communities of color who have consistently been disregarded. Not only must we survive human-made disasters but we must survive natural disasters on our own. Climate change does not see race, it does not see income or the color of your skin, it does not care about your gender, it affects all of us and yet communities of color are being disproportionately affected by climate change. The basic needs like air and water are controlled and designed by people; companies and governments monetarily profit from these inequalities. Racial inequalities also explain the distribution of air pollution, the location of municipal landfills and incinerators, abandoned toxic waste dumps, and lead poisoning in children.

Studies have shown that “three of every five African Americans and Latinos live in a neighborhood with a hazardous waste site.” Not only are communities and people of color being pushed to outskirts of cities, but the neighborhoods are also being threatened by pollutants. Thousands of families have no access to clean water in Flint Michigan. Water being the basic need for anything to survive, many times communities of color are economically disadvantaged. The poorest communities are being forced to buy water when they can barely afford a living. While white upper-class communities do not have these disadvantages are protected from these toxic pollutants.

Protesters at Standing Rock

These processes were also evident in the battles at Standing Rock where the government approved the construction of Energy Transfers Partner’s Dakota Access Pipeline across the land of the indigenous community. The Sioux’s actions are only the most recent in a long history of indigenous resistance to resource extraction and treaty violations on their land. Standing Rock like Puerto Rico has been victims of colonialism, having no rights under the constitution and laws of the United States. And yet both Standing Rock and Puerto Rico continue to be resilient to the forces of colonialism.

There were thousands of deaths in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit them, and many of those lives were African American residents living in the lowest income areas of the city. There were many decisions that led to such a high death toll in New Orleans, the mayor Ray Nagin failed to issue a mandatory evacuation order in a timely manner. And then failed to accurately assess and mobilize the available resources. Residents of the lower-income neighborhoods had only their homes, which led to many of them staying in the city. The lack of resources that these communities of color have access to are connected and due to the long history of institutional racism and corrupt policies in the United States.

There is the continuous vicious cycle of where racism, economic and the other forms of inequalities are both a cause and a consequence of environmental devastation that continue to disproportionately affect communities of color. It is not just that we are being affected by natural disasters, natural disasters demonstrate the inequalities of power, resources, economics, income, and race. The official count of the death toll was 64 while in reality, the actual death toll was more than 4,700 in which a majority of the deaths resulted due to the lack of resources. Power was lost in hospitals and clinics, critically ill patients were unable to receive treatments. The people of Puerto Rico were deprived of the essential resource water as were communities Flint Michigan and Standing Rock. These places are part of the wealthiest country in the world and yet lack the necessary resources to survive, Puerto Rico was without electricity and “fell to the levels of some of the world’s poorest countries” and still many people remain without power. Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, many of the island’s infrastructure was depleted before Hurricane Maria hit. Hurricane Maria made the world see that the island Puerto Rico continues to be devastated by colonial powers.

Similarly in El Barrio, we are experiencing displacement as affordable housing has been disappearing from the community. Communities of color live in overcrowded conditions that are poorly maintained. Environmental and climate changes, natural disasters, and hazards can devastate any country, city, location but affect communities of color disproportionately.

2nd Anniversary Reflection Piece

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection on Hurricane Maria

When I first heard of hurricane Maria, I thought it was going to be another typical storm.  It was several weeks after the storm hit when I noticed how wrong I truly was. My grandmother and mother came from Puerto Rico when my mother was younger, and I only went once when I was four. I don’t remember anything about the trip. My connection to the island may be weak but I still have many family members there and my grandmother often talks to her siblings. Her mother just passed away recently and she was a hundred years old. My grandma says her family takes up a whole city block where they live.  

When the Storm hit, and I saw on the news how it was being reporter as not a huge deal or not that destructive and to me that was a little difficult to believe. After a few weeks my grandmother told me she still couldn’t reach her family by phone. She was scared for her brother and sisters. The news mentioned how most of the island was without electricity and this was the reason that my grandmother could not reach her family.  

Reports came out that only 6 people died. I had a hard time believing it was so low because of the lack of ability to communicate with the island. Then reports started coming out saying thousands of people died. How did we go from 6 to thousands of people dying? According to the research article “Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria” the official reports were that 64 people died. Different institutions had varying death counts as can be seen from graph below. After doing their study they calculated that at least 4645 people pasted away directly or indirectly to due hurricane Maria and stated the death toll may be higher than this. Something went wrong in terms of an accurate determination of how many people died.  

Trump made the disaster worse with things he said and did. He was the first person I heard saying only six people died. From what I noticed Trump doesn’t fact check anything and doesn’t listen to his own security advisers. If he receives information that fits his narrative, he would use it and tell people false information. When it was clear and obvious to us all how bad the hurricane was, he still did little to help. One of the things I remember the most is him throwing tissue to a crowd of people as if these paper towels would solve all problems. All the paper towels in the U.S wouldn’t be enough to solve this problem. I personally think he is retarded so nothing he does surprises me, and I don’t take things he says seriously. 

This class has opened my eyes to the fact that many things went wrong in Puerto Rico prior to the hurricane Maria. Things have been going wrong for a very long time and it became the normal, so it was hard to see. Some of these issues like poor infrastructure, a crumbling economy and a government whose main concern was paying off a debt and not investing in their own people. 

 I have taking several classes pertaining to countries to the South of the United States like Mexico, Dominican Republic, Colombia and many others. I noticed how every time the U.S found a way to exploit these countries. They did this by promising democracy and putting in power people who would work for U.S interest. In many cases they took resources from these countries and gave little to nothing back. I thought Puerto Rico was different because of its status has a commonwealth and the fact that Puerto Ricans received U.S citizenship. I came to find out that Puerto Rico suffered much like other Caribbean islands due to the U.S. In some ways these other countries may have been lucky to be able to fight for their independence and work towards their own future rather than having a government put in place which only cares about helping the United States and not their own people.  

Now that so many issues are brought to the publics eyes hopefully the island can start recovering not just from the hurricane Maria but from its own political and economic turmoil. I feel the only answer is making Puerto Rico a state or it becoming its own country. The reason I feel this way is because as a state Puerto Rico would get all the benefits States usually get like aid from the federal government. This will also truly make every Puerto Rican true citizens with no restrictions on their citizenship. They would be able to vote for the president and other benefits that come with statehood. In terms of becoming their own country this would lead to self-rule. They would be able to put a government in place of their choosing that works for the people of Puerto Rico and not for the U.S government interest.  This would lead to the ability to trade with the world and not have to use the U.S as the middleman. 

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1803972

Reflection on the Second Anniversary of Maria

Before taking this AFL on Race, Gender, Colonialism and Climate Change I had very little knowledge about hurricane Maria. I only knew what I saw on the news and what I heard from my relatives and friends who have family on the island. As the course progressed I started to realize that there was more to what happened and more damages than what the new was portraying. It’s crazy how the news would trying and make it seem like they were helping when in reality they weren’t helping Puerto Rico like they should have been. It was even more sad to find out that the Puerto Rican government wasn’t helping the country as they should have. I learned from a fellow classmate that was there when Maria happened that months after the hurricane people found containers full of food and water supplies. Which turned out that they couldn’t use people it was no longer good for them to use.

I remember watching videos on social media of Donald Trump throwing paper towels at people as if it was a basketball. It upset me so much because, in my opinion, he wasn’t taking it seriously and then he had the nerve to tell Puerto Rico officials they should be “proud” they did not lose thousands of lives as in “a real catastrophe like Katrina”. When I heard that he said that I was so upset because it was a real catastrophe like Katrina. Many lives were lost and the country was destroyed and the country was left without electricity and water. Many people couldn’t even communicate with their relatives who were in other parts of the country. For example, my aunt did not have electricity for more than a year and it was really hard for her. Especially the fact that she could communicate with her kids for some while because they all lived in different parts of Puerto Rico.

People underestimate how important mental health and how it can affect a person’s life, especially after a natural disaster. After Maria, a lot of people were left without information on how to get help or where to go to get help. This would cause some partners to take out their frustration and anger on their partner. Which caused domestic violence and sexual assault against women to increase. In an article, I learned that before Maria Puerto Rico had the highest violence against women in the world, which has increased over the last few years. I was surprised when I found out because I knew that there were cases of domestic violence, but I never imagined that it would have been the highest rate in the whole world. It’s crazy because I never thought a hurricane could impact a person’s life this bad. I always thought that a disaster would cause people, families, and couples to come together as one. This showed me that a disaster can cause more than just physical damage. One article that touched me the most was “The Maria Generation’: Young people are dying and suffering on an island with a highly uncertain future”. The article starts off with a dialogue between a mother and her son. In the dialogue the son is trying to reach out to his mother, but because the cellular network was damaged because of Maria the mother didn’t receive the text message right away. When she received the text message 90 minutes later she panicked because she knew her son suffered from depression. So she quickly texted back and when she saw that he did not respond she decided to rush to the house. When she arrived she found her son dead on the patio. It also turned out that her son wasn’t the only teenager that had committed suicide. It turned out that many teenagers committed suicide because they couldn’t handle the way they were living or they were tired of waiting for things to get better. It’s sad that things were so bad that these young kids left like that was the only way out. If the Puerto Rican and United States government would have worked together and tried to help Puerto Rico like they should have maybe these kids wouldn’t have felt that, that was the best way out.

My overall reflection on hurricane Maria and it’s the second anniversary that just passed a couple of days ago is that people underestimated the hurricane. If Puerto Rico would have had the resources and helped that they need maybe things would have been different maybe things wouldn’t have been so bad. If the United States would have let other countries help out Puerto Rico would have recovered without so many complications and they wouldn’t have had a limitation on supplies. Everyone would have benefited from those supplies without the country having to worry about running out. I also feel that the media didn’t really say much about the second anniversary of Maria like they should have. I feel like they should have followed up and let the world know how the country is doing and how it had progressed.

 

Social Injustices; Genocide by Natural Disaster

Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn.” – Benjamin Franklin 

Image result for puerto rico hurricane maria damage
Hurricane Maria Damage
Credit: Christopher Gregory

When I was younger, I’d wake up at 6:30 am every day, and just turn on the news. Like clockwork letting the news be my background noise, occasionally I’d sit and watch while getting ready. I then started realizing that certain points being addressed on the news were fake, they were made up or topics that didn’t necessarily need as much coverage they were getting. I also learned that in certain neighborhoods, the news was more likely to cover crime in communities with higher crime rates. The news also never really covered things that were of greater importance at that moment stopped watching the news as much as I was and stayed in the dark. However, staying in the dark isn’t an option for me, turning on the news every morning for a kid,  much less turning on the news. My parents religiously watch the news, listen to the news. My dad wakes up at 4 am and turns on channel 2, watching it with my dog, his partner in crime. Every time I sit in the car with my parents, we drive to the sound of reporting on 1010 Wins, All News, All the time. Even though I no longer watched the news personally, word of mouth is something important. I heard of Maria, I knew a hurricane had hit Puerto Rico. All I heard was Maria, Maria, Maria, Hurricane Maria, days, weeks and months after the storm had hit and damaged Puerto Rico. What I didn’t know was what was really going on. The storm reporting was comparable to the coverage of crime for me, they were always reporting it but the things they were saying weren’t changing. It was all staying the same for me everything. It seemed as if the news wasn’t reporting what really mattered. I learned about what was really happening in Puerto Rico when I started learning about it in this class.

(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File)

People without places to live, people without access to water, people without access to food, people with no electricity and people without access to travel to get any of the basic resources they needed to survive.

Image result for charts on hurricane maria

It was disheartening to know that not only were people dying as a result of the hurricane or being injured by the hurricane but also because of not having access to food, water, and medical care. People were sleeping on their rooftops, and embracing the open. It was really interesting to see that people were embracing who they were and being expressive of their inner personalities. It was almost as if the hurricane forced people to be open and appreciative of their neighbors, although Puerto Rico does have a problem with homophobia, people were letting their homophobic “guards” down and treating their neighbors with respect and love people. Everyone had to come together in the time of need. I learned in the 8th grade that the United States had acquired Puerto Rico and they were a property of the United States. However, what I didn’t know was that Puerto Ricans are considered “second-class” citizens and aren’t given the same amount of privileges as people who are mainland. They don’t have privileges such as voting on the island even though the president controls what happens on the island. I thought that the U.S was doing the best it could to help Puerto Rico, however, it turned out people weren’t even receiving the supplies that were sent because they were spoiling, or not everyone was receiving the help they needed. This nation has a very blurred vision, it stands on helping people in need and reaching out to others. However, the evidence shows otherwise. I truly believe that race plays a role in why certain places are helped in times of disaster while other places aren’t.

Image result for hurricane katrina damage

There is a lot of evidence of the fact that during Hurricane Katrina people weren’t helped and supported like they should’ve been. The population of New Orleans is made up of more than 50% Black/African American people.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas there was much more support and it was covered in the news very often about how much aid Texas was getting. In the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian hit, and it was terrible. The U.S normally allowing Bahamians to come with ID, changed the rules last minute leaving many people stranded and looking for resources and help. Puerto Rico and the Bahamas? Less white than the United States or Texas could ever be. This country stands for helping people in need and extending help. However, I’m seeing that really isn’t the case. The United States has used tactical broadcasting to keep us in the dark. Is it our fault the United States keeps us ignorant and in the dark? No, but it is our responsibility to move forward, learn more and help others. 

Video on Damage in Puerto Rico

Who’s to blame for climate change?

Despite what Donald Trump may think, it should come as no surprise that climate change is a real phenomenon and is having a heavy environmental impact on the planet. But who is climate change really affecting? Scientists have long predicted that the environmental damage caused by climate change will have the biggest impact on the world’s poorest, most vulnerable people. In fact, it already has. 

Coming up on its two year anniversary, Hurricane Maria exposed Puerto Rico’s inherent vulnerability to climate change, and the further-widening gap in global economic inequality. Puerto Rico had already been facing a recession, with almost half of its residents living below the poverty line for over a decade before Maria hit. According to this article, “the storm disproportionately affected Puerto Rico’s poorest residents, who have fewer resources on hand to help them recover and rebuild. Many of these people live in more rural communities and the hard-to-reach areas of the mountains and were the last to regain access to water or see their electricity restored.”

Natural disasters caused by global warming, such as Hurricane Maria, displace people from their homes, and worsen the lives of those living in poverty. With the threat of increasing natural disasters looming over the face the planet, it’s the countries that are living below the poverty line that are more at risk. But why are underdeveloped countries more threatened by the damages of climate change than the countries of the Global North? Unlike the Global North, when having to recover from these disasters, underdeveloped countries are faced with more of a challenge since resources are thin. In the case of Puerto Rico, the island’s agriculture industry took a $780 million loss, family businesses were destroyed, 4 in 10 Puerto Ricans suffered a job loss, reduced hours, or lost wages, and hundreds of thousands migrated to mainland United States in search of a job.

The real question is, who is to blame? You guessed it: the richest, most developed countries. Temperatures are rising due to growing concentrations of greenhouse gasses, and the Global North produced significant carbon emissions during the process of industrialization. The United States and Europe, especially, are some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases as they grew their economies by burning fossil fuels and spewing carbon from cars, homes, and factories. While rich, developed nations are ultimately the ones to blame for the catastrophe of global climate change, it’s the poor underdeveloped nations that are left to suffer the consequences. A new Stanford study found that  “in most poor countries, higher temperatures are more than 90% likely to have resulted in decreased economic output, compared to a world without global warming. Meanwhile, the effect has been less dramatic in wealthier nations—with some even potentially benefiting from higher temperatures.” The study also states that, “the gap between the group of nations with the highest and lowest economic output per person is now approximately 25 percent larger than it would have been without climate change.”

All that being said, you would think that these developed nations would take on some responsibility, and provide aid that is equally beneficial to all those affected by natural disasters. Well, think again! Two years later, those affected by Hurricane Maria are still trying to get their lives back to a sense of “normalcy”. 

While these circumstances are unfair to say the least, how can we expect these rich, developed nations to do better, and take accountability, when they have a strong colonial legacy of taking advantage of poor black and Latino countries?  How can we be surprised in the total lack of responsibility and effort being put into aiding underdeveloped nations in the fight against climate change when history has exposed time and time again the racist, capitalist nature of the developed nations? 

Colonizers have and will continue to profit off of the lives and the lands of the colonized. With climate change, widespread pollution, and ecological devastation, it’s always the colonized who will pay the price. In the case of Puerto Rico, it’s colonial history continues to deny Puerto Rico its autonomy and self-determination as they still do not have representation in American government. According to this article, “colonial policies in Puerto Rico also reduce access to necessary aid because of shipping restrictions due to legislation like the 1920 Merchant Marine or Jones Act, which limits shipping from non-US flagged ships between US territories. Thus Puerto Rico would have been forced to rely on fewer potential ships and more expensive shipping coming only from US ships instead of ships worldwide.”

Global economic inequality created by climate change is directly linked to a colonial history.  There is ongoing destruction of indigenous lands and loss of lives that only profit the rich, developed nations of the Global North. What is frustrating is the blatant ignorance demonstrated by these rich nations, and the narrative of providing aid as a “blessing”. When talking about Puerto Rico’s need for aid after Hurricane Maria, Trump stated that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them,” and he continues to go about his day playing golf, while Puerto Rico is left without resources. 

If we really want to make an impact on climate change, we have to put the focus back in the hands of the Indigenous and colonized people. We must change the narrative to highlight that climate change is already an existing problem for impoverished people living in underdeveloped countries. Climate change is not that much of a problem for a little white American girl who’d get “stripped of her dreams” when the children of colonized lands had their dreams stripped away from them a long time ago. 

Reflecting on the Second Anniversary of Maria

When I first heard of Maria, the name given to the category 5 hurricane approaching Puerto Rico, I honestly didn’t think much of it. My grandparents and uncle had just returned from Puerto Rico after visiting my great grandmother. The house they stood in had been losing power, therefore they spent their last few days in a hotel to avoid the heat. The day before their return flight, hurricane Irma hit the island. The following day they arrived at an airport with no power, delaying their flight eight hours. Once they came home they told stories about hours of no light, no food, and no air conditioning, but everyone was okay, no harm done. That’s all that hurricane Irma was to me, and that’s how I thought María would go. It hadn’t occurred to me that the entire island would soon feel the effects of something much worse than a little power outage. 

Maria hit the island only two weeks later, leaving so much more destruction behind that talk of Irma almost vanished. I learned about how much actual damage the hurricane inflicted on the island, and yet I still wasn’t able to grasp the scale of the crisis. Living within the confines of an inner city borough my entire life, I had never experienced a hurricane or any sort of natural disaster first hand. It was hard for me to imagine what it must feel like for the survivors because my own experiences were so detached. It wasn’t until my family moved my great grandmother from her home in Caguas to my aunts house in the Bronx, that I finally realized this was more than just a bunch of fallen trees after a storm. They explained that the conditions down there were too unbearable for her at her age, so she needed to come here to be taken care of since she was already sick for a long time. Far away from her true home, my great grandma, Zenaida passed soon after.

A before and after of the yard in Caguas.

The hurricanes Irma and Maria happened almost back to back, leaving Puerto Rico with little time for action. Because the results of Irma were not as drastic, there was little reason to believe this next hurricane would call for more preparation. Besides, there was little that citizens could do about the already failing infrastructure. Recall how my aunt’s house was losing power weeks before the hurricanes arrived. After Maria, the list of destruction went on: no electricity, roofs torn away, roads blocked, streets flooded, no clean water. People were becoming unemployed and children were out of school because there were often no way of reaching these locations, and even if they could, often there was nothing there. 

I blame part of my disconnect on the current political climate. Trump can be off putting, making the news less engaging. I didn’t care to sit and listen about paper towels, “ungrateful Puerto Ricans,” and the confusion regarding number of deaths. The news anchors seemed to be on our side, but everyone was more concerned with bashing Trump. Who was sending help? It definitely wasn’t me; I didn’t know how. In fact, like many Americans today, I got my information from social media when celebrities decided to take matters into their own hands. Stars such as Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez were sending out information on how individuals could donate. Around the same time my grandmother began sending help packages to our family as well as other families in need, with information she found on facebook. It felt rewarding to donate some personal items knowing that I was going to give to someone like myself. Suddenly the news was overrun with stories about donations being withheld, and I wondered if my grandmothers packages even made it. Professors at school were having open discussions about what we could do? Nothing, I thought. Not even donate.  

https://www.instagram.com/p/BaQ4agBlTHe/?igshid=196vl22xcoizg

Slowly, Puerto Ricans worked towards putting the island back together themselves, after being abandoned by the government they were forced into. On the second anniversary of Maria, there are still homes, no, humans going on without power. The lack of response feels surreal to me. A huge issue surrounding the lack of aid from the US government comes from the debate around Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US. Evidently, not many people are aware that Puerto Rico is a US territory and not a state. The idea of citizenship comes up as a reason to help Puerto Ricans, followed by retaliation explaining they aren’t citizens, thus help is not a necessity. I find this entire debate ridiculous considering the United States has a history of providing aid to foreigners whether they asked for the help or not. I cannot fathom why Puerto Rico should be any different. 

Two years later the world goes on, and as many municipalities of Puerto Rico are forced to dwell on the past, another natural disaster hit Puerto Rico on the very week of Maria’s anniversary. First was an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3, followed by tropical storm Karen. What does this mean for an island still recovering from destruction? It’s difficult to feel hopeful in a situation like this, yet I’ve learned many Puerto Ricans still are. Artists like Veronica Ortiz Calderon with her film Candlelight and singer Macha Colon with her performances, draw attention to an empowering dynamic of the Puerto Rican people continuing to push forward. The islands long term state outside the norm has allowed for a certain kind of freedom that brings the community together. With a shared devastation across the land, there is more room for communication, sympathy, and understanding amongst the community.

Upon reading personal accounts of people in Aftershocks of Disaster, I have a deeper understanding of the experiences that these survivors undergo. When thinking about survival it’s easy to forget all the elements of personal lives that get put on hold. It’s not just about finding food and fetching water. Sofia Galisa Muriente highlights this in her list, Gone with Maria. She lists things that Maria took away like, “the professional basketball and volleyball seasons” or “the expert witness in my mom’s robbery case”. I never really thought about the little things in people’s lives that make their individual narrative so unique. Certain things that were put on hold, altered, or gone all together. With a stronger awareness now, I feel better that I’m not so ignorant on the matter. Now I’ve been inspired to be more optimistic and hopeful towards the islands self recovery like many people in Puerto Rico are.  

The Silence on Maria in the U.S.— 2nd Anniversary Reflection

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, I felt as if I had only heard about its arrival, but never about what it left behind. There were pockets of information here and there about the damage that Maria created, but I didn’t truly know what this damage entailed. Growing up in an area without a strong Puerto Rican community before moving to New York City, I had very little connection to the island besides my few years of living in Luquillo as a child.

Me, around the age of 5, standing on the shoreline of San Juan.
PR Beach 2
2017, an image of the damaged San Juan shoreline from the Miami Herald.

I found no way to conceptualize the severity of damages, and all I knew was that people were suffering. Even the images I was seeing from my childhood conjured up some type of disconnection. It had been so long since I lived there. I could barely remember what it was like.

But why was I part of the silence surrounding Puerto Rico’s suffering? Was there something blocking public consciousness of the event? It seemed that there was an unintended silence, as people lacked awareness of the issues unfolding in Puerto Rico. 

Similar to other hurricanes I had experienced from living in Florida, the shock and preparation for the initial disaster was a giant headline everywhere I turned. People frantically prepared themselves for the worst, but we continued on our daily lives. We were used to hurricanes occurring each year, and so it was never a state of panic in the community. I had never realized, or even considered, the damages following these disasters until one of my friend’s house flooded due to the rain and rising water levels from the storm. Her entire neighborhood was trying to salvage as much as they could, losing important documents, family photos, and in some cases, losing their entire home to the damages. There was no news coverage about this in my town. The storm had passed, and so had the public’s eye. 

This example showcases a scaled-down version of the lack of awareness that exists on such issues such as Hurricane Maria. The lack of conversation alone gives us an alarming view as to the ways in which the public eye seems to be looking away. Interestingly enough, when looking at Google’s trending list from 2017, Hurricane Irma was the top Google search and top in global news. Both hurricanes were Category 5, both occurring within the same 2-week period, and both affecting similar areas of the Caribbean. So why is it that Irma has taken a number one spot in global news, yet Maria cannot be found on this list at all? This may be due to Irma’s effect on Florida, a part of the global power that is the United States, while Maria only affected Caribbean islands. This is further supported when looking at Google Trends in the United States. 

This first graph shows a comparison web searches from 2017 on Hurricane Irma (in blue) and Hurricane Maria (in red). There is a drastic and clear distinction between the number of searches. I took a step further, and looked into the following two years.

In 2018, it was clear that Hurricane Maria began to gain more traction in regards to its web searches. People became more interested in the topic, spiking around the anniversary, yet Irma still came out on top with higher numbers of searches.

The graph from 2019 shows similar results, but with less and less interest forming (except a small peak around the anniversary), but even this interest in Hurricane Maria seems to be diminished by the interest in Hurricane Irma.

It seemed that one narrative was competing against others— the focus or emphasis of one issue seemed to overshadow other issues that existed. Irma seemed to reside in the spotlight, with Hurricane Maria hiding in the background. And when we consider some of the reasons that Puerto Rico suffered, and how their conditions prior to the storm itself created that, it creates a more alarming understanding with the rich political history that contributed to these damages. The ongoing debt crisis, colonial systems involving political identity, corrupt government, coal ash pollution… these factors were only some of the things that contributed to the disaster that was Hurricane Maria.

We cannot blame individuals of the public though, as there was a spread of misinformation from people of authority. Most notably, President Donald Trump claimed that there were few numbers of deaths, far below one hundred, from Hurricane Maria in September of 2018. He denied the actual death toll of 3,000 people for both hurricanes, although Maria alone was responsible for an approximated 2,975 storm-related deaths

I realized that if I denied myself an opportunity to learn more about this event, I was no different than those who turned a blind eye to what truly happened. By pushing myself to become better educated on the topic, I dismantled my own unintended ignorance that contributed to the inability of these individuals to receive justice for reparations.

The lack of general public attention to the victims of Hurricane Maria showcases the way in which media manipulates what we are able to see. The constant, daily intake of new media makes it difficult to focus on one event— but this does not mean that something like the recovery of Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria should be put on the back burner.

It is possible to discuss multiple events at once, and we must be conscious of how we may unintentionally contribute to the silence, and how we are influenced by our intake (or lack thereof) of news and media. It is important to demand transparency, ask our own questions, and be aware of what knowledge we lack. In order to shed light on issues such as this, we cannot stand idly by and allow it to happen.

Politics of Commemoration

Manhattan’s usually colorful Puerto Rican Day Parade was muted Sunday by black and gray flags and t-shirts commemorating those who died in Hurricane Maria and protesting the federal government’s alleged dismal response to the devastation.

As the second anniversary of the disaster that struck our dear brothers and sisters of Puerto Rico approached, I could not help but think about why in every situation Puerto Rico is forgotten about. Right when school started, I heard more about the 14th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina than I have whilst Hurricane Maria was happening, in real-time! The silence surrounding Puerto Rico ties in with a plethora of institutionalized issues including white supremacy in dealing with natural disasters and how people of color are looked at in terms of disaster.

Every year, Hurricane Katrina is talked about yet, the issue of the incomplete recovery of New Orleans still persists. This is an event that had happened in 2005, 14 years ago! Hurricane Sandy in New York City in 2012, almost 8 years ago yet there are still people struggling to recover from this disaster. Now just imagine if the United States can barely help those within major cities within the 50 states, how can one expect them to help a territory that they barely see as their own?

Hurricane Maria just barely passed two years and the only time I hear about it is in schools and during climate strikes. As Trevor Noah once said, when someone outside of America is suffering there is no story, but once an American is involved then the narrative changes to “It could’ve been me”. I often wonder why we are unable to feel others’ pain when we cannot picture ourselves in a situation. Do we, as human beings have a finite amount of things we can care about? This tends to be an issue that I, myself experience. I am very conditioned to it and it is a product of me being born into this country. I simply should be able to feel empathy for those even though I have no direct relationship with them. This is a big problem in the issue of commemorating Hurricane Maria. Americans just do not see Puerto Ricans as Americans. It is viewed just as we view any other disaster happening in countries that are not ours. In a Washington Post article titled Puerto Ricans are hardly U.S. citizens. They are colonial subjects, the topic of Puerto Rico’s “Americanness” is discussed. One quote that stood out stated “It is true that Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship due to a series of congressional statutes. But it is also true that these statutes were enacted without consulting Puerto Ricans.”

Therein lies the issue. Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, but not really. Not only do the people of the U.S treat Puerto Rico like they are third-class citizens but the government of the U.S barely acknowledges them. The blatant disregard for Puerto Ricans highlights the everlasting issue of white supremacy that permeates the United States as well as the rest of the world. If you do not look like the “ideal American” (ie: white, European features) then you are just not cared for or talked about as much. Latinx communities face this issue every day in and out of the United States and is even worse for Afro-Latinx communities. Institutionally, we saw that the average person who sought out aid from FEMA in Puerto Rico received about 2000 dollars while the average person in Texas, during Irma, received about 5000 in FEMA aid.

In my opinion, I think we can do more. We can continue to commemorate Puerto Rico, Maria, and its victims by bringing them up in conversation in everyday life! Bring them up at summits, protests, marches and any sort of resistance focused event. We need to speak about our fellow brethren in the language that insinuates that they are Americans. We need to speak about Puerto Rico like we do with the rest of the 50 states and start to understand why Puerto Rico has been treated the way it is. The underlying economic reasons that Puerto Rico is the way it is and the legality of some policies that exclude Puerto Rico from the rest of the states. We need to shock those we have conversations with real, raw stories of the survivors of Maria, much like we do in our classes. The idea of someone having to wash their clothes outside two years after a hurricane is insane to us because we are so used to a quick recovery. Someone who still can’t find their children or their spouses after the hurricane to this day may shock people. Someone who may have no bed to sleep in due to lack of funds from lack of aid and jobs may not seem like much to Americans until we are snuggled up on a winter day under our covers and realize that those suffering may never feel that feeling again. I do believe that those who narrate the stories of those who suffer do an amazing job at making us open our eyes to this tragedy that still happens today. Through poetry and detailed accounts on how people are no longer safe, we are able to access these inner feelings that we may have in a way we can somehow relate. I just hope many more of us will read, watch videos or conduct interviews and spread overall awareness on topics as such.

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