The world we live in is one ruled by capitalism and revolves around those who are making the effort to maintain a capitalist world economy. How much you have in wealth is tied to your self worth and perceived worth, so basically, who you are and how people see you. If you benefit from capitalism, you are seen as successful, with no regard given whether the system is intentionally created to benefit you or not. Likewise, if you are not benefitting from capitalism, it is perceived that you are a failure. Taking or using welfare tools or donations is seen as needy or greedy or avoidable when in reality you are merely taking the needed steps to survive in an economy created to fundamentally work against you.
This sets up a system where the exploitation of workers for a larger and larger amount of capital has officially become the norm. Ideas of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and shoving your own way into capitalist benefit literally originated in Puerto Rico with “Operation Bootstrap” in the late 1940s. In this plan, the United States created exploitative work for people of the island, while making sure that there were not enough jobs for everyone, making it easier to convince people to migrate onto the US mainland as a new, desperate, and most importantly exploitable source of labor both on and off the island. The United States said that this would create employment for the island, giving the population more funds which all imply that Puerto Ricans will gain the opportunity to better climb the class/social ladder.
The United States as a government, in support of both itself and its affiliated companies, investors, and lobbying groups wants to minimize their bottom line and pay their workers as little as they can so more can go in their pockets. This way of thinking is majorly flawed because the capitalist needs someone to buy their goods and of all the workers are just enough to live there is gonna be no one to buy their goods. Right now the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for workers not covered by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act is 6.55, 70 cents lower than the federal minimum. Lowering the minimum wage below that will do nothing but depower the working-class people and make it more difficult for them to get by and live their life.
Articles like this one and this one justify lowering the minimum wage by saying that there is not enough evidence saying that raising it will be any good and even go as far as to say that raising it will be catastrophic. The biggest case made is that raising the minimum wage will also come with an increase in unemployment while a decrease in the wage will create more jobs as capitalists will be able to pay more people. They also argue that prices will rise to meet the payments and will put us back where we started. All these reasons are not only flawed but short sited.
Cutting the wage might lead to more jobs due to more money being available to pay but it does not do anything to increase the buying power of those with money and makes it worse for them. Without the price of living also going down cutting people’s pay is just going to make their lives more difficult and deter them from consuming goods. With how crucial money going back into the system that is capitalism and people buying things it makes no sense to lower the buying power of the people in it.
This way of thinking is flawed as it makes it seem like the company has no other way to make more money to pay employees other than cutting them or raising prices. It stems from the idea I mentioned earlier of capitalists trying to maximize their profits. CEOs are making more than they ever have now and this greed has made it so the working class is struggling just to live. It is also why plans for raising the minimum wage might not work. Instead of taking the money they are making and hiring more or paying more these CEOs are keeping it to themselves. If they took a pay cut they could very easily compensate for the rise in the minimum wage.
As much sense as raise in the minimum wage in Puerto Rico, it is only a band-aid in the problem that is its economy. As of 2019, Puerto Rico is 74 billion dollars in debt. This unescapable amount is the root of many of Puerto Rico’s problems and can not be solved in just one easy move. While raising the minimum wage would help the people with jobs and most likely stimulate the economy unless there’s also a system set up to create jobs for those that do not have one it will be meaningless. Subsiding job-creating opportunities or creating more government jobs would do a lot to a country with 7.7% unemployment.
These plans to lower the minimum wage are only to further the exploitation of the working class and to widen the wealth gap that is already huge. It only benefits the capitalist to lower them goes against how the capitalist system is meant to work. More meaningful and proactive policies can be done if the U.S. government really wants to help the people of Puerto Rico but the history of the U.S. says otherwise. Protests growing in Puerto Rico demonstrate that the people are tired of being exploited by not only capitalist but their own government as well. With the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló hopefully, brighter days are ahead for Puerto Rico.
The women of Puerto Rico have been the center of movements that created lasting change on the island so it is no surprise that they have stepped up to help others in need. After Hurricane Maria, a series of profane chats from Rosselló and his cohorts showed chats including, sexist, and homophobic attacks, which three days later the women-led Center For Investigative Reporting published the text messages that kicked of a wave of protests against the #RickyRenuncia.
There are hundreds of thousands of women across the island that come from all ages and backgrounds that are participating in the revolution. While some are in the front lines of confronting riot police, others are behind the scenes helping their communities by tending to farms, leading community workshops, healing, and education.
This is an incredible thing that women in Puerto Rico has done for the people like building homes, taking care of those in need, making sure their families were fed but one thing some people may forget is how women are marginalized not only do they not get treated unequally but after hurricane maria violence against women was an all-time high. According to RI interviews with organizations providing services to GBV survivors, and as was documented in several news reports, violence against women in Puerto Rico increased after Hurricane María.
This is hardly surprising given that GBV almost invariably increases with any natural disaster. In Puerto Rico, however, documenting the full nature and scope of the increase in GBV incidents in the hurricane’s aftermath has proven challenging for two main reasons. First, the three hotlines used to report incidents went dead with the collapse of the island’s telecommunications system. Even weeks after the hurricane, the 911 call center, the Office of the Women’s Ombudsperson’s emergency line, and the line to the Center for Assistance to Rape Victims were not fully restored. Second, key systems designed to prevent and respond to GBV collapsed. After the hurricane, only five of the island’s eight domestic violence shelters were functional. According to shelter staff, at no point did any authorities visit the shelters to undertake a needs assessment or request input from shelter directors on the emergency response. So while the women were making sure that everyone else was taken care of it seemed as if they forgot that women in Puerto Rico need to be taken care of as well.
By Alexus Rios
Disasters come in various forms; there are hurricanes, earthquakes, monsoons, tornados, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of disasters in the modern day are correlated with the effects of colonialism, capitalism and climate change. The ways people experience disaster also varies based upon location, country, race and gender. Often times when disaster strikes a developing country that is either still colonized or that has recently been “decolonized”, the effects are exacerbated due to the fact that there are already standing issues within the country. This has been exemplified in countries such as Puerto Rico and more recently the Bahamas. For the United States and its territories, the agency that steps in to provide aid is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Their mission statement is “helping people before, during and after disasters”; unfortunately, the length of time the presume is okay to provide assistance after a natural disaster is not adequate.
There are currently poor procedures in place to aid people who need help the most. FEMA provides aid to countries in need for a limited amount of time. There aren’t any procedures in place to provide help to these individuals in a long term manner. Arguably, this is because there is a limited understanding of the long term effects of trauma towards people of color. In disaster situations that impact a predominantly white population, there tends to be a sense of urgency to fix the problems caused by the disaster. Essentially, these people are given the opportunity to return back to normal in an expedited fashion. It is clear that FEMA has organized their timelines around privileged people, whether that be racial or via class.
Currently, FEMA has a multitude of services geared towards helping individuals and businesses get back on their feet. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the services provided to individuals. To try and highlight the issues within all of FEMA’s disaster support programs would take an entire novel. We will focus solely on FEMA’s housing assistance and the issues with the programs that fall under the temporary housing assistance category. FEMA does not provide as much help as the average person might consider. The things that fall under FEMA’s housing assistance include temporary housing, home repair assistance and home replacement assistance. At a glance, it seems that they have covered their bases, however that’s not true.
FEMA’s temporary housing is only for homeowners who are uninsured or underinsured that have been displaced after a natural disaster. This temporary housing assistance consists of initial rental assistance, utility outage rental assistance, inaccessible rental assistance, continued rental assistance and lodging expense reimbursement. The initial rental assistance covers an individual for two months; this is only given to people whose homes have been deemed uninhabitable or homes where people have been forcibly relocated. According to Forbes, 78% of workers in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck. The likelihood that a person requesting temporary housing from FEMA will be able to get their finances in order directly after a disaster is low. There are so many personal factors that this short time period does not consider. A person may lose their job and continued financial stability as a result of the disaster. Providing assistance for a mere two months is not only biased towards helping the gainfully employed individual, but it is also biased towards people who fall into very binary categories.
FEMA’s temporary housing becomes even more complicated once we take a look at their utility outage rental assistance. This covers those that experience “extended” utility outage in their area, and thus need rental assistance for another home. The coverage is provided typically for one month. The period of time that qualifies as “extended” is unavailable on their website. So not only will a person who has relocated because of extended power outages have one month of rental assistance, but they might not even qualify for assistance and will only find out after requesting this assistance. This is not the only example on FEMA’s website of language being vague; this is important to note as it allows for the agency to cover its bases and still be able to be selective about which individuals will receive aid and support from them.
Moving forward, there is inaccessible rental assistance. As inclusive as this title may sound, it is not. At a glance, one might assume that FEMA provides further assistance to those that need to relocate to a more accessible home due to disabilities they suffered before the disaster or as a result of the disaster. That is not the case; FEMA’s inaccessible rental assistance actually covers those whose homes are literally inaccessible to them as a result of the disaster. This inaccessibility to a home is usually due to flooding situations or issues where air quality is unsafe, therefore there is restriction to the home. This support is also only typically provided for one month.
Interested by this short amount of time that support will be provided to disaster survivors in this case, I took a look into the reality of repairing a home after flooding occurred. The act of drying out a room after flooding can take anywhere from twelve hours to several weeks depending on the size of the flood; the average time it takes to dry out one room after flooding is 72 hours. Assuming it takes the average amount of time to dry out a room to dry out multiple rooms in a house, there still must be consideration of the time it will take to repair the damages caused by flooding. Often times, flooring must be pulled out and drywall must be replaced after being submerged in water to avoid mold. The entirety of this process can take a month if everything happens quickly and nothing goes wrong during the repair process. After flooding however, items within the house usually need to be replaced as well. Referring back to the statistic provided by Forbes, 78% of people in the U.S. are living check to check. It is unrealistic to assume that people will be able to repair their homes and then replace the items in their home within just a month. FEMA’s inaccessible rental assistance then proves itself to not be helpful in the long term.
Now, FEMA does provide continued rental assistance in some cases. This form of assistance can only be provided for up to 18 months from the date of the disaster declaration, not from the time that the award is given or requested. FEMA claims to take approximately two to three days to approve people for assistance. However, most people may not qualify for this long term assistance and even if they do, it does not cover the full cost of rent needed. It is actually a monthly allowance that is based on the market at the time. Again, this is not a long enough period of time given to disaster survivors.
There are many factors to consider in terms of trauma being experienced after a natural disaster. After a disaster, people experience loss in a range of forms. Some experience of family members, loss of a home, loss of access to clean water, long term financial loss depending on the severity of the disaster and in some cases loss of access to healthcare. Those losses affect everyone, but then there must be consideration of people who were previously disadvantaged before the disaster. Homeless and impoverished people experiencing these losses coupled with the financial loss that comes with experiencing a disaster are often overlooked in these plans to help people recover.
Based on the information provided above, it is clear that these assistance programs not only neglect a vast majority of the in-need population, but also neglects the part of the population that was in need of assistance before the disaster. As I’ve highlighted the issues FEMA’s housing assistance program, I want people to consider that this a program that is based in the United States of America. If this is the quality of assistance that the U.S. government plans to give to its own, imagine how that quality of assistance diminishes when considering the support they should be providing to people in U.S. territories, or countries with high U.S. influence. This is something that needs to be fixed; this is a call to organizations and agencies such as FEMA to reform.
We see it all the time, people are failed by those they are supposed to trust, government corruption, illuse of funds that are meant for the citizens. It has been a common theme we have been exploring throughout this class and how it affects the people of Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria, residents of Puerto Rico looked to the Government to provide them with what they needed, however the government constantly gave people the run around, excuses for why they weren’t receiving help or making it so that only certain people would receive help and that there was a “How bad is your damage standard?”.
Many people believed that Puerto Rico actually got the aid they needed and that the government was supportive in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, however, I believe that Puerto Rico was deserted and left to fend for themselves. In times of natural disaster, the people are left to rebuild and help each other in times of need. The government leaves the burden of their responsibility on the people that they are responsible for. Natural disasters shed light on the true intentions of countries, it sheds light on the idea that many countries are not equipped to successfully handle crises. Hurricane Maria occured in 2017, it left people’s lives upside down. President Trump takes pride in failing as a president, he failed Puerto Rico when he went on twitter rants instead of aiding Puerto Rico in their recovery. According to the Washington Post “On Thursday, after the governor of Puerto Rico publicly denounced Trump’s failure to fulfill a promise of a meeting to address issues with recovery from Hurricane Maria, Trump proclaimed that he had treated Puerto Ricans better than not just any U.S. politician but any “human being.”” President Trump spent more time speaking of how much he helped Puerto Rico than he did actually helping them. He bragged and boasted about the effort that he put in, however, footage from Puerto Rico surfaced of trump throwing paper towels at the citizens of puerto rico, in a “you get one, and you get one” fashion.
It is as if having control over Puerto Rico was the help that he had given them. Instead is the fact that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US and depend on them for help during times like this. It is the United States’s responsibility as an “empire” to provide support to Puerto Rico. This idea is something that is often explored after many major natural disasters. However, this is not limited to only the United States and Puerto Rico, but has been seen with Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gilbert and most recently Hurricane Dorian. These have one connection, the United States. It brings the question to mind, what does the United States, the best country to live in, really have to offer survivors of natural disasters, and why does is so easily influence the governments of the places that are affected and why do they have a say in what happens to the lives of innocent people simply affected by natural disasters?
The United States sat back while Puerto Rico suffered. They watched as the people cried and begged for the help of the giant while president Trump sat back and complained about how much Puerto Rico was making a dent on the budget and how needy people were. This was a big slap to the Puerto Rican people who are a part of the United States due to Puerto Rico being a colony. It is as if the US had forgotten its moral obligation is to help Puerto Rico in the time of need. Puerto Rico is being affected unfairly due to climate change. Bigger global powers such as the United States pollute the environment and leave small island like Puerto Rico to deal with the wrath of Mother Nature with her very unpredictable and dangerous storms. The incompetence of the United States and FEMA only proved that the Puerto Rican people can only really count on themselves.
It was the people of the small communities that created soup kitchens and support groups to help one another get through the toughest times of recovery after Maria. It was neighbors that helped rebuild when FEMA didn’t provide enough aid to even get supplies. It was people within the community that fed others that couldn’t afford to be fed, or ran generators to help others.
The differences didn’t stop the people of Puerto Rico. People gave when they had nothing to give, gave because that is all they knew. Puerto Rico didn’t need the help from the United States because they had each other, an island of loving people who overcame the odds and differences they had to support one another through this horrendous tragedy.
Gender norms was always prominent in Puerto Rican society. Men had to live up to the “Machista” mentality and women often being the caregivers to the family. However, within these gender norms were gender inequality. It was found that women take up about 52 percent of the island’s population. The poverty level in 2018 in Puerto Rico was also found to be a staggering 37% majority being women. The inequality between women and men in Puerto Rico were always evident, but sadly it got worse after Maria hit Puerto Rico. Women were more vulnerable to sexual assault and domestic violence. Not to mention, lack of resources to provide for Women’s reproductive health concerns. Their responsibilities of looking after their families increased as These families’ homes were decimated.
What’s remarkable is that through all this adversity, women rose and formed a sisterhood that led to the re-invention of Puerto Rico. By re-invention I mean from rebuilding homes that were destroyed after the storm, to reforming the government.
After the storm hit Puerto Rico homes were completely destroyed, leaving families with no idea of when these homes would be rebuilt. Two women teamed up, Maria Gabriela Velasco and Carla Gautier forming housing startup Hivecube. They created affordable housing for Puerto Ricans that could be built quicker than most homes.
These brilliant women used shipping containers as a quick solution to help an awful problem. This is just one brief example of how women helped rebuild the island. The article goes on to explain how women banded together to help provide local and healthy food for the island. Women consistently came together taking care of Puerto Rico, showing their strength, intelligence and perseverance.
These programs mentioned in the article, such as HiveCube, still exist and continue to strengthen Puerto Rico.
Not only did women literally rebuild houses and fight against hunger in Puerto Rico, but the women of Puerto Rico became an essential part in forcing the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
On July 10, 2019 chats between Ricardo Rosello and his administration were leaked. These chats made homophobic slurs, sexist remarks, and mocked the lives taken by Hurricane Maria. These chats ultimately lead to his resignation. These chats were leaked by Journalist Sandra Rodríguez. A few days later journalist Carla Minet released more pages of these chats. Thereafter, more women journalist and photographers joined together to create a social movement Puerto Rico has never seen before.
After the revealing of these chats feminist movements arose everywhere in Puerto Rico, rallying non-violent protest throughout the streets of the island.
A Puerto Rican blogger, Aliana Margarita Bigio-Alcoba wrote, “Women took the lead, mostly because we are the ones who had to historically carry the burden of having a corrupt government: moms dealing with a bad economy, women suffering domestic violence,”
One of the best parts to these feminist movements is that there are no leaders taking charge or main runners of these protest. It is women coming together, fighting for a better Puerto Rico. Their movements and protest became successful on August 2nd when Rosello announced his resignation.
From rebuilding homes, feeding Puerto Ricans, to fighting for a better a government, the women of Puerto Rico proved their strength. Feminist groups are still emerging and rising. Their plan: to fight for a better future for Puerto Rico, demanding their recognition.
In the era of climate change where warmer oceans are amplifying hurricane season, causing bigger storms to happen with increasing frequency it’s useful look back at Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was until last year, when Michael hit, the last Category 5 to make landfall on the mainland United States.
It’s hard to imagine that a place like South Florida with it’s well known natural hazard risk and location next to a major Air Force Base would be so socially vulnerable. The reaction to and recovery from Andrew was a major test of how this country with all its wealth and resources can handle even the expected in hurricane-prone areas.
I recently caught up with my Aunt Terry to get her survivor account of this experience. She had coincidentally just finished a local move from the house in Northern Florida she’d moved to in 1996 after leaving Homestead. Friends and family had already left. But it was the increased crime and failing schools—where Terry also taught—that forced them to move for the sake of her kids. Before Andrew they had never expected to move. “We had good jobs down there. We came up here with nothing I mean we had no jobs,” she said.
At 5am on Monday August 24th Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida 10 miles east of Homestead and 25 miles south of Miami. My family was from Homestead. They’d settled there after moving around often because my grandfather was in the Air Force.
Terry was born in Texas in 1956, “And so, I was four when we moved to the Philippines and then we moved to Homestead and that’s where dad retired in 1960… I could see it, the house all white, by the railroad tracks and a lot of water.”
And in 1960 Hurricane Donna hit. It was the last major hurricane, defined as anything above a Category 3, to strike South Florida before Andrew.
“Yeah, I think we were still moving in… mainly the storms then were just wind and a lot of rain,” Terry said. “That one most of what you had was the rain because we could put a boat out and you could canoe down the roads. And I mean there were some people that had motorboats, little small boats, that were going down the road. That’s how much water was in there.”
Andrew was a small and fast-moving storm so tracking it was especially difficult for the forecasting technology at the time. Even those around Homestead Air Force Base like Terry were surprised, “They were still having planes taking off… they were still open trying to get rid of all the planes and stuff and evacuated. But the people, we didn’t get an evacuation notice. That that was one thing that ticked everybody off. If they’d have said evacuate, we’d have been long gone and we wouldn’t have stayed in the houses.”
“But then all those tornadoes that were with it, that was, that’s what got us. We were sleeping. We didn’t know it was going to be that bad. We just redid our whole house two days before that stinking thing hit and what happened was our window got blown out in our bedroom. Then you started hearing this ‘flap flap flap flap flap.’ It was taking the shingles off the roof, so the roof was opening up.”
“When the limb or the branches, a huge like half a tree came through the bedroom window. Our first thing was, go get the kids because Liz was eight and Matt was 10 or 11. We got Liz and then the limb came right through the roof in her bedroom just as we had dragged her out. And we got Matt out of his room and went back to our bedroom, but the door had come off. So, then I tried to push Liz’s door up against her window so we could get back in it and get in her closet because she’s the only one that had a mattress.”
“Our idea was to wrap the mattress around and get in the closet because we all had waterbeds back then. We got in the closet and wrapped the mattress around and me and my husband John stood and we were holding it and he was in front leaning on it so the mattresses would stay around the kids and keep them safe.”
“I mean it’s pitch black you don’t know what’s happening. There was no idea you just heard this sound. I mean when they say the tornado sounds like a train on the tracks. That’s exactly what it sounds like coming through the house. And that’s when everything started blowing all to pieces and gone and walls and stuff. But when we finally got daylight and you can see stuff in the storm, after the first half when the eye of the storm passed over then you can see that our place where we were at was the only thing that was there. The back walls were gone.”
“We found our fish in a puddle down the street. But we couldn’t do anything with him.”
The recovery was a disorganized mess.
“You couldn’t drive in for a week. What came first was the Air Force and Army with their big helicopters. It was scary, like being in a war zone but just bringing stuff. And they were constantly passing over because there was a big field down the street.”
“It took a while to get the Red Cross and other people in there to help. The insurance companies could only come in the main roads US1 and we had to go meet them. Where we lived it was covered over and it took a week or two to clear it out with chain saws.”
“Red Cross was wonderful. When I got that first ice cube, because that’s all I wanted was something cold just give me an ice cube I don’t care about the water give me an ice cube.”
A video Op-Ed by Andrys Tavarez that explores the racial inequalities in the mental health field.
Hurricane Maria was a category 5 hurricane which cause a tremendous amount to several Islands in the Caribbean like Virgin Islands, Dominica and Puerto Rico. This class open my eyes to so much things that is going wrong in Puerto Rico. These things stem from the political systems that takes advantage of its people and adhere to United States wishes. These issues were made worse when Hurricane Maria hit. This Hurricane was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Puerto Rico in the last hundred years and the reason for this is climate change. Climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of these catastrophic events.
Climate change is the overall increase in temperature worldwide. This increase in temperature is primarily caused by the increase of certain greenhouse gases in the air. These greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution these greenhouse gases have been trapping more and more heat and not letting it escape our atmosphere. As a result, the amount of energy available in places adjacent to the equator has made it conducive for stronger more frequent storms to occur.
As many of us already know the industrial revolution is the cause for this large release of greenhouse gases, we have seen in the last 200 years. The main greenhouse gas released is carbon doxed and it has risen from 200 part per million in 1800 to over 400 part per million today. This means there is a lot more carbon dioxide in the air trapping even more heat on Earth. This can be seen from the graph below showing the gradual increase of carbon dioxide emission over the last 200 years.
Now the thing we have to notice is who is responsible for this increase in carbon dioxide emission and the answer is the western world also known as global north. These are countries like United States and many countries located in Europe. These countries benefited the most from the industrial revolution and introduced the most carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. However, the people who are being most negatively affected by climate change are not these people who contribute the most. People who live in the global south are suffering the most. This is due to the fact that most hurricanes start near the equator because of the warmer waters and higher amount of energy available. Also, the sea level is rising and many island nations in the Caribbean like Puerto Rico will have largest issues dealing with loss of coast lines due to rise in water as seen by the graph below. Another reason these countries like Puerto Rico are being more negatively affected than countries like the United States when it comes to climate change is the amount of founds available for infrastructure to help protect against climate change.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. There are estimates that hurricane Maria will cost Puerto Ricans over 130 billion dollars in total to fully recover. When the storm hit power went down in most of the island and took month to come back on more many people. This was due to the poorly constructed electric grid in Puerto Rico. As the class as shown me the Storm not only showed how poorly Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is its open people eyes to other issues Puerto Ricans have been facing for years like political corruption. They have also been facing a massive debt which the government is more focused on paying then helping their own people.
There are many things going wrong in Puerto Rico today and most be done to fix these issues. The main issues is the struggle between the people to become an independent country or stay as a part of the United states or even try to become a state. As it is now the amount of support, they receive from the United States is not much and in fact the United States is more focused on Puerto Ricans paying back their debt to them. How can a country which is only worried about profit and capitalism be responsible for the wellbeing of another country? They simply wish to reap all the benefits. In my opinion independency is what is necessary.
Unfortunately, this alone will not be enough to help Puerto Ricans get on their feet. There must be something done about the huge debt Puerto Ricans faces and most importantly somethings have to be done about climate change. The negative effects brought on by climate change are only going to get worse for Puerto Ricans. Hurricanes will get more frequent and more intense. How can a country with so poor infrastructure continue to survive? Something has to be done to fight climate change. The world especially countries who benefited the most have to implement plans which will reduce carbon emission and maybe even one day find ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere directly.
In 1898, The Americans invaded Puerto Rico for their natural resources, mainly sugar and promised Puerto Ricans that under their rule the Americans will protect their life, liberty, and happiness. The Americans won the Spanish-American war with the help of Puerto Ricans, who were under the assumption that they will receive the “American Dream” as presented like such in the Treaty of Paris.
With that said, Puerto Ricans started to attack Spanish owned businesses and property, but low and behold tigers never change their stripes, the United States manipulated and colonized Puerto Rico extorting them for all their natural resources until the island of Puerto Rico ran into debt.
Shortly after the United States established their presence, gearing up to complete their mission to take over Puerto Rico’s economy, the citizens of the island started to question where they stood with the United States being that the U.S did not include Puerto Rico within the country. Instead, the U.S made Puerto Rico a U.S territory. Being a U.S territory and not a state means that you generally have a territorial governor appointed by the Federal government. You usually do not have any elected body of representatives and have no representation in Congress.
I try to picture this as if I were at a restaurant and I kept ordering different types of food on the menu, but everything I taste is just not good enough for me, so I keep wanting more which leads me to ordering more.
The end of the night has come, the beautiful restaurant is closing down and as the waitress is bringing me the check, I run and then try to sue later on for harassment! This would be me showing a lack of respect and humbleness being that I walked in intending on not paying, but yet in the back of my mind felt no guilt because I hold no regard for the business being that I ate everything they had to offer but did not think of them enough to be fair and pay for what I ate.
The U.S runs out on the bill every time it pertains to a minority group. The U.S holds no regard or remorse for manipulating and extorting Puerto Rico throughout the years. The United States literally extracted Puerto Rico’s sugar and oil while making huge contributions to the islands standing debt, but when citizenship that was promised by the U.S to the people of Puerto Rico was not fulfilled, this eventually lead to the Jones Act of 1917. The Jones Act was a way to naturalize Puerto Ricans through a process that would eventually lead them to citizen status however, that does not change territorial status, so was this act just beating a dead horse? But it would not be in the U.S fashion to just do things solely because it is right. The U.S used this new act as a way to gain more soldiers for World War 1 being that Puerto Ricans were considered “citizens” they were now drafted in the war.
In my eyes, its as if the people of Puerto Rico was being teased and that citizenship was being held over there head. I am embarrassed to know that I am apart of country that values the dollar over a life
By the island of Puerto Rico being territory of the U.S, this does not technically make them apart they just belong to. Puerto Rico does not receive any public assistance from the U.S or any healthcare benefits, but the U.S can build factories and trade from their island leaving them open to diseases and bad air/water. How can you dump waste onto a place you own, harming the people that you are responsible for with toxins and not make sure that they are healthy enough to endure those chemicals.
At this current moment Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy in July 2017, and they are supposed to be one of the top for exporting pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. What makes Americans so superior to Puerto Ricans? The U.S is using Puerto Rico’s grounds to produce medicine and pharmaceuticals but can not supply the people of Puerto Rico with health insurance and assistance. This is a blatant slap in the face to the people of Puerto Rico being that they experienced a hurricane (Maria) in 2017 and ran out of electricity, clean water, food, and lost their homes but yet the chart above shows that we are still profiting off of them a whole year after we could not seem to find any extra money to help these displaced islanders.
One day we will get to the bottom of why the U.S constantly takes minorities land and space but refuses to deal with the actual people who were settled there. But we should probably not expect much of a direct answer being that America was built on the back of displacing minorities for power and profit.
Puerto Rico imports 90% of its food from mainland agribusiness companies despite its fertile soil and tropical landscape. Puerto Rico imports 98% of its energy from mainland fossil fuel companies. Puerto Rico relies heavily on imports from the United States and other countries, as a result, electricity, and food are more expensive than in the mainland. Hurricane Maria demonstrated the unreliability of the United States government to help the people of Puerto Rico and just how dependent on the mainland the people are. Puerto Rico is naturally abundant with the resources to become self-sufficient. Sustainability will be a way for Puerto Rico’s road to recovery.
Due to the Jones Act of 1920, only vessels operated and owned by the United States can carry goods to Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria exposed the world to the reality of Puerto Rico, the United States extracts profits from the island. The profits brought in for the U.S. explains why Puerto Rico has become the oldest colony of the United States. When Maria hit Puerto Rico, it destroyed fields of mono-crop farms and shattered the electric grid. Puerto Rico has the opportunity to begin a new chapter where they can be self-sufficient but also economically and environmentally be better. Farming in Puerto Rico has been on the decline, and those who have monoculture farms lost a way of life because they farmed one crop for export. Monoculture farming leaves the farmer dependent on one crop for the source of income when Maria hit Puerto Rico farmers were unprepared for food shortages. Monoculture farming is not only a disadvantage for the farmers, but it also depletes the soil from its essential nutrients causing problems for future crops.
After Hurricane Maria, almost 80% of the crops in Puerto Rico were destroyed leading to many farmers to retire or leaving the island for the mainland. Puerto Rico’s economy depends on the importation, Puerto Rico produces to export not to consume and what they do consume is imported. Groups like Frutos de Guacabo founded in 2010 have created a collective of local farmers that are creating an ecosystem that impacts the local economy. By promoting and growing locally sourced foods, this allows for the profits to stay within the community. This leads to economic freedom for Puerto Ricans and food sovereignty where they are no longer dependent on mainland imports. Frutos del Guacabo acts like a middle-man they deliver locally-sourced food to over 200 restaurants and hotels on the island.
Another group that encourages food sovereignty is Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, they educate people on “agroecology” a farming method that revives local agriculture through traditional farming methods rather than a monoculture system. The Organización delivers seeds for community members to plant, thus stimulating the local production. Food sovereignty for Puerto Rico could leave to revolutionary change for the people of Puerto Rico, liberating the Puerto Rican community from the reigns of the mainland. Their goal is to promote food sovereignty and environmental conservation focusing on decolonizing the western ideals of farming and food and going back to ancestral knowledge and education.
Puerto Rico is abundant with sunlight, solar power has begun to the boom on the island after Hurricane Maria. Across the island, many are installing solar panels and battery systems after the Hurricane many people realized that they could not depend on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. Resilient Power Puerto Rico is a non-profit organization based in Puerto Rico. The organization has deployed 30 solar and battery systems to community centers across the island. Over the last two years, the organization has increased local access and knowledge on the tools, resources for sustainable and equitable community development. They engage communities that have been underserved and underfunded to provide technical and financial resources for the installation of renewable energy methods.
Casa Pueblo is an organization that is devoted to educating the community on eco-friendly technology and methods. The organization was started by Alexis Massol-González for anti-mining activism to currently wide-scale renewable activism. After Hurricane Maria, the organization was an energy oasis for the nearby communities who found themselves without power. They distributed more than 14,000 solar lamps, solar refrigerators, and fully charged machines for respiratory therapy and dialysis. Organizations and groups like Resilient Power Puerto Rico and Casa Pueblo allow for an increase in the capacity of the communities in Puerto Rico to respond to climate change and natural disasters common to the location of the island.
The argument against sustainability in Puerto Rico has been about the funding and the time that it would take to switch from fossil fuel energy and monoculture to clean renewable energy and sustainable farming. There is also the problem of politics which could become an obstacle for a sustainable future in Puerto Rico. The problems are there with past infrastructures, moving forward for Puerto Rico no matter how small the step is still a step towards a better, sustainable, eco-friendly and self-sufficient Puerto Rico. The first step to freedom is decolonizing our foods, and resources from western traditions.
The devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was far greater and long lasting than most had expected. When discussing the aftermath, immediately thoughts of destruction and survival surface to the forefront of the conversation. In the moments immediately after, that is what’s important. What was lost? Who was lost? Who is alive? Who is in need? What do they need? The focus is on helping survivors make it another day, and hopefully find normalization again. Rarely is it that simple, however, as reconstruction is never a one day fix. The question for Puerto Ricans would become, How do we fix something that was always broken?
As time went on, the aftermath of hurricane Maria exposed many systemic problems on the island. Many confuse Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States as a commonwealth as full statehood instead of a colony. Although Puerto Rican’s have citizenship they do not have the right to vote, nor do they have representation in Congress. The governor is responsible for vocalizing the needs of the island, and this was Ricardo Rossello at the time of the storm. With Donald Trump as our president, the media was looking at him for his response to the disaster.
Both Rossello and Trump took little action and a lot of credit for the aid in Puerto Rico. The lack of government aid throughout the island left people without homes, electricity, water, supplies, jobs, schools, and the list goes on. With everyone’s focus on survival and returning to normalcy, some aspects of life in Puerto Rico were forgotten about.
There are elements of a culture that become essential outlets of self expression and ritualistic lifestyle. Both art and sport are so universal but become unique and symbolic of one’s homeland in the context of a single nation. While these two elements are embedded in our everyday lives, they are categorized as a leisurely activity rather than a necessity. In times that prioritize survival, like hurricane disasters, non necessities get brushed to the side. A lot of time has passed since hurricane maria first hit the island, and locals have already begun considering taking steps back to these cultural aspects, but funds make it difficult to have a lasting impact. Fortunately, some celebrities have decided to respond to the lack of aid, and help rebuild themselves.
One celebrity making strides for Puerto Rico is Lin Manuel Miranda. Miranda is a composer, lyricist, singer, actor, and playwright best known for his works In the Heights and Hamilton, both widely successful Broadway musicals. On Fortune, Emily Price describes how Miranda has been using ticket sales from Hamilton to donate funds to the arts in Puerto Rico, raising over $14 million by February of 2019. Partnering with the Flamboyan Foundation, an organization dedicated to philanthropy, Miranda created the Flamboyan Fund for artists and art institutions throughout the island. The money raised has particularly gone to the rebuilding after Maria, but also to some recipients selected by the foundation’s board. Amongst the recipients include the Puerto Rico Art Museum, a theater company Y No Habia Luz, and Música pa’ Culebra.
More recently, the salsa and latin trap artists Marc Anthony and Bad Bunny have come together to contribute as well. Both singers are Puerto Rican born stars that dominate the music charts in and out of the Latin community. HOLA!’s Robert PeterPaul discusses how the two partnered with several organizations to form the “Play Ball Again” program, in which they will rebuild six baseball fields that were destroyed by the hurricane. The specific field are located in the cities of Vega Baja, Loiza, Isla Verde, Yabucoa, and Yauco. The grand opening is estimated to happen around December of 2019, and after that the program plans to expand on restoring more fields. These playing fields are geared towards children, and it is important to the singer’s that kids have a place to play.
Mental health is a topic that has been very taboo throughout the history of the latin community. Fortunately it is a topic that has been highlighted in recent years, especially in Puerto Rico after the island as a whole experiences trauma. In Alejandra Rosa & Patricia Mazzei’s article, “A Space Where You Could Be Free’: Puerto Rico’s L.G.B.T. Groups Rebuild After a Hurricane” they highlight the importance of a safe communal space for the gay community, and what having these spaces can do for these people. Human beings need to have outlets to rely on where they can express themselves and work out their emotions. Although the arts and sports are passed off as activities of leisure, people need places of leisure. It is important to provide them with a source of social interactions and community spaces, which these centers of leisure offer. Art and baseball are a huge part of Puerto Rican culture, and allowing citizens to continue aspiring in these fields provokes growth for the island. The foundations behind Lin Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, and Bad Bunny stress the idea of a safe space for both artists and children. Focusing on projects like these allow Puerto Ricans to access a healthy way of living and a strength to push forward.
In selections from Aftershocks of Disaster we learn about stories of resilience and rebuilding from residents of Puerto Rico. In Giovanni Roberto’s “Community Kitchens” he discusses his experience running a soup kitchen that becomes a center of community, but faces many problems from the local government and institutions. Stories like these remind us that Puerto Ricans have the willingness to work towards self recovery and regulation, but often face obstacles from outside forces. The aid of celebrities help to overcome these obstacles.
The wealth and popularity that comes with fame opens up many doors of opportunity that are closed off to the general public. More celebrities should use their positions of power as a non government official to contribute to the people’s causes. It is a wonderful thing what Lin Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony and Bad Bunny are doing but there is still so much left to do. To this day Puerto Rico is fighting many battles such as lack of electricity, schools closing, and gender inequality. The people have been protesting and pushing back for a long time. With more help from celebrities providing resources and adding pressure through the media, the job will get done much faster and have a long lasting impact.
Hurricane Maria was an outlet that revealed many issues to Puerto Rican citizens. As Puerto Rico emerges in this state of revolution, little by little people are finding ways to answer the question, how do we fix our nation? For celebrities with a platform, people like Lin Manuel Miranda, Mark Anthony and Bad Bunny have chosen to organize the rebuilding themselves. It is not just in the money they provide, but the example they provide, of taking action into their own hands that makes these gestures so important. What I love most about Puerto Ricans like myself is the pride we have and the willingness to work for what we want. Moving further into this revolution, each day more and more Puerto Ricans are stepping into that mindset, and working towards rebuilding a nation for themselves. With more celebrities on the people’s side, it will be much easier for Puerto Ricans to achieve their goals in sustaining the island in ways that benefit them.
There is no doubt that climate change is happening, and it is clear that the negative effects of this change are increasing at an alarming rate. As a young person, climate change is an issue that terrifies me, and I am sure will continue to effect my life in the future.
My country, the U.S., is one of the top consumers of fossil fuels, and in September 2017, one of our territories was hit with the strongest climate change disasters it has ever seen: Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Corporations and political leaders hold power over decisions such as fossil fuel use, and without any regulation or change, normal citizens will continue to suffer. I am going to look at the specific case of negative climate change effects in Puerto Rico, how these effects exposed corruption in Puerto Ricos government, and the underlying issue of colonialism.
The rainfall that occurred during Maria was incredibly destructive to the island’s infrastructure. It caused widespread flooding, destroyed crucial dams, and helped knock-out drinking water to nearly the entire island. It also triggered tens of thousands of landslides, which isolated communities for days or weeks at a time.
Climate change is the reason that storms like Maria are happening more frequently and becoming more intense. Warming oceans are responsible for increased rainfall and flooding, and the storms are thriving with warmer atmospheres and higher moisture availability.
But, the issue of climate change is not the only problem Puerto Ricans face. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria unveiled a corrupt government and problems of colonialism that were only recently brought to the worlds attention.
When Hurricane Maria hit, many Puerto Rican residents said that their lives changed over night. Fully, 83 percent reported either major damage to their homes, losing power for more than three months, employment setbacks or worsening health problems, among other effects of the storm. A year later, residents were still struggling with basic necessities. Both the U.S. and local Puerto Rican governments seemed to ignore or underrepresent these facts, and after Maria, basically left Puerto Ricans to fend for themselves.
Puerto Ricans have witnessed a failure of help from all levels of government. Donald Trump has long spewed the rhetoric that his administration’s recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Maria were appropriate and effective, saying that the federal government did “a fantastic job” there. Overall though, Puerto Ricans gave terrible feedback when rating the presidents response to Maria.
Locally, Puerto Ricans had an unsupportive government that underrepresented Maria’s death toll for months after the disaster. Then, a few years later, Puerto Ricans witnessed their Governor, Ricardo Rossello, targeting victims who had died during the storm after nearly 900 pages of messages were released between the Governor and his colleagues.
This was the last straw. After this news, thousands of Puerto Ricans gathered on the streets of San Juan to protest the resignation of Rossello. Immediately after, the Governor refused to step down, but after he was faced with impeachment and persistent protestors, he resigned a week later.
This protest was not simply about Rossello though. It has stemmed from decades-long economic crises and political mismanagement in Puerto Rico. Also, according to many Puerto Rican political observers, Hurricane Maria, and therefore climate change, was at the heart of their resistance.
The relationship between resistance and climate change is an important one. These issues in Puerto Rico were no secret to Puerto Ricans, but the protests against Rossello may not have happened if it had not been for Hurricane Maria. Therefore, this allowed Puerto Ricans to gain nation wide attention to the underlying issues of colonialism that has been occurring in their country since the 1500’s.
Changes that are happening with the earth are causing huge amount of suffering, and it is mostly concentrated in marginalized groups. Yet, we have a government and a President who does not acknowledge climate change, has changed fossil fuel regulation, and has withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, and even after science has continually acknowledged that storms such as Maria are accelerated by climate change, the administration still does have any empathy or a solution for help.
We are one of the top consumers of fossil fuels in the world, and even when our own territory is experiencing the negative effects, we turn our backs and deny them help. Hurricane Maria is only the beginning of climate accelerated storms, and I believe the governments responsible for this acceleration should hold some accountability.
Support is still needed. The effects of Maria are still lasting through the island, and the U.S. should be there to help its citizens in need. The government seems useless in this manner, so I think it is up to fellow citizens to offer help in any way they can. While Puerto Ricans are able to make their own internal changes, they cannot fight the lasting effects of climate change alone.
Racial inequalities in the mental health field throughout the United States
Hurricane Maria served as an example on how the American government failed and mishandled its citizens. Specifically, it highlighted racial disparities in the United States. Time and time again, history has shown that the American system was created to serve a very specific type of American: white Americans. Citizens of color do not have an equal voice to those privileged white citizens. With this Op-ed, I hope to explore racial inequalities in the mental health field throughout the United States. I plan to explore the increased incidence of psychological difficulties in the Black / Latino community as a result of lack of access to appropriate and culturally responsive mental health care, prejudice and racism inherent in the daily environment of Black / Latino individuals, and historical trauma enacted on the Black / Latino community by the medical field.
I am tossing around the idea of creating a video Op-ed for this final project. Personally, I would like to use this as an opportunity to explore a creative outlet and incorporate another art form.
What Puerto Ricans need is not just disaster recovery but also economic recovery. Puerto Ricans find themselves in the center of a manufactured disaster made worse by a natural disaster. When they mostly needed a straightforward plan to get them out of debt and recovery from the disaster. They are being promised solutions that never succeeded. Puerto Ricans should be able to get out of their debt and come across their issue as a country. People were already distracted by the economic crisis that was happening before the hurricane. According to the 2016 Puerto Rico Community Survey, statistics about 44 percent of Puerto Ricans were living in poverty. This was right before Marie hit the Island in 2017.
This is the fault of a corrupt system, which mostly affect the people in the lower class. Puerto Ricans in the lower class are very affected by the hurricane, in terms of who gets first aid when it comes to people’s health, power, water and other needs. Puerto Ricans themselves have very little control on the system.
“ Running out the Island which is part of the United States, to reenter the United State again” by me
Migrations is not a solution, people were migrating to other states in the United State. Based on statistics, “every single one of the 470,335 Puerto Ricans who have already left or will by 2019—an estimate calculated this month by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York—has their own reasons for moving away from their homeland”. This is related it to the economic issues, 75 percent of the island is still without power and 25 percent has no water service. People were leaving the island because of multiple reasons such as violence, pressures, crimes, lack of food or even outbreak diseases were things that people were afraid to face.
Puerto Ricans who migrated to the state of Florida, which was the state that most Puerto Ricans migrated to after the hurricane. Puerto Ricans who migrated to florida, had to stay in a motel, knowing they can be asked to leave at anytime. These motels were provided aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA). After the pressure from members of Congress, Puerto Rico’s governor and evacuees, as well as multiple investigation from CNN, FEMA announced it that they would extend the motel assistance for Maria survivors because they had a deadline to move out, they can stay there for free for a long time. This shows that migration is not a solution for Puerto Ricans because they might become home homeless in a community where people do not understand them. At Least by staying in the Island they know the people in the Island and will see people that have the same experience as them.
Why are Puerto Ricans going to the United States? It important to know Puerto Rico story of colony and how it is related to the economic crisis in Puerto Rico. which was a colony of spain. Soon after, Puerto Rico became a Spanish colony and remained under Spanish rule for over 400 years. The American took over the Island in 1989. When it comes to wealth the United States control all the important feature of Puerto Rican’s life including the following aspects:
“communications, currency, trade (national and international), transportation, citizenship/naturalization, immigration and emigration, foreign travel (passports), customs laws and tariffs, labor relations, wage laws, census (population, agriculture, commerce, industry), defense/military service/internal security (FBI, CIA), international relations, banking systems, health standards (slaughterhouse, food products, medicines), Social Security/unemployment and disability benefits (just not as much as an official state gets), environmental laws, prices, penal system and court system.” and really what control do they have over themselves?
People Ricans should not live or develop based on what Americans want them to do or want them to become. Even though we know that America colonize them, and should be involved in Puerto Rico affairs. However should give them the chance to recover and see what they can change as Puerto Ricans, not as American citizen. American should help Puerto Ricans not just because they are American citizen. Since Puerto Ricans started to believe that what the colonial are not bring any benefit to the Island, they might as well start to build it for themselves. Puerto Ricans do not need the help of the Americans citizenship, if they are not getting any benefit or specially help after such a disaster. Even foreign countries can not interfere without going through the American government.
Sometimes when people talk about Puerto Ricans being American citizens and having access to American rights, what they really mean is having access to money, the wealth of this country. While People are living in the United States and let’s call these people not “ first citizens” but the “second citizens” because they are people of color. People of color do not receive all their rights as citizens. The question is in what citizenship posisition are Puerto Ricans
Is Recovery Truly Possible? The Hidden Effects of Mental Health & Why We Need to Focus on Long-Term Improvements
After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the island had many concerns that were revealed by the physical damages. Not only was the formal infrastructure of the island falling apart, but the social structure of the people began to change. Even with a renewed sense of community, one cannot deny the ways in which Maria’s damages harmed these social structures. With this in mind, we must question how we define recovery, and if recovery is truly possible. If recovery is returning to the way that things were before, then the island remains with the same systems that were hurting them even before the hurricane. But if recovery is a complete remodeling of systems to benefit all, is it possible for that to be sustainable in the long-term when psychological effects may transcend multiple generations?
“I think the lesson for treatment of mental health conditions is don’t think it’s over after a year. It isn’t… They’ve been disrupted from their friends and their families. The whole fabric of their lives has really been changed.” – Paxson, Princeton University
In challenging our definition of recovery, we must also consider how we define resilience. Does resilience equal survival? Is it an individual’s ability to remain unaffected by an event? Is one resilient when they must ignore their internal suffering for the sake of moving forward? Many individuals were not able to even put language to their emotions, as the increased stress levels did not allow for space in which they could truly process these experiences. When physical survival takes precedence, it is difficult to emphasize the internal experiences.
These mental health issues have been deemed a living emergency and psychological fallout, as the day to day impact has aggravated, and continues to aggravate, negative emotions and stress. This has caused increased risks through spikes in suicide rates, drug use, domestic violence, increased diagnoses of mental health disorder, and increased needs for new or stronger medications.
The months following showed an increase of mental health concerns in addition to the physical damages. The Department of Health in Puerto Rico saw a 246% increase in calls of people reporting attempted suicides in a period of only three months. A report from the Commission for Suicide Prevention released a report on 2017, detailing how 253 suicides occurred, with 20 occurring in December alone.
A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a small percentage of individuals were able to actually receive mental health services pertaining to Maria, yet almost double that number of people felt that they needed them and did not receive them. While the total percentage of individuals in need of mental health individuals is only around ⅕ of the population, a majority are still lacking access to proper resources, and therefore not receiving necessary aid.
This context and lack of available resources is particularly impactful for younger, school-aged children. Children, in healthy and normative development, require a strong social context in order to understand their position within the world around them. Their social environments were destroyed due to the lack of physical space in which they could come together, as most schools needed to be used as shelters for extended periods of time.
Furthermore, even contexts at home were conditions of sometimes extreme poverty. Many children experienced homelessness, food insecurity, and lack of health care access in addition to a weak school environment. The American Psychological Association has found that children experiencing these conditions are at greater risk for behavioral, emotional, and even physical health problems. While greater risk does not ensure that a child will have these conditions, the increased stress placed on a vulnerable child exacerbates existing issues and places them at risk in a setting where there is already limited access to resources.
This psyche from a disaster period carries with them into adulthood, and in the context of surviving a disaster, the mentality of a disaster period may carry into future generations, even after the recovery period has ended. Some have described these individuals as the “Maria Generation,” as seen in this video from CNN.
We have already seen the long-term effects of mental health in the survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. A study from Princeton, published in 2012, seven years after the impact of Katrina, they found that on average, many people did not return to their own mental health condition prior to the disaster.
Other studies have shown that there was an increase in generalized anxiety disorder that included short-term memory loss and cognitive impairments. They called this condition “Katrina Brain” as its origins were pinpointed to the effects of the storm. Keep in mind, this post-disaster anxiety is separate from the increased rates of PTSD, and separate even from the overall degradation of mental health that had occurred.
We have seen from the past that mental health presents as a long-standing issue even after “recovery” has been achieved. If people are still suffering from the conditions brought about by disaster— can we even call it that?
It is a necessity to emphasize mental health in our interventions, as mental health and the psyche of the people is what carries on the ability to be resilient, and the ability to continue growth and rebuilding. Mental health is more than just a diagnosis. Mental health is the internal well-being of individuals, and of a collective.
It requires multiple areas of assistance to come together, and improve the conditions of the island in order to create a sustainable, safe environment in which individuals can place focus on the internal needs rather than exclusively the external needs. Even when external needs such as food, shelter, water, and electricity are met, the remnants of disaster can still affect one’s ability to continue their process of internal rebuilding. There can still be fear and anxiety that carries on and prolongs the effects of disaster.
To create sustainable solutions, a multi-disciplinary approach is needed to address both the systematic and personal degradation of mental health. Quality of life must be improved for individuals, particularly those in vulnerable populations, through support in providing basic needs, such as food and shelter. This must be integrated with support from mental health professionals who go into the communities and offer spaces in which individuals can come and address their concerns and emotions surrounding their current state. These spaces should be ongoing rather than only in reaction to immediate disaster, and support mental health education in which individuals can recognize signs in order to offer support to each other within the community.
Reliable health resources after a severe natural disaster is an important factor, to begin recovery. Psychological health assistance should be a priority. Just imagine losing everything, but your life. All that you have ever worked for, such as your homes, businesses, some or all family members and or friends. Emotional support and mental stability is defiantly a need not a want.
On an everyday basis people have personal concerns and or issues in which they have to deal with, but now adding the effects of a natural disaster the trauma can be overwhelming. Stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, only to name a few. This is not only a concerning factor for adults but also children as well. Remaining with little to nothing, in a state or country that has per-existing economic issues, poor infrastructure, political controversy, etc. is just throwing salt on an open wound. All these issues aren’t separate from one another they all correlate and are long term problems. For those who are already living in impoverished areas, after a natural disaster life becomes even harder. Getting assistance to repair and replace things in this case after hurricane Maria assistance wasn’t guaranteed, which became paralyzing for many families that were already dealing with economic complications.
For adults, those with families both children and seniors this can be extremely hard. Taking into consideration pre-existing health issues in which they may not have access to the medication they need, or electricity for electricity-dependent medical devices. The power outage after Hurricane Maria was stifling, without electricity for months unable to have what we consider in the twenty- first century as an essential. For those with children, having to act like you are emotionless or trying to make it seem like everything was ok, and that you’re ok, hindered their healing process after the trauma, having low expectations of a positive aftereffect.
For children this is like a loss of childhood, their capacity to adapt to this new lifestyle is not easy. Seeing your parents frustrated because things are just out of their control, struggling to find clean water, no electricity for months, home needing repairs if it isn’t completely gone. The normalcy of their life is somewhat gone, schools closed for weeks to months, the loss of playmates, places they once went destroyed, etc. According to the article The Maria Generation’: Young People are Dying and Suffering on an Island with a Highly Uncertain Future children’s reading, writing, and math skills began to decline, children either attempted to commit suicide or did, increase in sexual abuse, depression and or anxiety. It became “learned hopelessness” their “normal childhood” gone in a blink of an eye and their opportunity to be the “perfect child” is lost in the trauma.
The gone but never forgotten lives, wreaked material possessions, shortcomings of natural resources, and the sense of abandonment one or the other or combined played an enormous role in the trauma people faced. Patricia Noboa Ortega the author of Psychoanalysis as a Political Act After Maria was one of the people who volunteered her needed service as a psychologist to listen to the people of Puerto Rico. She set out to “provide a safe space in which residences could talk about their experiences and thus allow them to calm their anguish… talk about their distress, suffering… it was a way for human beings to calm their anguish with words” (272) She made a great point stating that every person is different, no two people are alike, “they could have lost the same thing” but react and feel differently. After being in a traumatizing situation it’s common for people to become actors and actresses as they tend to put up a front, while inside their dying. For the author, her home signified “a promise that she made to herself as a child,” (272) for many accomplishments and dreams were crushed, having to start all over and not sure what the future holds.
Not everyone has the mentality to cope well, communication is gold, simply asking someone how they are doing, or feeling may make a total difference to their mood. Talking with your child or children, having an honest and pure conversation and or allowing a professional to do such, maybe a step towards walking them off a ledge, but with words. Also, in the article listed above, there was a young man that sent a warning text to his mother. Unfortunately, the telecommunication lines were poor his mother’s replied text message got delivered after it was too late. The young man committed suicide, he was crying for help, he just needed reassurance that his life was worth living, but he didn’t get it in time.
After such a traumatic event in which the majority of the people experienced a drastic change, people need a support system not in a financial aspect, but physically and psychologically. During times like this building connections and having someone to talk to is consoling, just someone listening to you, without them transferring their emotions. Releasing this heavyweight off of your chest will likely allow you to stop with the clouded thoughts and have some clarity.