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Political Recovery of Puerto Rico

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. 

Marco Hernandez, a local pastor acting as guide for a Red Cross team visiting the Comerio region of Puerto Rico, comforts Felix Rodriguez with a long hug on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017.

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.

Heydee Perez, age 29, and her son, Yenel Calera, age 4 have not received any aid one week after Hurricane Maria. The roof of their home is gone and they have very little to eat.
A mother and her son have not received any aid one week after Hurricane Maria. The roof of their home is gone and they have very little to eat, from 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.

Shaina kisses her son Keydiel in the yard of the school he attends in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. This image was taken by the Guardian after the mother and son were saved from being trapped in their home.

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.

A retirement community has volunteers who work with the elderly, and help them learn to cope with emotional stress, from NPR.

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.

What Maria was to Luis Miranda

Hurricane Maria was devastating to many Puerto Ricans, even those not on the island at the time. Luis Miranda Jr. (father of Lin-Manuel Miranda), co-founder and managing partner of the MirRam Group, (a government affair, lobbying, and political consulting firm), was in New York when Maria touched down. Luis had been in contact with his family in Vega Alta Puerto Rico for all of the week before, “there was radio silence” as he said when Maria passed. For 10 days neither Luis or his son Lin could get in contact with their family on the island. Like many Puerto Ricans that were outside of the island, Luis found out that a member of his family, his brother, was okay and alive through social media. A picture posted by his cousin that lived in Jacksonville Florida had his brother in it. He remembers strongly his first contact with anyone on the island. It wasn’t even to his direct family, it was to a childhood friend who informed him that his parent’s house, the house he grew up in and was raised in, was gone, the hurricane had taken it with many other houses in his barrio of Maricao, Vega Alta. 

Luis’ biggest fear in all of this was that his family would get sick. “…without electricity, water rising everywhere, with no medical equipment, getting sick wasn’t an option”. This was a common fear throughout people on and off the island. People that were ill and sick prior to Maria had their fate sealed by it, without power and being isolated from help many of them succumbed to their illness. Luis knew that this could easily happen to his family. This was a large contributor to the death count of Maria. Many deaths could have been prevented by being prepared for the devastation that the hurricane brought and being ready to provide aid to those who need it most. Luis said, “of course natural disasters affect poor differently,” and we see this difference as bright as day in Puerto Rico. This article highlights the disparities in aid received between Houston after Hurricane Harvey and Puerto Rico after Maria. Despite the similarities in physical devastation that both natural disasters caused, both FEMA and the U.S. government sent billions more to aid Harvey survivors than to aid Maria survivors. This is compounded and made worse by the fact that the infrastructure in Puerto Rico was much worse than in Houston and more money would have been needed to help and rebuild in Puerto Rico. Poorer communities are hit harder by natural disasters cause of this fact. The little they have in infrastructure and disaster provisions make it that much more difficult to bounce back after natural disasters. 

Luis is a large activist for Latinos and with both his son and the MirRam group he has very powerful connections. He used these connections to get help as quickly as he could to not only his family but his barrio. At the time his son Lin wrote a song to raise awareness and funds to help the people in Puerto Rico and Luis himself was coordinating help with the major of New York. The park department of New York was able to lend some workers to clear up debris like fallen trees as well as mudslides. Luis also got supplies from camping stores with major one criteria for whatever he got, it had to be solar powered as he did not want to have the issue that batteries would bring. With supplies and people ready all Luis need was a way to get them to the island. The obvious solution to this was private planes. With planes lent to him from friends and friends of friends, Luis was able to finally get to the island and Vega Alta after 10 days.

After the initial few weeks of the hurricane, Luis had to come back to continue his work with the MirRam group and everything else in his life. It was after being back the Luis got to see the media coverage of Puerto Rico as well as the response of the U.S. government. “I was comfortable that the media was covering Puerto Rico and what was happening … Trump was a totally different thing and the lack of aid to Puerto Rico from the federal government is a totally different animal.” Luis believed that the media was being clear in showing how Hurricane Maria devastated the island. He was “pissed” at how unprepared the federal government was to handle Maria and could not understand how provisions were not made before the hurricane. All predictions of the hurricane were right and it wasn’t something of a surprise when it made landfall, isolation could have been prevented. “To add insult to injury,” Luis said, “not only was the federal government not ready but this Buffon, this clown, (Donald Trump), goes to Puerto Rico for a photo op.” This was in reference to Trump going to Puerto Rico 14 after hurricane Maria, and throwing the infamous paper towel into a crowd. This whole event was the manifestation of the incompetence of the federal government to help during and after Hurricane Maria. To this day, there are still many people feeling the effects of Maria and this incompetent government. Luis says “… what hits you the most as you’re getting to Puerto Rico in a plane is the amount of blue tarps…” These are blue tarps that are still up from the initial aid from FEMA and others to provide shelter to people. They are still being used by people that have nowhere else to go. More could have and should have been done

Looking into the future of Puerto Rico, Luis is “optimistically cautious.” He sees the pockets of change that can lead to something bigger. Hurricane Maria Exposed a lot of the systemic issues that Puerto Rico is dealing with. In Luis’ words “ Puerto Rico has been living with borrowed money, borrowed time, in a fantasy world…” Puerto Rico has 74 billion-dollar debt that was made worse by the hurricane. Wall Street banks pushed the government to keep taking out loans at ridiculous rates that it could never payback. Even with the money, it was taken out, it was not going back into the infrastructure and the communities of Puerto Rico. Not only were the power station and the electrical grid poorly taken care of but, “Water pumping stations, bridges, levees, roads — all had been starved for investment for years.” Puerto Rican people have only seen their island mishandled and exploited and the aftermath of Maria has been the last straw.

Facing Maria

A natural disaster can affect a person more profoundly than the superficial things we see. When thinking about a natural disaster, we tend to think about the mundane damage or the genetic damage it does to a place. What we tend to forget is that a natural disaster will take a person and not only wreck the environment around them but will also wreck them internally. Natural disasters lead people to become overwhelmed with different types of emotions because they know that the life they once had, has been turned upside down and destroyed. Puerto Rico has been that island that has been affected by many hurricanes, which have devastated the island multiple times. Over the years, Puerto Ricans have been able to develop a strong backbone when it comes to natural disasters and reconstruction. The people on the island have experienced many hardships while being neglected help from the United States, which have led them to develop a strong character or face when facing things like a category four hurricane. What many don’t get to see behind those firm faces is the hurt and emotional distress Puerto Ricans are dealing with behind closed doors. Today, I choose to interview a friend who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but like many was affected and pushed out of Puerto Rico. 

My friend Norman was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He came to the United States when he was 21 years old. When meeting him for the first time, you can tell he is an island boy, like some like to call it. He wears Puerto Rico around him, loud and proud. After knowing him for a couple of years, he finally explained to me how he never truly wanted to come to the United States but was forced to because of the economic hardships he faced while living in Puerto Rico. He said during the interview, “Yo me tube que ir, Porque la cosa en Puerto Rico en realmente estaban muy mal.” He elaborated that he knew that after finishing college, leaving the island was his only choice because he knew that even after completing his degree, the possibilities of him attaining a job in his field was very low.

Additionally, he also mentioned that the minimum wage in 2015 was about 5 or 6 dollars, depending on where you worked. Norman knew that it wasn’t enough for him to sustain himself, let alone support his family. I asked him how has his life changed after he came to the United States, and he responded to me that he’d been faced with many challenges like language barriers, becoming financially stable, leaving his family in Puerto Rico. He said, “I had to do it for myself, me sentí muy mal dejando a mi madre allá pero ella me empujo para que yo tomara la decisión que yo hice.” He didn’t want to leave his mother because he knew he was all she had. Norman said to me that growing up, he knew that they didn’t have much but that his mom always put a strong face for both of them and still found a way to give him what he needed. 

Moreover, I asked him to give me a comparison of his life on the island and his life here in the United States. He told me that he hated it here and that at times would get to a point where he just wanted to go back home. “Here is depressing, en Puerto Rico yo podía estar afuera todo el dia, Y la comida, la comida no se compara.” When he mentioned to me about feeling homesick, I related to him a lot, because I wasn’t born here either, and at times I do miss back home. This quote he said brought me back to space where I remember just playing outside all day and my grandmother’s cooking.

Furthermore, he described to me that his everyday routine has changed from doing multiple things in a day to work and then go home. Now, I brought back the conversation to my focal point which was the economic crisis in Puerto Rico and what it has done over the years to the island, I asked him about the crisis and how it impacted his life and the lives of the people around him. He answered by saying “Hay mucha corrupción en Puerto Rico, hay mucha corrupción aquí también solamente que allá le toca peor. allá nosotros tenemos que hacer lo que sea para sobrevivir because you know at the end of the day life keeps going and you either move with it or stay behind.” This statement to me was the most powerful in the interview because I could see how even though his whole experience changed his life and well change him, he didn’t let it break him. 

Lastly, I touched on how hurricane Maria affected his life recently. He expressed to me that when it happened, he was devastated and highly concerned because when it happened, he was living here while his whole family was back home. He said that at that very moment, he felt helpless. “I couldn’t call my mom to find out if she was okay because the power was out. I didn’t know if our house was destroyed.” Norman explained that he was able to get in contact with one of his uncles, which told him that his mom was now staying them. A month after, his mom ended up having to come to the United States until their house in Puerto Rico was able to be repaired. He mentioned that there wasn’t a lot of significant damages but just broken windows, doors, and a flood. However, when he was telling me this, I could how hard that must have been for him. Now not only did he have to take care of himself but his mother as well, which is very difficult if you live in New York City while working in a retail job. “Ella tuvo que gastar sus savings, fue muy duro para ella dejar todo y venir aquí. Nueva York es una cultura diferente que ella no conoce bien, so it was a real adjustment for her at first”. He stated that she went back home in like three months because she had a family to stay with over there, but he said that in many people’s case it wasn’t that easy and that he knew that some had to migrate over here without knowing when they would be able to return home. He said to me, moving over here after living your whole life there is like losing a part of yourself. Similarly, saying that although people like me do it to give ourselves a chance to have a better experience, it is not as easy as some paint it. Having to be pushed out of Puerto Rico due to a financial crisis or because of a hurricane can impact a person far more profound than it would ever affect them materialistically. 

This interview grounded me. It allowed me to step in the world of someone who has been affected not only by a financial crisis of territory but as well someone who has been affected by a natural disaster. Norman’s story I feel moved me because when first meeting or even knowing him years after, I never really knew how deep everything happening on the island affected him. Like most Puerto Ricans, he put on his brave face and continue to move forward. Although he loves his island very much, he says that he doesn’t see himself going back unless the situation in Puerto Rico becomes better. The emotions one faces when going through a traumatic experience like this is not understandable if all you know is what the media feed us. An experience like this is never genuinely mediatized correctly. The emotional distress or the stories of the people who were affected by it is never shown in media outlets unless it is benefitting the news station airing it. I am glad more people are joining together to publicize the real stories occurring today in Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria. 

Surviving Natural Disasters; How the system failed Jamaica.

Image result for hurricane gilbert jamaica

Hurricane Gilbert was a hurricane that occurred during the 1988 Hurricane season. It is the most destructive storm in history to hit the small island of Jamaica. On September 12th, 1988 the winds reached 175 miles per hour, making Gilbert a category 5 hurricane. Gilbert had a 40-mile wide eye that covered the island. About 80% of homes were seriously damaged and 500,000 people of the 2 million on the island were left homeless. Almost all homes lost electricity and more than 200 people lost their lives. Hurricane Gilbert caused over $700 million dollars (USD) in damage to the island of Jamaica. Growing up, I always heard the name Gilbert floating around, I would always say, “Who’s Gilbert”, I had no idea I had a relative named Gilbert. It would always be thrown around in conversation usually by my mother, “Dis nuh suh bad as Gilbert.”, “Itta rain bad like Suh it rain home inna Gilbert.”. I never mustered up the courage to ask my mother what Gilbert was and why she always was talking about Gilbert until about 3 years ago and her response was “Hurricane Gilbert happened when I was growing up”. I never questioned my mom on how bad it was, or how it affected her. It wasn’t until I had to do this assignment interviewing a survivor of natural disaster that I realized my mother was always talking about Gilbert and it had affected her to a point in which she constantly references it. I decided to interview my mother when given the opportunity to do so. She is the survivor of a natural disaster, one that she so frequently references, as it has traumatized her. My mother was 15 years old when Hurricane Gilbert had hit the island. She lived in the country area of Jamaica, in a house that all her siblings were birthed in and that my grandfather still lives in today. I asked her what it sounded like and how it looked outside and she recalled it vividly, her face blank almost as if she had numbed herself to remembering the storm, She recalled it as,

“Scary, winds were like a person making a really scary noise. The winds roared like a lion. Looking through the window. It was pitch dark, everything was dark. It came in the night and all you could hear was the rain pouring. The house was wet, almost flooded and part of the roof was gone.” My mother recalled to me that her family was already close but  “During the night of the hurricane, we stayed together, we slept in one bed.”

Image result for hurricane gilbert jamaica

It wasn’t rare in my mother’s childhood that she had shared the bed with her siblings because there wasn’t room for each person to have individual personal space. She spoke about Hurricane Gilbert bringing her family closer, although the storm wreaked havoc, she was still positive and able to see the good of what the storm had done. Similar to Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico where the storm had brought neighbors closer and allowed the people within the community to be open with others, my mother recalled a similar experience. During the interview, she said, “We were always close with our neighbors, the neighbor’s house got damaged totally, they stayed in our house for a while until they could repair their house.” During times of trouble, struggle or natural disaster, it is human nature to be able to lend a helping hand and ask for help if needed. It is times like this when you have nothing or seeing others struggle it will open your heart to helping others around you and not forgetting the kind act of others giving when you had nothing allows you to pay it forward to the ones that aren’t so fortunate. It was so bad that the prime minister of Jamaica reportedly said that eastern Jamaica looked “like Hiroshima after the atom bomb”, the hurricane ruined crops, which is a substantial part of Jamaica’s economy, buildings, roads, and small aircraft. It’s a government’s job to supply and help their people during times of disaster, similar to the inadequacy of the Puerto Rican government after maria, the Jamaican government responded poorly to the aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert. My mother recalled that it took months to get aid, the roads were terribly damaged, there was no public transportation and infrastructure that had been washed away. My mother also recalled that hearing about what happened in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria reminded her of how corrupt the government of Jamaica is, she told me that after Gilbert, the government took the resources and aid for themselves and also sold part of it for profit. The coverage of the storm was not as it should’ve been, my mother recounted that the media covered Hurricane Gilbert terribly, and even doing my own research there were little articles that had to do with Gilbert’s effect on Jamaica.

Video on damage in Jamaica

Song inspired by Gilbert

Surviving Hurricane Sandy

Hurricanes do not discriminate when it comes to where they to hit or the amount destruction they cause. In some cases, hurricanes do more damage in one area than another for several reason. This can be due to the intensity of the storm or in many cases the preparedness of a country or region to resist damages from a storm. There have been cases where a category three storm does more damage to location X than a category five hurricane does to location Y.  The reason for this in many cases is infrastructure and the resources available to the people for recovery. 

I interviewed an old classmate of mine named Phil Lukach on Thursday October the 31st. Phil and his family live on Staten Island and lived through hurricane sandy. I figured interviewing someone who lived through hurricane Sandy would be a great way to compare different aspects between what happened in United States with Sandy and in Puerto Rico with hurricane Maria.  

From the interview I noticed there were many similarities and differences between the two. In both case people lost access to electricity. The difference was that people on Staten Island where able to get their power back within several hours or days if you live up North. Some people in Southshore had to wait one or two months and these were the extreme case. As mentioned by Phil “The power went out for a couple hours. Most people around me did not get power back for several days. People in the South of the Island had it the worse some people did not get their power back for several weeks”. In Puerto Rico I know it took people months and even years in many cases before people received electricity again. Phil said his family was lucky that they only had to wait a few hours before getting power back his neighbors across the street had to wait two days. Phil Spoke on how the very next day he saw electric companies working on the grid, the same cannot be said by people in Puerto Rico who had to wait weeks. 

In terms of damages his home suffered some damages inside and in the backyard. A substantially large tree branch from the tree in his backyard fell on the deck and destroyed the table and parts of the deck. Wind damaged several of the shingles on the roof. Some flooding occurred in his basement and damaged some items they had stored there. He also spoke on how some homes were destroyed and had much more damages for friends and relatives who lived in Southshore. He said “I felt so bad seeing the destruction the storm caused in Staten Island and Brooklyn. Couple of my friends who lived in SouthShore had to evacuate and homes had to rebuild because they suffered heavy damages”. He spoke on how after few months people fixed their homes with help from the government. 

Phil spoke on how several people he knew received help from FEMA and that is why they were able to repair issues quickly. This reminds me of Puerto Rico and how horrible of a job FEMA did when it came to helping people.  This is also evident from the fact that within first ten days of hurricane Harvey and Irma FEMA sent 100 million dollars to help regions effected but within the same time frame only sent 6 million dollars to Puerto Rico to help with hurricane Maria. This is shown in the figure from below.  The discrepancy in money allotted only got worse as time passed.

From the interview I notice that Phil and his family went through similar troubles during hurricane sandy has people did in Puerto Rico during hurricane Maria. A few significant differences were the infrastructure in place and the help received after the hurricane. Many homes in Puerto Rico were destroyed due to strong winds. The homes were not built strong enough to withstand these winds speed usually because of funds and materials available to build homes in the first place. The electric grid is one of the main differences. As we studied in class the electric grid in Puerto Rico is in bad shape and faces corruption often instead of repairs. This alone cause thousands of people to surfer and many to die. In Staten Island most people received energy back within a few days and for some extreme case a month. This shows us that when it comes to hurricanes what causes most damage is not having proper infrastructure and not having enough resources. 

Understanding a Survivor through Hurricane Maria

I interviewed my great aunt Virginia Rivera who was living in Caguas, Puerto Rico at the time of Hurricane Maria. Some of the things that stood out to me in her response were the aspects of the hurricanes outcomes that went unnoticed when discussing natural disaster in a greater context. When speaking about any type of disaster that impacts many people, it’s easier for the media to form a broader narrative so that the survivors may fit under a common story. News outlets may focus on larger angles such as physical damage and political action because it’s an easier narrative to tell. By doing this, many minor details that may seem irrelevant are left out, but these small parts of survivor’s lives are actually far from insignificant. For outsiders who are trying to grasp an understanding of disasters, this practice of generalizing detains them from truly learning the multitude of impact. There are certain outlooks of a disaster that the media often can’t portray. It was intriguing to speak with Virginia and learn some facts about Maria that were never brought to my attention beforehand. 

Virginia Rivera

Before the storm, Virginia lived a simple routine based life. She was retired and living with her mother, Zenaida. Her daily routine called for activities like grocery shopping, cooking, and being a caregiver to her mom. After the storm this routine was put on halt, and her primary concern became Zenaida’s health. At the time, her mother was just shy of her nineties. While Zenaida was not in critical condition beforehand, she did undergo some sickness that comes with old age. With lack of power, Zenaida struggled through a vulnerable state that became dangerous for her. “She fell and her arm was all black! It was bad,” Virginia exclaimed. While she felt okay about herself, Virginia knew for her mother, the storm would leave her severely ill. With lack of medicine and functioning hospitals, the darkening of Zenaida’s bruised skin was a negative sign for them. 

Luckily, Virginia’s physical house wasn’t completely destroyed. This would leave Virginia and Zenaida in a slightly better circumstance than those who completely lost their properties. Virginia mentioned how she took in some people to live with her because their homes were destroyed, and she had many rooms to spare. She explained to me how the houses with cement ceilings had a slightly stronger infrastructure as opposed to the wooden ones. Virginia described the roof of her sisters house right next to hers, “Juanita had a wood ceiling. It was thin, and that just went!” Meanwhile, Virginia’s cement ceiling only received a few cracks as opposed to being completely gone like Juanita’s. Although, Virginia’s place became a shelter for another family, the house was far from perfect.

Virginia’s house received a lot of water damage that came in through the windows and doors, damaging the furniture and clothing. “We were up all night, fighting the water, sweeping the water,” she affirmed. Without clean water, it was hard for her to wash and dry everything that was soiled by the storm. On top of that, the electricity was cut out in her home for ten months. She explained how in Caguas the light’s wires were not underground like the telephone and cable wires were. Adding how the above ground wires caused problems in the past, where she would lose light once or twice a month. Those who came to repair the lights fixed it to exactly how it was before, so Virginia knew it would continue to cause problems in the future. 

One interesting aspect to learn about was her inflatable pool on the side of her house. She turned it into a vessel to hold leftover rain and flood water that she would use to help clean things or flush the toilet. Basic plumbing is easily taken for granted until it’s not a luxury anymore. The idea of using unclean water to wash things or pour water into the toilet, just to get rid of human waste, is unnerving. Not to mention the never-ending swarms of mosquitoes. “They were bugging you, all day, all night,” she sighed. It is easy to never have to think about such things, until they happen. Nevertheless Virginia had standing walls for the people residing inside.

An inflatable pool in Virginia’s porch

 While her home’s structure was fairly okay, it was everything around her that crumbled. Virginia shared her story of persistence and community, although she would hardly call it that. She described how her neighbors came together with electric saws and machetes to clear away debris from the main road that they shared. Living in the mountains, they didn’t have alternative routes. Surprisingly, Virginia described how the salt water “burned” everything and moved around the trees and garbage. Together, her neighbors helped each other remove fallen trees and chunks of damage from the road, so that one or two cars would be able to pass. “Everybody putting in their weight… The road was clean within a week,” she said proudly. However, she doesn’t describe this sense of community as a newfound result from the storm. Virginia believes that everyone in Puerto Rico is super friendly, talking to each other all the time. “It’s because they’re nosy,” she jokes. Virginia acted as a cook for the neighbors who helped her and the family living with her. Her lights were not reliable, but at least she had a gas stove that didn’t require electricity. Again however, cooking for everyone wasn’t anything new for her. “Oh yeah! I always do that,” she laughed. 

Outside Virginia’s home in Caguas, Puerto Rico

The impact Maria had on Virginia stretched beyond her home, and out towards other areas of Caguas. It is no secret that after the storm there was a desperation for necessities. Stores and gas stations had extremely long lines, with scarce amounts of supplies. Virgina says she had to travel pretty far to reach Walmart and gas stations, and spent about four to six hours waiting to buy water, gas and ice. She emphasized the need for ice because there was no electricity at all. One fact that surprised me was how there were number limits set up in these stores. Virginia described the experience saying they let in about twenty people at a time, and some parts of the store were so dark that employees carried flashlights. “People were with you in the section wherever you wanted to go. There was a restriction as to how many stuff you could buy,” Virginia accounted, “whatever it is, there was always a little piece of paper stating how many you could buy per person.” This is frustrating when considering how outsider donations were often withheld from the government. Then again, it was difficult for the people in charge to run a fair system of recovery throughout the island. 

People like Virginia received no aid from the government. She explained the only form of aid was FEMA, and they denied her application because, again, her house was cement and most of the damage happened to wooden houses. She added, “They went out for the ones that were really bad, and I wasn’t one of them.” When asked about her expectations with aid she responded, “I did have some expectations!” She sounded almost shocked, almost. With no help from the government, Virginia’s family sent her a generator. Although she admitted the generator was costly, having to pay $25 a day to use it. Still, she considers herself one of the lucky ones.

The impact of Maria didn’t end within the borders of Puerto Rico. Displacement is a result for many survivors of a disaster who struggle to rebuild and regain control over their former life routines. While the personal narratives of many Puerto Rican’s send them to various other locations, Virginia’s story was pushed to New York. Fortunately this was quite alright to her. “I love my New York!” She laughed, explaining how she was raised there. Even though she was born in Puerto Rico, she lived her life going back and forth. This was just another one of those times, but for forced reasons. 

Virginia had to bring her mother, Zenaida somewhere where she can be comfortable and monitored safely. With most of their family residing in New York, her sister Gladys’ home in the Bronx was the best answer. For Virginia this was just a pit stop on the road to recovery, but it would be far more serious for her mother. “She wanted to go back to Puerto Rico. She said it all the time.” She recalled the final days of Zenaida’s life, stuck in the living room of a cold inner city home, compared to her days in Puerto Rico. “She liked to go outside, look at the flowers, come back in, come back out. It’s different than being in a small apartment.” Zenaida passed away, still trapped in the living room of Gladys’ home in New York. Her flight back home was booked for just a few days after, but she would never make it back home.

(From left to right) Juanita, Gladys, and Zenaida

It is important to consider Virginia as a voice of a survivor. Like many other survivors in Puerto Rico, Virginia often undermined her own struggles and story. She believed she didn’t fit into a certain category of victim-hood and felt she was offering disappointing answers. The fact is, I was not looking for specific answers. I was genuinely curious about my great aunt’s personal experience of Hurricane Maria. With Virginia, and many others like her, their truth is what drives hope through recovery. Speaking with her, I learned some characteristics about natural disasters that I was not able to comprehend beforehand. Bringing personal narratives into the foreground is an important practice when raising awareness for disasters. For Virginia, I wish to tell her story and have her recognized as a true survivor of Hurricane Maria. 

Journey After a Hurricane

From October 22 to November 2 of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States in catastrophic and destructive ways. Sandy hit New York October 29, 2012 leaving homes destroyed and the metropolitan area in shock. One of the neighborhoods that had severe damages was Breezy Point. Breezy Point is a beach town in Queens, it’s a tiny peninsula with a large community filled with heart and love. When the storm hit breezy, electrical fires were caused burning down hundreds of homes, the bodies of ocean that surround this small community engulfed the peninsula. As a consequence, nearly every home was affected and needed re-building. One of the homes effected, belonged to Owens’ family. The daughter, Victoria, was there the night Sandy made land fall and witnessed the wrath of the hurricane firsthand. I interviewed Victoria, aka Vickie, about the hurricane and how life was after it.

Vickie is a great friend of mine; I consider her family. She was my sister’s best friend before, during and after Sandy. After Sandy hit her community, her house was incredibly damaged. This is where our friendship began. After sandy hit, Vickie lived with my family and I for seven months. When I Asked Vickie “What was your experience with Hurricane Sandy?”  she told me “Hurricane Sandy hit New York when I was in my senior year of high school. I live in the Rockaways right on the Atlantic Ocean and my house and community were destroyed. We got 6 feet of water on the first floor of our house and our foundation cracked. Our town had no water or electricity for 3 months. My house was completely unlivable for six months. My parents had to figure out what we were going to do with our severely damaged house while figuring out a place to stay, all while I finished high school and applied to college. It took us 4 years to rebuild our house and move back completely.”

Image result for breezy point after hurricane sandy
Breezy Point after Hurricane Sandy.

I saw her experience behind her displacement, and I witnessed her journey of returning back home. Most people think of a natural disaster and think about what the storm was like during its land fall. However, after living with her I realized the real disaster was the aftereffects, the unknowns of what will happen to her community and to her home. I wanted to unravel her recovery and what she learned from the experience.

I asked her “How did you feel after Sandy?” she told me, “Post Sandy I think we were all grateful to have gotten through it and scared to think about the future and what would happen with our house and community.”

I followed this idea of Post Sandy by asking “What did you learn from Sandy?”, with her head held high, she responded “I learned a lot from Sandy. I learned how lucky I am and to never take anything for granted. I learned the impact a natural disaster can have on people, communities, and cities. I learned how risky it is to own a house in a coastal flood zone. I learned how generous and caring people can be. I learned how tough and resilient people are. Sandy taught me a lot of life lesson.” It was remarkable to me after all the pain she had to endure, she still saw light from such a traumatic experience.

Part of Vickie’s recovery and journey back home had to do with the actual building of her home.

A huge part of her homes rebuilding was the aid she received from the government: “The government helped immensely. The federal government and the city government both provided funds and services to the hardest hit communities. The city backed program Build it Back helped to rebuild our house a few years after. The government was understanding and provided tax breaks and other help while people got back on their feet. “

At the end of our conversation she told me something positive that came from the storm, she said “The positives were that it taught everyone to be prepared and always be thankful for the things and people you have around you. I learned that for a future disaster I would have a plan. Listen to officials when they tell you to evacuate. Be ready for the unexpected. Pack up anything valuable. Stay together with family. “

She ended our interview telling me that “With all the money in the world I would definitely travel a lot, but I would always call home a house on the beach in Breezy Point.”

After this conversation with Vickie I realized some similarities and differences about Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Sandy. Both caused significant damages, some in places worse than others. Thousands of homes were lost and unlivable in. Displacement was a common and tragic theme to both Hurricane survivors.  Unfortunately, government aid was not as permissible to Maria survivors as they were to Sandy survivors.

It’s been seven years after Sandy and Breezy has improved but not to its best. During the chaos of the storm home owners banded together to fight Sandy. After the storm they banded together and rebuilt.They have come up with a future plan of attack to prevent catastrophic destruction such as Hurricane Sandy. The community is still growing together.The community raised money  to build a dune that would prevent flooding from a future storm surge. This article was written five years ago, explaining how they banded together and plan to continue to grow as a community. When I reached out to Vickie recently, I asked her how Breezy was doing. She told me that the community is still rebuilding and taking each day by day. 

However, the most amazing and meaningful impact to me was that the survivors always seemed to keep their heads held high with hope towards the future. They always stayed strong not just for themselves, but for their family.

Emotional responses of Puerto Ricans: American and Puerto Rico relationship

From the point of view of a Puerto Ricans who have a different perspective of how Puerto Rico mindset should be set. How they should be responding to the issues that they are facing as a country. I interview A.L who is a Puerto Rican living here in the United States. He had done research and wrote about what happened in Puerto Rico. He is also a political scientist by training and an activist. My interviewee’s understanding of what is happening right now was very different from what we have discussed in class. We covered a lot of concepts about hurricane maria, but we focus mostly on how government ( American) can help with the recoverer. When as my interview whole idea was that Puerto Ricans should find a way to help themselves in the first place—this quote is an explanation from the interview:

The kind of emotional responses people have to crisis like this, is more about blaming themselves for the trauma and the suffering they are experiencing. I think that the fact that Puerto Rico was going to a crisis already and is going to a crisis as right now. That was compounded by the hurricane and people experience that not as a country, however the way you experience that is as a person like the loss of job, the loss of  family member, losing a house. I think human nature is not to first think about we are suffering this as a country or society, rather to see and experienced how is it happening to you as an individual and to your family.

I think that we are all conditions in a way which is both bad and good to really think about the problem that we have in a very specific individual ways. That’s good because it is a very effective way of trying to see what can I change, what do I have control over right now. What I can be doing differently to change my situation, so that is positive response you just don’t blame things from outside or people. Try to see how you are responsible because essentially we are one way or the other responsible for many of the things that happen to us.

He thinks that people should make an impact thinking about what can they improve in their life. He believes that people need to be more responsible about their personal decision. this  also is almost the best was for Puerto Rico to recover from their Issues. One you learn how to get yourself out of a challenging situation, you will not need someone to help.

I believe that other people in the Island do need support that the people in Puerto Rico ideally do not want to see themselves as being helped, that is not what defines us. The economic crisis can not be at the end what defines us. The hurricane can not be what defines us. I am afraid that the hurricane is going to end up defining who we are. You know hurricane have happened before and along with the economic crisis. The history of Puerto Rico has been economic crisis and hurricanes going over and over again.”

” Now it is been amplified because of how many people live in the Island, the complexity of modern life, and our independent. All of those things we have to address them and colonialism and the relationship of the United States gets in the way of that. It does not allow people of Puerto Rico to practice the necessary skills and experience to train themselves on how you run a country. We always need to be looking over our shoulders to see what the Americans want us to do. I personally think that the United States should get out of the way in many of the things that they do, obviously we need them and want them to be part of what happened in the Island.

These quotes stands out for me, the most. The interview was very conversional and his perspective on the issues that are happening in Puerto Rico was different and great. My interviewee has a very positive thought about Puerto Ricans and how they can recover from this disaster. He also talks about how the hurricanes and the economic crisis can not be something that define Puerto Ricans. He was scared that hurricanes were going to remind people of who Puerto Ricans are. He did not like the fact that people have been talking about the hurricane and the economic crisis over and over again. Instead of looking for what can be changed to make Puerto Rico recover from this disaster. For these chances to happen people need to stop expecting from others, for them to do better for themselves. He believes that the United States should stop interfering in Puerto Rico affairs in certain ways. They need to allow Puerto Ricans to develop their own skills and experience. Americans should be helping without interfering as much as they should. Puerto Rico as a country should be able to build their nation together. 

The Resilience of Disaster Survivors

An interview about Hurricane Maria

I spoke with Emilyann, a 20 year old woman from Isabela, Puerto Rico, who shared her story with me about her experience with Hurricane Maria. She had been on the island when the hurricane struck Isabela, which is on the North-West side of the island. Her town was hit when the eye of the hurricane was exiting Puerto Rico. “It was very strange,” Emilyann said, “because I have never experienced a hurricane before.” She recalls preparing her room for the hurricane, and covering her windows with trash bags. I asked her how she found out about the hurricane, and she said through memes on facebook. “It all happened so quickly. At first people didn’t even take it [the hurricane threat] seriously until a few days before it was supposed to happen”. 

The night of the hurricane, she was awoken by strong winds, and no power. When the hurricane finally dissipated, she said her family was lucky to have fresh water, but they still did not have power or cellular connection. Her situation was one that millions of people on the island experienced. The hurricane knocked out about eighty percent of Puerto Rico’s power lines, and caused the largest blackout in U.S. history, and the second largest in the world. Emilyann recalls, “For me, this was the hardest part because I was always on my phone, and the next day, I just didn’t have a charge” (after letting her phone die the night of the hurricane). She said it definitely was not good, but she also said she doesn’t regret going through the experience. “I grew closer to my family members, and to my community as well.” 

Emilyann left a month after the hurricane, and came to New York by herself. “I have always wanted to be in New York; It has been a dream of mine.” She also said her move to a new place was not that difficult. “It was kinda easy for me. I have always been independent, but I feel it on the holidays when I’m not with my family. It gets hard.” 

Even though she moved, Emilyann has not left Puerto Rico behind. With her family still there she said that, “Whenever I can just book a flight and go, I’ll go”.  She said for her family, it was a matter of just getting adjusted to life after the hurricane. “There was stuff that just wasn’t open, things that you couldn’t do”. This past year when she visited Isabela, she said there was no water in her town. “It’s because of the Hurricane. When the winds came through, it blew out some sand in a lake that’s around my town that supplies the water, so then a drought came, and then there was no water. It was because of the hurricane that people were still suffering.” A common theme in Puerto Rico seems to be this struggle with complications from the aftermath of Maria, spanning from a health-care crisis to problems with infrastructure

Emilyann acknowledges that things in Puerto Rico were not at all easy for its residents. “People had the idea that everyone was reunited and they wanted to rebuild Puerto Rico which was good, but it took a long time to get there. People had the right idea and motivation but it wasn’t that easy.”  But, she said, “I don’t really think about the hurricane because I don’t regret that experience. It was tough to see, like I was fine, but other people weren’t really fine.” While Emilyann acknowledges that she was lucky in terms of the hurricane and its destruction, her positive outlook and attitude shows a resilience in disaster survivors that I think should be better reflected in the media portrayal of these individuals.

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly; a toughness. I think Emilyann, along with many other Puerto Ricans, displayed a great resilience to the disaster that struck them. Instead of viewing the situation negatively, Emilyann had a positive outlook on everything. She knows that things could have been worse for her, but she still struggled through losing power for long periods of time, she had trouble getting in contact with family in the aftermath, and she watched a hurricane that destroyed her community. After all of that, she still does not regret the experience because ultimately she grew closer to her family and her community. She said the hurricane is something that is always in the back of her mind that she does not really bring forward, so when I asked about the two year anniversary of the hurricane, she said “I was also glad that it [the anniversary] happened, that it’s been a year that has past and also, it was better [in Puerto Rico] a year after, and people wanted it to be better than it was before the hurricane.”

After the whole experience, she ultimately says, “It’s something I will never forget.”

The Flood T&T

Coast Guards rescued residents in the La Horquetta.

For almost a week, beginning on, October 18, 2018, Trinidad and Tobago, experienced widespread severe flash flooding. After relentless rainfall, approximately 80 percent of the country was affected, mainly the northern, eastern, and central parts of the island. Many communities were either partially or completely flooded such as Sangre Grande, Matelot, Caroni, Mayaro, La Horquetta and St. Helena, affecting roughly 6,000 people. The floodwater depth made roads impassable and left some communities inaccessible, public warning messages alerting people that certain communities were now in either the orange or red risk level. Heavy rainfall within 24 hours equivalent to or surpassing a month’s worth of rain with loss of telecommunications and electricity for approximately three days after all the rainfall. Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said, “This is a national disaster…” 

Stephen and his family luckily did not experience any flooding or destruction to their home or business. He said it’s because he “lives on an incline, higher grounds. Places that got hit by the flood were low line areas, so when the river bank couldn’t hold anymore it began to overflow, due to poor infrastructure and the government decision not to clean the drains.” Unfortunately, a lot of his neighboring communities were not as lucky and were in need of immediate help. Like most severe natural disasters various people experience loss or damage to property. Countless people required assistance to evacuate, shelter due to unlivable home conditions, food, clothes donations, etc. “Conditions of the houses after the flood was bad because of the level of the floodwaters, a lot of feces, people lost their cars, some were covered entirely. Some people also experienced landslide, foundations, and walls of homes were destroyed.” He explained that “some people cut holes in their roof, to escape because the flood water was roof high, people slept on top their roof for days.” 

People escaping the floodwaters by going onto rooftops.

Despite the dreadful situation people within different communities came together to respond to the crisis. Stephen himself along with family and friends didn’t just sit around, they set out to help those in need. When asked if people within communities helped more than the government, he said, “yes, by far, we bought food, water, non-perishable items, cleaning supplies and delivered it to the flood victims.” He described the experience as “heartbreaking, sad, seeing people lose everything having to start over from scratch. What was nice was seeing what humanitarian was like seeing people from different religious beliefs, cultural beliefs and races  coming together to help people that were in distress.” In such a devastating time, disaster collectivism is really what makes a huge difference immediately after a disaster.

Above waist height floodwaters

The abundant willingness of support and assistance that many provided to the flood victims was outright courageous. Even though a lot of livestock died and agricultural lands destroyed, directly after the flood “people were delivering hot meals and sandwiches to the victims, breakfast, lunch, and dinner they never were out of food.” Not only were the people within local and afar communities donating and helping those in need but, also the hardware stores, local and wholesale groceries. Stephen said, “hardware stores contributed too, they donated sandbags and other materials, to build barriers.” “The wholesalers, Price Smart an international franchise when supplies were bought for distribution the managers gave a 10% discount off the total bill. Some local groceries closed their business and actually packed boxes and hampers with supplies to distribute.” 

Distribution of sandbags
Distribution of supplies

Among those affected were prisoners, at Golden Grove Remand Section, floodwaters filled cells with approximately 3 feet of water. Those detained there were awaiting trial but have not yet been convicted. “A lot of offices were called out, some couldn’t reach the line of duty, they had to move prisoners from their cells to higher grounds, a very difficult task, a lot of prisoners and no staff, many prisoners lost their personal items.” For many first responders, it was hard for them as well, to commute, the Defense Force that could reach the line of duty helped distribute supplies and aided in rescue operations some people needed to be airlifted from their homes, they also utilized boats and rafts for rescue missions and the Coast Guards used scuba gears. During all the chaos “the Army delivered a baby, in the midst of the flood, on a boat.” 

Rescuing ladies in the floodwaters.

Even though disasters as a whole, are devastating for those that are affected, the recovery process and or the immediate aftermath is really what defines the moment. It’s a time in which many people effortlessly come together as one and take care of one another. Even though it is initially a time of weakness and sadness many people gain strength, sometimes going above and beyond to help others. In such a situation, people often open their hearts to complete strangers, it’s a beautiful thing. “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

The National Emblem of Trinidad and Tobago.

Living with Fear – One Puerto Rican Woman’s Trauma as a result of Hurricane Maria

“I fear that a great storm is going to come and kill me,” says Silvia Ramos. The 47 year old Puerto Rican explains this to me via a WhatsApp call that is so low quality, we might as well have been talking with the world’s worst walkie talkies. 

Hurricane Maria tragically struck the island of Puerto Rico 2 years ago. Ramos explains how people of the island were unprepared and unexpecting of the damages brought along with this storm. Poor phone quality aside, Ramos very explicitly recalls her experience in the midst of the hurricane and how she had to be “muy fuerte para mi familia” (very strong for my family). 

Ramos was fortunate enough to live in an area where the storm didn’t have as much of a physical impact on her home. Because of this, she took in seven other family members, including her 89 year old aunt, and provided them with food and shelter. She recalls this as being one of the most stressful times of her life. 

“I remember always being a little hungry…if serving myself less food meant that someone else could eat, then that’s what I had to do. I had to do what was right for my family”

Ramos had to learn to handle her own fears during Maria. She felt forced to put on a brave face for the sake of her family. She still has many vivid memories that haunt her about the devastation and anxiety felt during Hurricane Maria. Like Ramos, many other Puerto Rican natives are still having a hard time coping with everyday life. Across the island, more than three million people saw their communities devastated — many lost their homes, jobs, family members, and friends.

After the storm hit on September 20, 2017, there was an increase in anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder across the island. When people are more focused on their immediate needs like food and shelter, their mental health takes a backseat. Ramos explains how she refused to feel sorry for herself because she had to make sure her family survived. Silvia was working in a public school as a special education assistant at that time. The school was turned into a shelter to house hurricane survivors for 3 months. Having lost financial income was a great burden for Silvia because she was still responsible for seven other family members. Luckily, Silvia’s husband was able to bring in some income to the home, but it still wasn’t enough. Silvia’s family was very reliant on the help they received from their family members living on mainland USA. Without the help of her family in the mainland, Silvia doubted that she would be able to sustain her family in Puerto Rico. 

Natural disaster has significant mental health effects even for people who have more financial resources than many Puerto Ricans. A study conducted by the University of Albany after Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 found “a significant increase in emergency room visits for substance abuse problems, psychosis, mood disorders and suicides throughout the city.”

In the aftermath of a climate disaster, survivors may recover physically but the mental health impacts can last for years to come. Psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren explains “solastalgia” and other aspects of climate anxiety.

The mental health toll of Maria on Puerto Ricans is still palpable to this day. A recent study came out that surveyed public school students about how Hurricane Maria impacted them. The study, conducted by the Puerto Rico Department of Education, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Hurricane Assessment and Referral Tool, and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), found that more than 7% of youths reported symptoms attributable to post-traumatic stress disorder after the storm.

As a result of the natural disaster, 83.9% of youths saw houses damaged, 57.8% had a friend or family member leave the island, 45.7% reported damage to their own homes, 32.3% experienced food shortages, and 16.7% still had no electricity five to nine months after the hurricane. In addition, 30% reported that they perceived their lives or the lives of people they loved to be at risk, which, according to The Guardian, is a strong predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Two years later, Silvia still “holds fear in her heart”. A lot of her family members that were originally staying with her eventually moved to mainland USA. Silvia is back to work in the public school and back to her prior “normal routine”. Financially, she is in a much better place, but her mental health is something she still struggles with. Silvia also believes she has PTSD. She is in constant fear that another storm is going to hit the island, and leave her completely vulnerable. She states she is more anxious now than ever before, especially during hurricane season. “Last time I was lucky” she states, “but I may not be so lucky next time.” 

A Reminder of Hope: One Puerto Rican Woman’s Outlook & Her Experience of Maria

Monica Donaldson, a 51-year old woman living in Luquillo with her husband and children, shared her story with me about what it was like to experience Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Her account showcased an amazing resilience— not only in her ability to help friends and family, but also her outlook towards the events. 

“Once the Hurricane is here, it’s actually kind of exciting. We get to experience nature at its worst, but also in its awesomeness. Maria was really intense— it didn’t rain much, but the winds were really bad. During the storm, my husband had to hold down a door that was blowing away. My daughter’s window was buckling in from the pressure. But the sound is incredible, like being next to the engine of an airplane.”

Monica had mentioned that the hurricane itself was an opportunity to experience the full capabilities of nature— you get to recognize the power that the Earth holds. The preparation, although intense, was a process that she and her family were familiar with. It was the after-effects of Maria that surprised everyone. 

Like many Puerto Ricans, Monica and her family experienced a lack of electricity for months, food shortages, and property loss. She described how her family stayed within their home for five days before they were able to leave. Their home, just outside of El Yunque national rainforest, remained intact. The same could not be said for their other property investments, rentals on AirBnB, that they utilized as a source of income.

Her neighbor’s house, which she had never seen before due to the forest’s usually dense foliage, had its roof ripped away by the strong winds.
Heading to a friend’s house. The road has been covered by
fallen trees.

The destruction of their property and a source of income was not all that was lost. Her husband could no longer work his job at the Wyndham hotel due to the building’s destruction. Her daughter could not complete her education while her school was being used as a shelter, and they needed to make the decision to send her to the States in order to complete high school.

Once they did leave the property, they quickly worked to help save their neighbors, many of whom were elderly, from being trapped within their homes from fallen trees— particularly her son due to his physical ability. A chainsaw became a unique necessity for them.

Her local grocery store had almost no food available. People were limited in the amount they were able to purchase.

__________________________________________

The community shared their perishable food items before they could go bad, but after 2 weeks, things began to look grim as the food supply slowly became smaller and smaller. She described how her family missed having fresh vegetables to eat, and to give that up was difficult due to it being such a staple, and everyday part of their lifestyle.

Monica’s story of community represents the strength of the community of the Puerto Rican people, in that they utilized their own resilience and ability to stand together in order to survive. It was necessary for them to help each other, as they were not receiving help from other government agencies— even two years later. The Trump administration continues to deny Puerto Ricans their aid via food stamps. Yet, Jennifer Lopez, famed celebrity of Puerto Rican background, offered up $1 million in aid through a NY State Aid program in the immediate recovery efforts.

Monica had even mentioned how some in her neighborhood are still using tarps because they cannot afford to fix their property. She explained how FEMA requires that the individual must own the property, and many who rent or have the property under a family member’s name were not able to receive those funds. From our own readings, we have found that many who applied for FEMA assistance were provided with a denied application due to the strict, and often times unfair, qualifications required to receive that funding. Furthermore, many were not able to apply because of the little assistance provided from FEMA agents within the island.

Even while the condition of her surroundings seemed grim, Monica was able to keep a cheery demeanor and even joked about how she had to get creative in the kitchen— “I’m gonna make a cookbook about how to cook during a hurricane. I’ve been really creative with how to make meals… a lot of beans. I thought I did good,” she laughed.

She possessed a positive outlook for every hardship they faced. Even the loss of electricity became a way in which her family became closer. She felt that this was vital in their ability to adapt and remain resilient, as they were able to be open about their experiences.

Even the loss of electricity became a way in which her family became closer. She felt that this was vital in their ability to adapt and remain resilient, as they were able to be open about their experiences.

Monica and her daughter, taking a hike through the rainforest to check on a friend.

“The lack of electricity ended up being such a blessing because we were together. We weren’t interrupted by our phones or TV. When the electricity did come back, it was kind of like, ‘I’m going to miss those times of connecting and talking.’”

Monica even described how her son seemed to be empowered by the whole experience. He was able to serve his community, and recognized his own ability to survive.

When I asked her about what her life is like now, 2 years later, compared to the initial impact back in 2017, she responded by emphasizing the way in which it is both necessary, and natural, to adapt to the situation as a whole. Her positive outlook was not an easy thing to maintain— she found it hard to assimilate back into her community, as many individuals were still distraught. She understood their pain, but could not be like that herself. Her positivity was her own way of adapting, and creating an environment for her and her children that allowed them to grow rather than fall apart.

“I have children. You have to keep it together. You have to make this a learning experience. You have to make this positive. You have children looking up to you who need guidance. How do I want my children to be affected? I can change their outlook in an instant. Yeah this sucks, but are we going to wallow? Let’s make this fun. They’re going to remember this from the rest of their lives, but now in a positive way.”

Monica’s resilience is a powerful message for us all. She and her family were able to see the good that the hurricane created in their lives. While she recognizes that it was in fact a terrible situation for people to be in, she also recognizes that she had a greater power to make the best of it all. Her story, experience, and outlook, are all vital when we consider the way that we choose to represent victims. While it is important to recognize the bad that they experience, to look at a group of people only as victims rather than survivors as well, undermines and limits their resilience.

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

Psychological Health: Trauma

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.

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. 

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