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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. 


4 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the video you put up as part of your blog post. The devastation that in shown in the video brings a light to the struggles of the Puerto Rican People. As we know most of the damaged was caused because of bad infrastructure and we can see all the poorly constructed homes destroyed in this video. It is sad that a president can go in front of the media and lie about all the so-called help being sent to Puerto Rico. We have the numbers and we know Trump and his administration did little to help. I empathize with Norman I could only imagine how hard it was to leave his family behind in Puerto Rico.

  2. Many see mainland United States of America as the land of freedom and economic opportunity. But leaving one’s homeland and assimilating to a new culture, like Norman did, is a challenge on its own. It’s very easy to forget the hardships that come with leaving home but this article reminds you of that. Even though Puerto Ricans are American citizens, it is sad that they have more obstacles in front of them and that the American government continues to fail them.

  3. This was a touching piece. Especially normally many people believe coming to the United States is for economic freedom and happiness. However, it is interesting to shed light on a situation that is much different, the idea that when you’re home you’re happy even if the financial situation is not what you need to survive.

  4. This is a fantastic piece, Laura. I think it’s important in getting across the point of the Aftershocks book that the crisis began long before Maria. A few suggestions for polishing up the piece: it still needs a little proofreading (especially, but not exclusively, the quotes in spanish). I love that you left the quotes in spanglish to give a sense of his personality and the feeling of the interview, but you might want to translate the parts in spanish for those who don’t speak English. The use of multimedia is great, but you should add some links to information about the financial crisis to contextualize the piece. Otherwise, great job!

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