When I first heard of Maria, the name given to the category 5 hurricane approaching Puerto Rico, I honestly didn’t think much of it. My grandparents and uncle had just returned from Puerto Rico after visiting my great grandmother. The house they stood in had been losing power, therefore they spent their last few days in a hotel to avoid the heat. The day before their return flight, hurricane Irma hit the island. The following day they arrived at an airport with no power, delaying their flight eight hours. Once they came home they told stories about hours of no light, no food, and no air conditioning, but everyone was okay, no harm done. That’s all that hurricane Irma was to me, and that’s how I thought María would go. It hadn’t occurred to me that the entire island would soon feel the effects of something much worse than a little power outage.
Maria hit the island only two weeks later, leaving so much more destruction behind that talk of Irma almost vanished. I learned about how much actual damage the hurricane inflicted on the island, and yet I still wasn’t able to grasp the scale of the crisis. Living within the confines of an inner city borough my entire life, I had never experienced a hurricane or any sort of natural disaster first hand. It was hard for me to imagine what it must feel like for the survivors because my own experiences were so detached. It wasn’t until my family moved my great grandmother from her home in Caguas to my aunts house in the Bronx, that I finally realized this was more than just a bunch of fallen trees after a storm. They explained that the conditions down there were too unbearable for her at her age, so she needed to come here to be taken care of since she was already sick for a long time. Far away from her true home, my great grandma, Zenaida passed soon after.
The hurricanes Irma and Maria happened almost back to back, leaving Puerto Rico with little time for action. Because the results of Irma were not as drastic, there was little reason to believe this next hurricane would call for more preparation. Besides, there was little that citizens could do about the already failing infrastructure. Recall how my aunt’s house was losing power weeks before the hurricanes arrived. After Maria, the list of destruction went on: no electricity, roofs torn away, roads blocked, streets flooded, no clean water. People were becoming unemployed and children were out of school because there were often no way of reaching these locations, and even if they could, often there was nothing there.
I blame part of my disconnect on the current political climate. Trump can be off putting, making the news less engaging. I didn’t care to sit and listen about paper towels, “ungrateful Puerto Ricans,” and the confusion regarding number of deaths. The news anchors seemed to be on our side, but everyone was more concerned with bashing Trump. Who was sending help? It definitely wasn’t me; I didn’t know how. In fact, like many Americans today, I got my information from social media when celebrities decided to take matters into their own hands. Stars such as Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez were sending out information on how individuals could donate. Around the same time my grandmother began sending help packages to our family as well as other families in need, with information she found on facebook. It felt rewarding to donate some personal items knowing that I was going to give to someone like myself. Suddenly the news was overrun with stories about donations being withheld, and I wondered if my grandmothers packages even made it. Professors at school were having open discussions about what we could do? Nothing, I thought. Not even donate.
Slowly, Puerto Ricans worked towards putting the island back together themselves, after being abandoned by the government they were forced into. On the second anniversary of Maria, there are still homes, no, humans going on without power. The lack of response feels surreal to me. A huge issue surrounding the lack of aid from the US government comes from the debate around Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US. Evidently, not many people are aware that Puerto Rico is a US territory and not a state. The idea of citizenship comes up as a reason to help Puerto Ricans, followed by retaliation explaining they aren’t citizens, thus help is not a necessity. I find this entire debate ridiculous considering the United States has a history of providing aid to foreigners whether they asked for the help or not. I cannot fathom why Puerto Rico should be any different.
Two years later the world goes on, and as many municipalities of Puerto Rico are forced to dwell on the past, another natural disaster hit Puerto Rico on the very week of Maria’s anniversary. First was an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3, followed by tropical storm Karen. What does this mean for an island still recovering from destruction? It’s difficult to feel hopeful in a situation like this, yet I’ve learned many Puerto Ricans still are. Artists like Veronica Ortiz Calderon with her film Candlelight and singer Macha Colon with her performances, draw attention to an empowering dynamic of the Puerto Rican people continuing to push forward. The islands long term state outside the norm has allowed for a certain kind of freedom that brings the community together. With a shared devastation across the land, there is more room for communication, sympathy, and understanding amongst the community.
Upon reading personal accounts of people in Aftershocks of Disaster, I have a deeper understanding of the experiences that these survivors undergo. When thinking about survival it’s easy to forget all the elements of personal lives that get put on hold. It’s not just about finding food and fetching water. Sofia Galisa Muriente highlights this in her list, Gone with Maria. She lists things that Maria took away like, “the professional basketball and volleyball seasons” or “the expert witness in my mom’s robbery case”. I never really thought about the little things in people’s lives that make their individual narrative so unique. Certain things that were put on hold, altered, or gone all together. With a stronger awareness now, I feel better that I’m not so ignorant on the matter. Now I’ve been inspired to be more optimistic and hopeful towards the islands self recovery like many people in Puerto Rico are.