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.