Still Dark in Puerto Rico: My First Protest

Friday, December 29th marked 100 days since Hurricane Maria attacked Puerto Rico, leaving the island completely without power or water. Medical attention was next to impossible, as the hospitals had no electricity. Even getting to the hospital was unimaginable, due to fallen trees and the lack of gas for cars.

 

After Hurricane Maria initially struck the island, all communication ceased for a few days. Family members desperately tried to contact each other both on the island and the mainland U.S., but found little luck. I personally did not hear about my family for several days and when we finally received word, we heard that they were safe, yet had no food, water, or power. Initially my first thought was, “They have to leave the island! Let’s get them off!” I consulted my mother and we determined that I could house four people in my apartment and she could house some in hers. After concocting this plan, we learned that no one wanted to leave the island. Not even parents with young children. I could easily discern that Puerto Rico’s immediate recovery was going to take an extremely long time and schools could be closed for a while, if not shut down permanently. Why wouldn’t a family with young children move to the mainland for a better life if a positive future in Puerto Rico was impossible? Well, I guess the people of Puerto Rico have more faith than I do because, although many of them left the island, many stayed behind.

 

One of my aunts in Puerto Rico regularly uses her Facebook page to update her friends on life in Puerto Rico. She typically writes brief status updates: “No hay luz. (There’s no light)” “No hay agua (There’s no water).” “No tenemos comida (We don’t have food).” Each status update brought new waves of despair over me and I felt completely helpless. At times, she posted that they had electricity and water only to post again a few hours later that they lost it. With my current financial situation, I’m pretty unable to tangibly help my family in Puerto Rico. Literally the only thing I can offer is prayer for everyone and everything affected by Hurricane Maria. But, I try not to doubt the power of my prayers. God moves mountains when those who love Him pray to Him and ask for His intervention.

 

As the days have passed, mainstream media has completely forgotten about Puerto Rico. While the media initially remarked on the damage, the number of deaths (we’ll return to that in a minute), and Trump’s idiotic and tone-deaf response to the island, coverage has diminished. It’s only natural; other news stories take precedence, I suppose. But, people on the island are still suffering. Many people still do not have power or water. People don’t have food. Yes, these are people and are valuable because they are image-bearers of God, but they are also American citizens. How can American citizens suffer in this way when the U.S. can do whatever they want? The U.S. has absolutely everything and its disposal, yet has not used that privilege to expedite help to Puerto Rico. In fact, it seems like more than just neglecting Puerto Rico after the hurricane, they are taking steps to lie about how damaged the island is. One facet of this cover-up is the death toll. We were first informed by mainstream media that a few dozen people in Puerto Rico died from the hurricane. Questionable as that statement was from the beginning, I thought, “Well, even the Puerto Rican government is saying this, so I suppose it must be true. Certainly the Puerto Rican government wouldn’t conceal the true death toll. They want aid!”

We’ve just learned that the death toll is over one thousand people, most of them dying after the hurricane. This means that because the U.S. didn’t act expediently, people died from its negligence. People undoubtedly died because of lack of water, medicine, and food. The U.S. has Puerto Rican blood on its hands, but this is definitely not the first time that has happened.

 

On December 29th, many Puerto Ricans and supporters gathered in Union Square Park in New York City to protest this ridiculous response by the U.S. government. I was one of those Puerto Ricans. Standing outside in below 15 degree F weather was certainly not my idea of a good time, but as one of the speakers, Rosa Clemente, said, “Standing outdoors in the cold for two hours is nothing compared to what our family and friends have suffered on the island over the past one hundred days.” Since it was my first protest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I arrived, protest organizers handed me a sheet of paper with the Puerto Rican national anthem and some chants as well as a few articles about the truth that the U.S. government doesn’t want us to know about Puerto Rico. My toes and fingers ached with cold and my ears cried to be covered. But, I felt so proud to stand there along with different generations of Puerto Ricans as one cohesive unit. No matter our borough or language, we were one. Spanish-speakers, English-speakers, Puerto Ricans, Caucasians, African-Americans, former Young Lords members, people in their 20s, parents, and teens all gathered together. The solidarity in the air was incredible. We sang the Puerto Rican national anthem together and while most people didn’t know it, I did and I sang it with solemn pride.

 

The protest finished out with drum playing and joyful victory chants. We believed in a victory that we couldn’t yet see. That’s faith. My first protest was a cold and serious experience, but I thought about everyone who couldn’t be there that night. Rosa Clemente said that each person standing there represented a hundred people who couldn’t come. That deeply resonated with me. I stood there, in New York City, one Puerto Rican among many, yet representing my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and on and on until we reach our Taino, African, and Spaniard ancestors. I knew that my grandmother would have beamed with pride if she were alive today and knew that her granddaughter was woke, passionate, and committed to Puerto Rican restoration. My grandmother was a strong Puerto Rican woman. My mother is a strong Puerto Rican woman. This is the stock from which I’m made. I will continue to push forward, writing the truth each step of the way, praying that it sets someone free. Pa’lante. Siempre pa’lante.

 

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

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Self-Denial and Your Calling (Puerto Rico?)

Readers,

I’m sure you’ve been keeping up to date with the news on Puerto Rico, as we all should. Although the President says that the government’s relief efforts have been extraordinary, the faces of the people in Puerto Rico are telling me otherwise. The incredible mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, has given passionate pleas for Puerto Ricans, using such strong words like “dying” and “genocide.” Wow, and that’s the capital city.

So if those in the capital city are suffering so viciously, we must accept that there are many in the campo (countryside) who are worse off. They have no water, no electricity, no food, and no medical supplies. I’m certain that the death toll is much higher than the government believes it to be. I have no doubt that there are many Puerto Ricans in the campo who have died in their homes and relief workers simply haven’t found them yet.

This disastrous hurricane has raised so many feelings inside of me. I’ve been turning various options over in my mind, trying to find how God could be calling me to respond in the wake of this tragedy. The Lord knows that my Spanish isn’t the best and I don’t have enough work experience to convince myself that I can make a difference in Puerto Rico.

While many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island, as recovery is likely to take decades, there are countless others who have no such luxury. They cannot leave the island. They must stay until their dying day, which may be quickened by the terrible conditions Puerto Rico now suffers from. 

How can I get involved? What are my talents? Well, I can teach English. I can work with children. I can hand out supplies to those in need. I can be a mentor to teenage girls.

What are my spiritual gifts? I have the gift of exhortation, empathy, teaching, and faith. NO DOUBT God can use those.

But, what do I lack? Language skills. I know that on my own, without the Holy Spirit’s help, it will be incredibly difficult to share the gospel with anyone in Spanish.

This is what keeps me from moving to the island and investing in my fellow Puerto Ricans. Funnily enough, a lack of language skills hasn’t deterred me from thinking about serving God in India, because I’m not Indian. No one would expect me to know Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, etc. But, because I’m Puerto Rican, I face some backlash for not speaking the language as well as I’d like. I face shame. I face rejection, I face questions about my upbringing. 

I think of Moses. When God called him back to his own people, the people he wasn’t raised with, he kept complaining that he wouldn’t know how to speak to the people. God gave him Aaron for that. I hope to find my own Aaron along the way to be my mouthpiece until I can become fluent in Spanish.

Will I move to Puerto Rico? Perhaps. Do I want to? Hell yeah. To go back to the island my grandmother called home would be an honor. To return to my roots and invest in my people would be a gift. I pray that the Holy Spirit helps me get over myself enough for me to actually do this.

 

I don’t want to meet the King of Kings face to face and say I never left New York City because I was scared to be rejected. I want to tell Him that I left all I ever knew, planted myself in a poor country where I hardly spoke the language, and loved the people well. All for Him. It’s all for Him. It’s time to pray.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico

It is very hard to be a Puerto Rican, which is to be an American, and to read some of the nasty comments people post online about how the US government should or should not help Puerto Rico in Hurricane Maria’s wake.

I have read many racist comments about Puerto Ricans, saying that we are unintelligent, incompetent, rude, white-haters, etc. These people tend to be the first to island hop throughout the Caribbean, tasting the delights of the islands, while simultaneously hating the black and brown hands that serve them Mojitos on the beach.

My mind is blown when I read these comments, but it should not be so shocking. Most Americans are terribly ignorant of the fact that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US. Oh did I write “colony”? I meant “commonwealth.” (We’re really a colony.)

When Spain and the US fought over our island, we were shifted from Spanish hands into American ones. America granted us citizenship in 1917, oh how convenient. Right when they needed men for WWI.

The US is the country that denied us the right to fly our flag and to govern ourselves for quite some time. It is also the country that forced sterilizations on Puerto Rican women, most of whom were completely ignorant of the operation and the repercussions of it.

Why did they sterilize us? Well, it was an effort to “help” us, they proclaim, yet we know the truth. They were tired of using their precious money to care for poor, colored Puerto Rican children. They thought that sterilizing us and testing birth control on our women would rectify that situation.

So, does the US owe anything to Puerto Rico in terms of humanitarian aid? You bet your ass they do. They stripped us of our autonomy and our right to be free. US taxpayers should pay for the restoration of a land that so many Beckys enjoy during Spring Break.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island, filled with resilient, intelligent, colorful, joyful people. I am one of them, although I was born in NYC (Puerto Rico #2). We are teachers, doctors, mothers, sisters, nephews, shop-owners, preachers, and above all, people. We are people. We are American. Help us.