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.