Despair, anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, desolation… these are just a few of the emotions, sometimes all of them at once, that I have lived through during the past days. On Wednesday, 20th of September, my home, Puerto Rico, was hit. Hurricane María started her route through the Caribbean as a powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds between 150 mph and 175 mph destroying all on its path. This is not the first hurricane to impact the island, of course, yet this has been the most catastrophic one in recent history.
The night of the 19th of September was the worst night ever, knowing what was inevitably going to hit Puerto Rico and not being there on my island, with my family. The 20th of September was the longest day ever. Waiting, just waiting, for María to pass Puerto Rico, to hear some sort of news, to hear from my family that they made it out ok. Yet, the 20th passed and I had no news whatsoever from my family or friends. September 21st came and I had no news either. Not even the government of the island knew what was going on. They had no information from most parts of the island.
All communications were off. Electricity was off. Half—if not more than half—of the island was under water. There were not enough teams to rescue those that needed rescuing, not enough resources, not enough medical brigades, and not a single hospital working with capacity to care for those that needed medical attention.
These past days have been dreadful, with no official news from the side of the island where my family was located, the only confirmed reports that there were no communications networks working on the island but that help was on its way. More than eight days later I finally heard back from my family. A call that lasted no more than five minutes gave me the relief that I needed so much but also the infuriating frustration of knowing for a fact the struggles that they were facing and my inability to help them. I was only recently able to communicate in depth with my family. They are still shaken and in shock at the lack of attention and help they are receiving, and the lateness of any help that comes.
These past days have been dreadful, with no official news from the side of the island where my family was located, the only confirmed reports that there were no communications networks working on the island but that help was on its way.
Not much information has been shared in the press about the humanitarian crisis that has been affecting Puerto Rico since Hurricane María hit the island. Additionally, little to nothing has been said about the reasons why Puerto Rico has been so patiently waiting for the U.S. federal government for relief, rather than accepting other foreign help. Our status as a U.S. Territory once again gets in the way of the enjoyment of a sovereignty that would have allowed Puerto Rico to accept any help from any country and any use and consumption of resources directly after the hurricane hit. Yet, because we are a territory that “belongs to, but is not part of the United States,” we had to wait patiently for Congress to feel pity for the human lives perishing on the island, and allow us a breath from the laws of colonialism that perpetuate the status quo in the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Several days after the fact, the United States is sending help. Help is yet to arrive to all parts of the island, but is at least reaching some parts of Puerto Rico now.
This lateness of action and the political circus that has arisen at the cost of the lives of the people in Puerto Rico is deplorable. Recently, it has been said that Puerto Rico wants everything done for it. As a matter of fact, it is the people of Puerto Rico who are rebuilding the island, and who despite their devastation and loss, are hopeful and working for a future.
Puerto Rico before María was an island more than 70 billion dollars in debt, an island forbidden by the U.S. Congress to audit such debt and discover the origins of it, yet tied to a promise to repay all of it. Puerto Rico was the paradise of employers: minimum wage ranges from $4.25 to $7.25 per hour. An island full of doctors and hospitals, yet no money to afford medical care. Under the political and social conditions that the island experienced before Hurricane María, and now with the current profound humanitarian crisis, Puerto Rico needs real help. Puerto Rico can’t afford more lateness, it can’t afford to be an afterthought. The people in Puerto Rico cannot resist or survive more inaction, and those like myself who are outside cannot bear this injustice.
I was recently called out and told that as a Puerto Rican I was ungrateful, not appreciative of the actions at least being taken now. I am not ungrateful. I am only a human with rights, and wondering, why my rights as a Puerto Rican are suddenly not worth the same as any other U.S. citizen’s, with whom I share the same citizenship? The bodies are piling up in the morgues, and people are continuing to die. How can we be at peace and not continue to ask for help when the little we have been given is not enough, and our family and friends in Puerto Rico are paying the cost? Still, today, some people have not heard from their family and friends. Still, today, there are displaced people trying to enter Puerto Rico, and others trying to get out and save their families for what is yet to come.