Dedicated to artists, asylum seekers all across the globe, and Puerto Rico
Part One: A Sea of Tears and a Revolution here.
Part Two: Daughters and Sons here.
Part Three: Diaspora here.
Part Four: Vernacular
There is something poetic about Friday, September 20, 2019. Who could have predicted that two years after Hurricane María, a climate strike would take place all over the world with #FridaysforFuture led by Greta Thunberg. Her story, her clarity, and poise are magnificent. Her demands are clear. Her purpose has ignited a youth-led global climate movement that is now unstoppable. What better way to spend the anniversary date than for climate justice?
The memories of all that has occurred since María are present. I do not think there has been a day since the hurricane I have not thought about the storm. It is always in the front or back of my thoughts. But the strike brought a new hue to the many feelings I have about everything that has occurred since then. For one, Greta is right. Climate change and catastrophes will reshape the course of humanity if we do not act.
In just two years, numerous hurricanes have passed through the Atlantic ravaging areas in the coast and the Caribbean, the most recent one, the cruel Hurricane Dorian. My friend Ned reminds me that the worst part of any hurricane, no matter how bad and that in itself is terrible, is what comes after. An after seems to have no end.
Unfortunately, as we all know the aftermath of storms disproportionately hits poor people and disadvantaged communities the hardest The suffering and the people are real. I met many tears from the aftermath of María. I saw and experienced it in New York City. iThe stories came my way by chance through my place of work, Eugenio María de Hostos Community College. The Hostos became a partner of “The Bronx Coalition Supporting Hurricane Maria Evacuees” alongside numerous other agencies and groups mentioned in Part One. The Coalition led the organizing of a welcome fair to support displaced newly arrived families from Puerto Rico that took place at the College on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Before and after the welcome fair other community events took place at Hostos that brought families together through DiasporaXPuertoRico, UPROSE, and Julio Pabón. The months of April, May, and June were critical months for displaced Puerto Rican families living in hotels under the FEMA program. And a lot of people knew it and advocated for them from the legislative to the grassroots level.
UPROSE/#OurPowerNYCPR held a community meeting at the College in late March or early April of 2018. Marta Moreno Vega and Elizabeth Yeampierre spoke powerfully and in truth. Marta took her the time before speaking and then in pure freedom fighter form she went, “Are you seeing how they’re treating our people? Right now we’re going to listen to this sister, and we are going to help her and the rest. We are a community, and we are not going to let our brothers and sisters fall.” Marta was right. A terrible thing was unfolding right before our eyes. She introduced a young woman who had just been told she had to leave the hotel. For no apparent reason and all of a sudden, she had nowhere else to go. Later I found out this young woman had lost her husband the year before in Puerto Rico to gun violence. She was inconsolable as she stood there telling us of her experience in the big city. Her share and tears brought everyone to tears. And at that moment I saw it, the fiber and fabric of the Puerto Rican history weaving more stories into the web of the blood and tears from both here and there. Another story of the past 100 years, here it was before our very eyes. We understood all to well they were facing discrimination, misinformation, and isolation as they dealt with trauma. By the end of the meeting, a protest would get organized to claim for among other things an extension for Puerto Rican families facing evection from the temporary assistance FEMA program in New York City and across the nation. The protest took place on April 19, 2018, in front of City Hall.
It was during those gatherings I met displaced families of Hurricane María. I learned of a mother who came to New York with an 11-year old son learning to live with a severe physical disability. Back in Puerto Rico, a stray bullet hit the boy at age nine and left him injured for life. Doctors replaced the wheelchair he received at the time of the accident on December 2018. One young woman arrived with her daughter and her bed-ridden mother, who has Alzheimer's. She lost everything. Another sister came to the city with her bed-ridden mother suffering from dementia and her cognitive disabled brother. Another woman, a single mother of three, lost her home and her job, both wipeout by the storm. They had nowhere to turn and decided to take a chance outside. Another single-mother woman lost her home and was trapped living in it and, in her mountain block blocked off from aid for a while enough, she almost died. She left the island to save her daughter and herself.
Then there was the grandmother figure in Dona Margarita. She fed as many people as she could wherever she lived. She and others cooked on the rogue, on a single burner and made feasts. Unable to get medical attention in rural Puerto Rico after the storm, this older adult left Puerto Rico to care for be a broken arm. She wanted to stay, but it was not meant to be. Then, there was the woman who shared that she and her husband and their two children lost everything-jobs, house, schools. After several months they decided to leave. She was pure jíbara beauty, innocence, and goodness. She went on to say she was waiting on a call for a job at a supermarket and then she asked me, ¿Sol, por dónde empiezo? (Sol, where do I start?).
From then on, I did not turn my back. From a corner of the Bronx I did as much as I could to help and be of support. I could see how much the people of Puerto Rico had been left unattended. And, not just from hurricane María, but for years, and years, and years. It was painful to see the loneliness, the rude awakening, the miseducation, the vulnerability. This was not something I was reading about in the news. I was seeing and listening in the flesh. We had the same problems. We suffered over the same things, aging parents, troubled family members, and lost dreams. I recognized my country and myself in the women, men, and children I met from Puerto Rico. The ability to speak our Puerto Rican vernacular helped. Right there, we met each other in a place not perceivable to the naked eye, a place of understanding in cadence. From that place, I heard their stories, their histories, loved ones, problems, just making it, barely making it, or not making it at all. I looked them in the eye, saw their pain, anguish, desolation, fear, uncertainty, shame, grief. I ate, watched tv, cried, talked history and context with them; and, I did not hide the truths about what they would be facing in this country.
Seeing puertorriqueños living in the hotels was very painful, disturbing, and utter destitution. Somehow through that critical transition time and a network of friends and work colleagues, a good crew of displaced families received baby diapers, wipes, and menstrual cycle items. The transition meant choosing to stay in the city and the homeless shelter system or going back to the island with a plane ticket paid by FEMA. The last day to stay or go was June 30, 2018. Different families made different choices, some families stayed, some went back to the island, and others went elsewhere. I met goodness in those hotels, more than my words can describe right at this time. It was not a rosy road, but it was worth it. And I learned that the suffering of the Puerto Rican people is one pain. We simply do not know it at the same time. We got there this summer during the revolution. Here and there and everywhere los puertorriqueños were furious, as we should be, still. But I will end here. This is all I have for the second anniversary of Hurricane María.
For all the climate refugees unite behind the science.