My Puerto Rico, still in crisis

Dante Fresse, Contributing Writer

When I was eight, my father took me to visit our family in Puerto Rico. We landed in Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, about three miles south of the city of San Juan. A man and a woman, who I had never seen before, pulled up outside of the airport to pick us up in a large black truck. “This is your cousin, Telico, and your aunt, Mary,” my father said. I remember looking up at them with confused eyes, as new and gentle faces returned my gaze.

I spent two weeks on the island, living with my Tía Mary in a small home on the outskirts of Santiago. A new world and culture was laid out before me. My father showed me the vast countryside, pointing out landmarks that signified seminal moments in his childhood. “When I was younger, this field was covered with mountains,” he said, staring out into the green farmlands that extended beyond our family home.

On the final days of the trip, we traveled to Old San Juan and basked in the aged beauty of the place. Beneath the stone of the city rests a hidden history, a rich culture and heritage that transcends the current appearance of the bruised brickwork and starved houses.

Recent headlines for news stations across the country have read: “Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico in Crisis.” Three weeks ago, President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico to deliver supplies to displaced families. Most of us remember this visit from videos of the president tossing paper towel rolls like t-shirts at a basketball game. Following his visit, the Trump administration signed Puerto Rico off as a positive example of government charity and aid. Despite these statements, the truth of the situation is grim. Over 3.4 million U.S. citizens have been upended from their homes and hundreds of thousands of families have been stranded for weeks with no electricity or clean water. Moreover, the physical devastation that has taken the landscape has left cities, such as Santiago and San Juan, utterly destroyed. In order to wash clothing, bathe, and obtain drinking water, families have been forced to extract water from local mountains, forming long lines outside of coastal ranges.

My own relatives have been without power over a month—their children, my cousins, have been unable to go to school for two weeks. The situation in Puerto Rico is still dire, and it requires all of us to stay informed and active in the relief effort. Whether it be through donating to foundations or staying up to date on media announcements, we all must involve ourselves in the struggle of our fellow American citizens. Unfortunately, we are still ignorant of the full extent of the island’s damage.

Red Cross organizations have pulled together care packages and assembled evacuation teams for stranded families in far corners of the island, but millions of houses along the coast have been left in utter shambles. The lives of these homeowners have been upturned, forcing them to pick up whatever furniture, tools, or personal items that are left and move on. Within the coming weeks, as my own family members desperately work to piece their lives back together, we must keep the memory of this tragedy strong in our minds. The relief effort is not over, and it is important to participate in generating awareness and funds for desperate families who still require aid and assistance.

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