I’ve been avoiding talking about this topic for weeks now, but I have finally faced the courage to put my hurt on paper. I just didn’t have the words for a while. I still feel like I don’t, but I am going to try. A piece of me is missing knowing that the island is not the same as when I left. I am writing this post for the people who feel how I feel. The people who were first handedly affected. The ones who are so broken to speak on the topic that has cut them so deeply their lips start to tremble when they begin to speak on it. My mind can’t seem to escape the thought of my people suffering.

Puerto Rico has had such an influence on me since I was a little girl. I can remember walking through pueblos with my grandmother thinking about the lives and ancestors that once walked the land before me. Listening to the coquis, thinking about how our stories cannot be checked into boxes. We are the children of forgotten slaves, Africans and Tainos. Tainos who were taken over by Spaniards because of the wanting of gold and sugar cane. A beautiful mix of the three, creating a boricua. I have always felt the feeling of belonging when walking the streets of old San Juan, it has always been innate. The earliest settlers heard the Indians speak of the great wind they called hurracan. The natives said that such storms were caused by the evil God Juracan. These storms were what we call hurricanes.

This past summer I had the opportunity to spend my summer helping my parents start off their earned retirement on the island at their new home in Villalba. Going up the mountains with my father at 5 years old was the same as at 21 years old. Looking at the view of mountains that go on for miles, persistently taking my breath away. This island taught me how to be alone. It taught me to remember how small my problems are. I learned how to ride the ocean waves. I learned how to ride a horse there. I learned unique traditions like why children cut grass to put in a shoebox under their bed for the camels to eat. I learned how to dance salsa. I learned how strong and prideful my people are. I’ve learned so many lessons from the men and women on this island. I am still learning from you Puerto Rico. The spirit and grace of my people despite a disaster is astonishing. My ancestors fought. My family fights. My island fights. I wish I could be fighting there next to you all.

After over a week of not hearing from my family after Hurricane Maria; I cannot put into words the hurt that no one should feel. I am so happy my parents are okay, but that doesn’t take the hurt completely away. The island is running short on food, fuel, and access to clean water. There is limited communication. Among the greatest threats is the continuing lack of power. The New York Times reported it could take four to six months before the island can get power again. The island that gave me beautiful moments and places to photograph is not so beautiful anymore. I pray that good will come from this disaster, although I cannot see it yet. I hope one day I can take my grandchildren to the beautiful island I once shared memories on with my grandparents. I lastly wanna say thank you to the people who see me, who know how hard these last few weeks have been despite of the smile I put on. If you would like to help, please visit http://unidosporpuertorico.com.

Below are some pictures I took before Hurricane Maria:

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After Hurricane Maria

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Living on an island for 2 months has really opened my eyes. The sound of the coquis, waves, and breeze calms me leaving me to my endless thoughts. My problems seem so small. There’s this constant anxiety running through me, not knowing if I am doing enough, or if I will ever be good enough to reach my dreams. I admit to not trying my best sometimes, and not pushing myself hard enough. Then I realized, it is okay to not be where you want to be or know how to get there. One of my favorite quotes by  F. Scott Fitzgerald says,

“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”

Your morals, your dreams, your personality, your aspirations, all of it makes you who you are. Remember to take a step back from your life and look at the bigger picture, there is only one life. In this one life I hope you are proud of who is staring back at you. I hope you take in the moments that take your breathe away. Don’t let the anxiety of life distract you. It’s never too late to change yourself into the person you want to be, the person you will be proud of. If you are not yet that person, have hope you will be. If you ever find yourself being someone other than the person you want to live your life being, be brave enough to start over, and become the person you’ve always wanted to be. There is time. You can do it. It will be okay. Breathe.

A photoset of me boating and island hopping yesterday:

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Ponce is a city in the southern part of Puerto Rico. I have to warn you, Ponce seems to be the hottest place I have ever been in Puerto Rico. I always dress in light comfortable clothes and shoes, prepared to walk. Downtown of the city has some things you might enjoy! First stop was Ponce Cathedral, the cathedral lies in the middle of Ponce’s town square also known as Plaza Las Delicias. The cathedral has over 300 years of history. The most interesting thing to me is that the original structure was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the years by earthquakes and fires yet it is still remarkable. Next stop was Parque de Bombas, directly in back of the cathedral. This is a historical firehouse in downtown Ponce. The building housed the city’s main fire station for many years, and it is now a museum. It was Puerto Rico’s very first fire station. I would also take advantage of the beautiful art, venders, and food around the town. Here is a photoset of my walk through the town!

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Living a positive life first starts with loving yourself. Waking up in the mornings and going about your day with a positive attitude makes a huge difference in your life, but I think the first step is learning how to appreciate and love the person you are. At 21 years old, I am still trying to figure out how to love myself completely. I have grown so much in the past 3 years of college being away from family and relationships. I learned a lot about what I want and who I want to be. I had to figure out that in order to be the woman I want to become I have to first learn to love myself in the process. There are 5 things I think are essential to learning to love yourself.

  1. Self Care: It is okay to be sad sometimes but do not neglect yourself. Take care of your body, mind and soul. This has been the key to my happiness when I am stressed. Going to the gym after a rough day relieves my stress. There is nothing like putting on some headphones and tuning out the world. Devote some time everyday to yourself! Whether it is putting a face mask on, going for a run, or painting. Do what YOU love to do for a short time everyday.

  2. Being optimistic about life: I always believed that the energy you put out into the world will eventually come back to you. Be hopeful and confident about your future. Think less about the negative things going on in your life and more about the positives, which leads me to my next point.

  3. Cut out the negative thoughts: I think this is the hardest part. We all have thoughts about self-doubt, thinking we are not good enough. I think the hardest part of being in this generation is self comparison. Looking at everyone around you, the same age, whose doing better than you. Comparison is THE thief of joy. If you find yourself comparing, immediately try to stop thinking about the negative thoughts.

  4. Forgive yourself for your mistakes: Every single person you know is human. We all make mistakes big or small. We all have regrets. Holding on to the past will only keep you there. No one knows or understands YOUR story, so forget them!

  5. Have a purpose: I think this is the most important. I try to wake up every morning and remind myself of my purpose in life, the end ultimate goal. Remind yourself what you want out of life, and wake up every morning with a short-term goal to work towards. I have found this so helpful in changing my attitude towards my day no matter what mood I wake up in.

    Overall, it is important to learn to love yourself then everything else will fall into place. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat on the edge of my bed thinking about my life, all the missed opportunities and what if’s. When the idea of spending my summer in Puerto Rico first came up I thought it was crazy. There was no way I was leaving home for an entire summer. The thoughts of missing out on summer nights with my friends was killing me. I didn’t want to miss out on all the memories. I eventually realized from friends drilling it into my head, that I couldn’t miss an opportunity to live on an island for a summer. There was so much to do like learn to speak better Spanish, see the island, surround myself with culture, maybe even learn how to make some flan! After many long nights of thinking I made the decision, I was going to Puerto Rico for a summer and I was going to make the best of it. The scariest part of it all was being out of my comfort zone. Leaving a city to an island is a big difference.

Today makes a month of being here and I cannot tell you how many beautiful sites I have got to see and people I have gotten to meet. In all, I am here to tell you the rest of your life is being shaped right now. By the dreams you chase. The choices you make. And the person you decide to be. You will never be as young as you are right now, so please please please take every opportunity. It may not always be the best, but you might end up with more than you expected. By the way, Puerto Rico is better than I imagined. Grateful to not have one more missed opportunity.