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:
After Hurricane Maria