Puerto Ricans in Action's 2nd trip to the island took place between December 11, 2017, to December 30, 2017. The trip's primary goal was to connect with grassroots organizations and distribute supplies throughout the island.
Day 1: I left LA Sunday night in a rush and arrived several hours later in Newark, where I rushed to catch my 2nd flight. Practically everyone spoke Spanish on this flight. I sat next to a woman who was with a man and two seniors, possibly their grandparents. I wondered if they were in the states because of the hurricane and were just now returning home.
I arrived 2 hours late, at 2:15 PM EST. I immediately noticed my phone’s signal was weak. At baggage claim, it took about 45 minutes to get my bag. I was afraid it didn’t make it, but it did. While walking through the airport, I noticed a lot of tourists arriving, as well as people returning home from the states. While waiting for my dad outside the airport, everything suddenly felt familiar. Although things aren’t the same anymore, this is still home.
On the ride to my dad’s house, I saw highways with missing signs and streets with no traffic lights. Traffic police now guide traffic. Many trees were bare and toppled over on the ground. Green tree tops overflowed in the towns but are now gone. Tops of houses hidden by the flourishing trees are now visible.
We stopped for groceries at Amigos in Luquillo. Certain items, i.e., rice and plantains weren’t available. We stopped by my aunt’s house to pick up my grandmother. The houses on the street now had Puerto Rican flags, which were put up after the hurricane in true solidarity.
Day 2: My dad took to me around the “campos of Luquillo” where I took photos and videos of all the damage. Cable and traffic lights were hanging low, shattered cement, and street signs on the side of the road. I felt like Maria was more than just a hurricane. She had vengeance with Puerto Rico. I interviewed my aunt and thought that she gave great insight and details about the hurricane and damage.
Day 3: Today I went to a few local stores to get supplies I needed for my event in Luquillo. We wanted to make our purchases at local stores to help the smaller Puerto Rican owned businesses. However, I did have to buy some things at Walgreens. I hung out with my grandma during the day, then interviewed my aunt at night where we discussed the hurricane.
Day 4: Today I woke up early to volunteer at La Fondita De Jesus, a place where homeless people can hang out and get fed. I was supposed to pack 400 lunches from 9AM-11PM, but the volunteer coordinator said the kitchen was full. We set a date for me to come back Tuesday where, after my shift, I will be able to interview their PR person about the organization.
My aunt took a different route home, and we ventured through San Juan where everything looked gorgeous, as though Maria purposely skipped San Juan. There were many tourist buses and lots of tourists ready to enjoy the island. I was a little surprised because all of the media and images we’ve seen make it appear as though Puerto Rico is now 3rd world country.
As we continued on our ride home, my aunt showed me the towns of Pinones, Loiza, and Canovanas. In Pinones there were a lot of sandbanks from the oceans rising all the way up to the houses. I noticed a lot of empty homes and closed businesses.
Day 5: I watched the news while waiting for breakfast. The news said that only 63% of Puerto Ricans have electricity, not 95% like the governor had promised the people of Puerto Rico. As the days go by, I see the unfair treatment of the people in Puerto Rico. I feel a call to action is necessary, not just here but in the states as well. It is infuriating from the rise in taxes, the water situation, lack of electricity, lack of help, to the USA cutting off funding to Medicaid in Puerto Rico while so many residents here are sick, bedridden, and mostly over the age of 60. It is utterly disgusting what is being done to our families, friends, and fellow U.S citizens here on the island. I wish I could do so much more. Even though I am doing a lot, I feel like it’s never enough.
In the evening I went to the betting agency with my dad. He likes to bet on the horse races and hang out with other members of Luquillo. There are ten slot machines, a domino table, and the horse races on TV, which you place bets on just like you would at the horse track. There were mostly males at the agency, but it felt like a community social club. The owner was the former mayor of Luquillo. He said he would let he interview him. I also met a man that worked for the Governor from 1969-72. I met another man that worked for the water company, but he didn’t want to be interviewed. Everyone congratulated my dad on the work that we’re doing. It felt great. At night I interviewed some neighbors. I noticed a lot of people have left to states from my neighborhood. A lot of houses now stand empty.
Day 6: Today I cleaned my dad’s house with him. At almost 70 years of age, and having to take care of everything for my 91-year-old grandmother to keeping the house clean and safe for them to live in, it has become tough for him. We came up with the idea that when the students come out to volunteer, maybe helping seniors clean and get their homes in order should be one of their tasks while here in Puerto Rico.
We, later, went to Amigos to get refreshments for the volunteers that came to help me get care bags ready for the event on the 22nd. When we got back, my aunt was waiting and prepared to work. We tackled al the family food bags quick. My grandma put on her PRiA shirt and came out to help. Three of my neighbors stopped by and also helped with all the hygiene items. It felt great to see my family and the community come together to help our hometown. Delia Gonzalez, from PLK nonprofit, arrived around 6 PM with her camera person. She got footage of us packing items and interviewed all of us. It made me realize the grandiosity of the work we’re doing.
Day 7: I awoke to no electricity, My brother, Cano, came over and helped me finish up the family First Aid bags. He said the light was going to take eight days to come back because they’re working on the electricity in Rio Grande, which is the next town over. We did 60 First Aid bags that included band-aids, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, OTC pain medicine (Ibuprofen, Tylenol), flashlights, and batteries.
I later went to check out the beach, La Pared, in Luquillo. It’s a beach known for significant surfing tourism. Parts of trees, destroyed in the hurricane, littered the sand. The water and sand were darker than usual. I then went to a restaurant called Boardriders, across from the boardwalk. They had live music, and There were a few tourists having drinks. I met the owner, and she told me that tourism was still big in Luquillo. She, also, said that she and other workers formed a distribution team called Drema (opposite of Fema). They distribute food and basic life necessities in the Mountainous areas of the island.
Day 8: My dad and I went to the Puerto Rico Science, Research, and Technology Trust where we met with Leslie Mass, the Program Manager. We spoke with her about our water initiative, Archipelago, and the need for clean water in Puerto Rico.
Day 9: I went back to La Fondita De Jesus to volunteer with my aunt and one of my neighbors. When we arrived the Volunteer Coordinator informed us they “weren't doing the lunches because the rice cooker was broken.” I was, at least, able to interview the Director of Development, Edwin Otero. His interview was very impactful. We also met with Delia Gonzalez of PLK, and I was able to interview her. She is eager to come back, but next time with more help for Puerto Rico.
We then went for breakfast at Pinky’s in El Condado, San Juan. The electricity went out while waiting for our orders. We had to wait a bit longer for one of the employees to come back with a generator before getting our food.
Day 11: I met with the volunteers for my event tomorrow. I provided more information on who PRIA are and discussed how I wanted the event to go tomorrow.
Day 12: Today is the day of my event. The volunteers arrived at my house at 8:15 AM, along with the videographer. We loaded the cars and were off to sector La Boca of Luquillo where ”Fuerza Pa’ Luquillo” was taking place. It was the best feeling to see my community come together to help each other.