OPINION: It’s time to listen to Puerto Rican communities

For the past few nights I’ve been showering under the stars and the purple hues of the Caribbean sky. Hosing ourselves down is the easiest way to shower these days. It’s been over a week since Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico and I don’t have running water. We’ve been slowly using the water tank we filled up before the storm. My household and over 400,000 others still don’t have electricity.

I’m grateful for my life and safety, however, for the past week I’ve felt a sense of anger and rage that is hard to let go. My anger ultimately stems from the fact that Puerto Rican communities have historically been exploited by colonial, racist policies and our health and well-being is not prioritized.

Until we have a truly participatory, representative system—we will continue to suffer.​

This happens in all levels of government. Neighbors in the coast of Salinas, a municipality in the South of Puerto Rico, warned the local government about the need of clearing irrigation channels, reported the Center for Investigative Journalism. That and the deforestation of mangroves created floodings in areas that had never seen it before.

Since Monday, September 25th, a boat filled with nearly 300,000 barrels of diesel, which are needed for hospitals and hospices using generators to keep people alive, is waiting for a federal waiver to enter a port in Peñuelas, a town in the South of Puerto Rico. This is because of the Jones Act, a law that mandates that vessels transporting goods to and from Puerto Rico must have a U.S. flag, owner, and crew. This emphasizes the need to talk about colonialism when we talk about Puerto Rico’s recovery.

She was referring to Hurricane María, but the same goes for Fiona.

What has kept me sane in the past week is our amazing ability to organize brigades, clear roads, feed ourselves, and meet the needs of those around us. Nos tenemos—we have each other—is a common phrase these days.

We have learned a lot after María, the earthquakes and pandemia— it’s honestly impressive how we’ve taken the first response in our own hands. My hope is that 9 Millones can document this, measuring the effectiveness and reporting on the limits of community responses.

The time to listen to Puerto Rican communities is now. Hurricanes will only get worse. We know how to survive. But, will federal and local government fund the solutions Puerto Ricans are asking for?

Can we stop surviving and begin to thrive?

Only time will tell, for now, I leave you with a list of grassroots organizations that you can support.

Pictured people in front of a tree that has "where are the politicians?" painted in yellow.
Support Puerto Rican grassroots organizations!
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