A Personal Account of Hurricane María

Gabi Rodriguez, Class of 2021

Shortly after Hurricane Irma impacted Florida, Donald Trump expressed his support by stating in his Twitter account, “Just like TX, WE are w/ you today, we are w/you tomorrow, & we will be w/you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER to RESTORE, RECOVER, & REBUILD!” This was not how he responded when my island, Puerto Rico, was struck and destroyed by a more powerful and devastating hurricane, María. 

About a month ago, I could have written a more touching story when the hurricane impacted my home, the Island of Enchantment. I could have recounted my experience about being away from my entire family and having no contact with them for several days, not knowing how they were. I could have written about how I felt hopeless, scared and nostalgic while thinking that the island I left in August would no longer be the one I would return to in December. I could have written about the massive floods, the lack of electricity and water and the lack of life that took over one of the happiest places on Earth. I could have written about how people were dying or how many lost everything; I could have even written about how my father’s secretary lost all of her belongings and lived in her backyard in a tent with her husband and child. I could have written about my experience knowing that all I have ever known would be lost. I could have written all of these things, and they would have impacted you. But I am not writing about these things. I am not writing about them because they are still happening; they are not a thing of the past. 

There is a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico that needs to be addressed, and the federal government’s response to it has been utterly ridiculous. The sadness of this tragedy impacted me and scarred me in unimaginable ways, but it is anger that moves me in this instance. It is anger that feeds  on the injustice my people are facing on an island that is, according to Trump, located “in the middle of the ocean.” 

I want to give a voice to the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans who have no voice whatsoever and only possess a murmur, a murmur that is silenced by Congress and is disregarded by the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump. I want to give voice to the one that cries because he can’t feed his infant, or to the elderly man who lives in a refuge after losing his wooden house. I want to give voice to the one who died trying to catch a breath as a generator in a hospital did not have enough fuel to keep her alive. I want to give a voice to the one who boils water daily, to the ones who wait more than six hours in line for gas and to the one who works with her neighbors to clean up their community. I want to give them a voice driven by anger and desperation. They shall no longer be silenced; they are people too and they deserve to be heard. 

On September 20, Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico and devastated the island. The entire island lost electricity, water and cellular connection. 48 people died and thousands lost their homes. Nevertheless, everyone has worked together to bring the Island of Enchantment back to its original state, and we have received external help. Slowly, but surely over the past weeks, Puerto Ricans have been supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and by several military agencies from the United States. With this help, along with the donations of many, the island has been able to repair many infrastructure damages and to provide drinkable water and canned food to some of its citizens. However, on October 12, Trump tweeted: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” This tweet enraged not only myself but all the other Puerto Ricans living on the island and the United States. It is not fair, and I am mad. How can a president of a country threaten to cut the primary resources of a nation that is under its domain and that is facing a humanitarian crisis – where thousands of people were left homeless, lives were lost and millions did not have access to electricity, clean water and food? How far can selfishness go? How can a person lack empathy, an essential characteristic of human nature? 

It is evident that Puerto Ricans have been second-class citizens ever since the United States granted us citizenship over a century ago.  This citizenship was coincidentally granted to the islanders so they could be enlisted in the armed forces, just as the United States was entering World War I; we have shed blood for this country by fighting in every single one of its wars. However, we cannot vote for President, and we do not have a vote in Congress. We are clearly second-class citizens. Nonetheless, I could have never imagined that this second-class rank would go to such extent. The term “injustice” just cuts it short. In my wildest dreams, I never could have thought that it could extend itself to the degree that it would put American citizens’ lives in danger. I am mad because it is this colonial status and treatment that threatens my people’s chances of receiving substantial help. 

Trump unsympathetically tweeted again on October 13, trying to make up for his previously mentioned shameful tweet, “The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H’s. I will always be with them!” He worsened the situation furthermore by blaming the victims and by expressing his insincere support to the island. Puerto Rico is currently in a debt crisis, but that is not the issue at hand. A president of a country cannot threaten people with starvation and death just because they are in debt. The past, corrupt local governments may have been responsible for this problem, but people who lost everything cannot be held accountable for this, nor they should not pay for it. 

I am entirely aware that Donald Trump may perceive me as a Latin American person of color who lives in an indebted territory, but I am also a U.S. citizen. Just as the citizens of Florida or Texas, for instance, who are receiving substantial help after Hurricane Irma and Harvey respectively, my people should also receive help. Hurricane María, one of the worst storms to have ever passed by the Atlantic, impacted and wrecked Puerto Rico, yet the economic problems of the island are still more critical in the president’s eyes. However, these financial issues should be set aside because it is not the people’s fault. I am mad. What does the island have to do to receive help? Is a Category 5 hurricane not enough?

It is infuriating, frustrating and incredibly saddening seeing images of my people suffering. All of these feelings combine as I scroll through social media, listening and reading the mocking statements made by this man. It is time for Trump to realize that a humanitarian crisis is a serious issue that cannot be resolved by disrespectfully throwing paper towels at a couple of people, individuals who not only lost their belongings because of the natural phenomenon, but who also lost their dignity because of this president. There is hope to recover Puerto Rico and bring it back to its splendid original state, but we need help. Pray, donate, do whatever you can; every thought, prayer or dollar counts. Puerto Rico is in a hole, a hole we cannot get out of without your help.

Contact Gabi Rodriguez at [email protected]