Sending Our ♥: Let’s Help Reconstruct PRUS & USVI

Dear Friends,

I am reaching out to you on behalf of my fellow Puerto Ricans all around the world, and especially on behalf of the 3.3. million Islanders that literally have been silenced at this time. In the aftermath of Hurricane María, our little Island home—which we lovingly call Borikén—is now a grim field of devastation. And pain.

I had checked-in with my friends and folks right after Hurricane Irma. We still don’t know anything about our sister Betsy, born in Puerto Rico during—and named after—hurricane Betsy (1956), but living in Florida. My brother’s house, also in FL, was left without a yard fence or electricity until this past week. He had just started repairs when I communicated with six households of family and friends in Puerto Rico, just less than 12 hours before Hurricane María’s landfall.

All these households are on the southwest of the Island, which actually was not on the track of the storm’s eye as it tore across Puerto Rico. But the so-called “Big Island” (as we also call Puerto Rico), is actually tiny, running only 35 miles wide by 100 miles long. So even Cabo Rojo in the southwest was mangled beyond recognition, according to a local survivor who managed to get word out. We also have close family in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Folks were bruised but ok in the BVI after Irma, yet as of this morning I still had not heard from anyone regarding Hurricane María. I just received word an hour ago that my mother is well for now, though out of reach. Her sister, our aunt, had been passing before the storms hit; she passed yesterday, and God bless her soul. I trust that all other family and friends are alive, but there is still no way to know…

Hurricane María’s destruction struck the human population of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), all pets and livestock, our major economies (tourism, agro commerce, and manufacturing), our cultural patrimony, and our rare, delicate and fragile ecosystems on land, and at sea. On average, at least one of you has visited the Island with me every year across the past 30 years—you know how gorgeous it was. It seems that only yesterday we were part of a chain of lush, green islands; the wrecked archipelago is now grey and brown.

But there is no time to sit and grieve in the aftermath of Hurricane María. We must grieve while building a new world. Nor can we wait upon what already seems to be a too-normalized response out of Washington DC for a situation that is incredibly and totally extraordinary. As the entire infrastructure (power grid, roads, bridges, ports, built structures) was crushed, the worst of the longer-term pain is yet to be. I believe it was our Resident Commissioner in Washington DC who said last week that we’ve been set back 20, maybe 30 years. I believe this is too conservative an assessment. Maybe we’ve been set back 50, 60 years. You see, before 2017, no less than 44% of island Puerto Ricans lived under the poverty line. Many of us saw it coming. As a school girl on the Island in the 1970s, I witnessed the efforts of many sharp observers–including artists, musicians, poets, writers and journalists, scientists and philosophers—as they began to foresee and denounce the unsustainable economy, one that finally began to crumble a decade ago, right on cue, and which was in shambles even before the monster hurricanes of 2017. Now, in the wake of these storms, comes a long-term shortage of medicines, widespread food insecurity, widespread water-borne and tropical diseases such as dengue fever, the rampages of the flu season, a chronic lack of fuel, and of shelter, and near-total unemployment. Now also comes the permanent flight back to the USA of many businesses and of many locals, including a torrential increase in the decades-old “brain-drain,” as educated professionals opt to leave the Island for good, having little choice otherwise. All in all, we may be looking at three generations of school children whose future was just wiped out, starting now. This lack of safe, productive, creative living across perhaps three generations could compound and affect many other generations who might follow. The scale of the loss of human ingenuity and creativity is staggering. We are, in effect, an endangered people–a people who, until just yesterday, had contributed so much to the world in every key field of human enterprise in just 200 years, and all while operating from a little mound of earth breaking the surface of the sea…

Let’s not lose Puerto Rico. We can’t turn away. Despite the blow, we Boricuas can still promise a powerful and beautiful legacy for the rest of our tumultuous world. We must all grieve standing, while engaged in the hopeful project of reconstruction along others who will understand and care.

Indeed, the operational word is reconstruction.

I send my heartfelt thanks to those of you who have contacted me in the past few days, in light of both hurricanes Irma and María. You have asked me what can be done. A few days ago, all we could do was prepare, wait, and pray.

At this time, please act. Please send your love in the form of a donation directly to a legitimate relief organization of your choice. Please do so now. Anything will help. Here is a list of religious and secular emergency response organizations. Being that the US dollar is the currency of both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (USVI), that the islands are territories of the USA, and that all Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders are USA citizens, many non-governmental organizations from the USA will be able to move quicker, given that they will not need to await for permissions from foreign governments. It will even be easy to serve the needs of the people of the BVI…

I expect to delay my travels back home until I can ensure that I do not become another mouth to feed with what little there is. It will be all too easy to further strain a household’s struggle to obtain basic necessities such as water, food, medicine, etc. In the meantime, the AAHP staff and I will soon determine how our community of artists and their families might creatively and systematically help the islands’ longer term reconstruction. We can work miracles through our own efforts from this side of the Atlantic, and by flying in and out of the region to offer longer term relief and resources when it is safe to do so. If you have ideas, connections, or resources, please talk to us at your earliest convenience.

Thank you.

Ana Eloisa Soto-Canino
Director/Chief Instructor/Chief Safety Officer