I remember sitting in my classes that day, with my phone out, refreshing a webpage every few minutes. I was watching my island slowly be consumed by a force of nature far stronger than I could have ever imagined. Watching the deep red circles, being projected by the weather doppler radar, crawl from the east side of the island to the west. Slowly watching my family’s hometowns be engulfed in what they call the storm from hell.
This was Sept. 20, the day Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico. Weeks passed until I was able to hear from my family, until I was able to hear that they were still alive. Months passed until I was able to see them alive, to finally believe what I heard.
At the beginning of March my family and I had to travel to Puerto Rico due to a family emergency. After traveling 12 hours, my uncle, parents, brother and I finally arrived to a hospital in Mayagüez, which is a city on the west coast of Puerto Rico. That’s where we met my grandmother and aunt, who have been running on their last ounces of energy after speaking with doctors, looking for answers and praying for a miracle.
Six months after the hurricane had hit the land, the brute force and unforgiving ways has lasted, forbidding the people of the island to reach what they know as normalcy. This force was no exception for my family.
Hour after arriving to Mayagüez, my brother and I were asleep in a hotel room located minutes away from the hospital. That’s when we received the call, the call that carries the news we hope to never receive. Even if we try to forget about this call, it will come ringing through our minds, beckoning to be remembered, to remind us that in the end death is inevitable for everyone.
Even upon reflection, the whole ordeal and week following the death of my grandfather seemed surreal. Even right now, I still believe he is working on his land, taking care of his plants and crops, and sipping an ice cold beer while swaying in his hammock, being blanketed with the warm rays that descend from heaven.
He may not be doing that in Puerto Rico, but maybe somewhere beyond that point where the sky kisses the ocean, he is. He could be doing all of this and maybe more in a place that we cannot see or touch or even believe.
After well over a decade of yearning to go back to a place I’ve only experienced once in my twenty years of life, I finally got what I wanted, just not in the way I wished to have experience it. When tears dripping from the faces I’ve grown to love have dried, when the condolences are nothing but a hum, when the sweet smell of flowers has turned sour and the beauty has wilted away; the mind clears and reality sets back in.
Puerto Rico is still in need. After more than 2 billion dollars and months of hard work the island is still struggling. Being limited on resources, from something as simple as drinking water to the lack of medical aid, Puerto Rico still needs help.
According to an article reported by CNN on April 6, over 200 schools in Puerto Rico have closed due to a drop in enrollment, leaving many students without a school for the academic year of 2018-19. This decision was made primarily due to the fact that many students are either leaving the island with their families to go to the United States or to aid their families at home.
Seven months after the hurricane had hit the island, Puerto Rico was finally close to restoring power for every resident on the island. However, on Apr. 18, power was once again lost for all residents. This island-wide power outage was a result of a crane hitting one of the transmission lines. This is remnant of when a tree fell on a power line a week before, causing half the island to lose power.
As people pack up and travel to the United States, entire towns and villages are being abandoned. What was once known to be brightly colored pueblos are now ghost towns– serving as a dim reminder to the people of Puerto Rico of what their home once was. As I walked around the pueblo of San Sebastian, there were few people out and many buildings closed. The only stores that had their doors open were food stores, some clothing stores and gift shops.
As you moved further from the center of the pueblo square more and more buildings were boarded up and the colorful paint that once lit up the entire block became more and more dim.
Although this is the Puerto Rico I see now, this is not the Puerto Rico I will see in the future, this I’m sure of. Even with everything that has happened there are still people who stay to rebuild the island to its former glory.
“¡Puerto Rico se Levanta!” was the phrase that consistently reminded me about the determination my family and the rest of the residents of Puerto Rico has. From being written on the rear window of cars to painted onto abandoned buildings in beautiful murals, reminding the people that their home will rise once again to the beauty it once was.
I may have only visited the island twice in my life, I may not know my entire family who lives there, I may not speak spanish, but I am sure of one thing.
Regardless of all of the things I am not, I am still a Puerto Rican. I will still be proud of where I’m from and support my family and the island in any way I can.
I hope to see the Jasper family, regardless of where they’re from, continue to show their support for their fellow citizens.