A message of love and hope for Puerto Rico, hijos del cañaveral

[cañaveral is a sugar plantation, the translation of the title of this song would be “sons of the sugar plantation”]

It has been an agonizing week for us, the Puerto Ricans in the diaspora. Many of us haven’t heard from our loved ones since hurricane Maria arrived in Puerto Rico.  I cannot imagine what kind of week my family had on the ground, with the agony of experiencing 2 days of hauling wind, rain, and flooding AND not knowing from their loved ones.

I won’t post images of the destruction here because I can’t. I have been overwhelmed. I am mourning my patria, the place I most love in this world… because it is gone. There is no way I can explain how I feel at this time. I am in limbo, waiting to hear from my loved ones, while images of destruction pour in through social media. This limbo is very similar to when I’ve lost loved ones. I am grieving. There is no truer saying right now than: patria es madre. Puerto Rico was already struggling, with a recession, with debt, with corruption, with the aftermath of hurricane Irma.. and now the beautiful island we knew is destroyed.

This article summarizes, Why Hurricane Maria is such a nightmare for Puerto Rico. 

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My girls having conversations at one of our favorite beach shacks: Arrecife on road 681 in Islote, Arecibo. Arrecife got trashed with hurricane Irma. Hurricane Maria put the whole town of Islote under water.

 

In the midst of this ordeal, news came from Mexico, the magnitude of the earthquake in itself left us silent with fear. Children trapped under the rubble of a school, family members waiting to hear from their loved ones. The desperation. My husband spent many months in Mexico, working on his dissertation project. I joined him many times and during the years it became a place to feel at home, when I wasn’t in Puerto Rico. Mexico became my second home. My Mexican friends have always made me feel like I am part of them, even though I talk a very strange version of Spanish. Mexicans are amazing people, their resilience and sense of humor is something that I have always admired. This week they stepped up and showed the world what they are made of. I am so proud of my Mexican brothers and sisters.

 

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This is what Mexico is made of. If you know who took this photo, please let me know so I can credit them.

 

At the time that my husband was pouring over twitter receiving news from Mexico, I was on my computer trying desperately to get any information on my family. Phone lines are down, so twitter hashtags with the names of the barrios where they live became our biggest hope. Someone, somewhere in the world must know something.

Some people have told me to stay calm, there have been no casualties reported in their specific towns, so they must be alive, right? And of course, there are people that are doing so much worse… and everything will turn out okay. But still, I agonize thinking of my aunts, who are 80 and 83, spending the hurricane alone, in a town that flooded so badly the bridge to connect it to the metro area broke. Yes, they can be accessed by a coastal road, but we have to wait for that to be cleared out. Titi Adel and Titi Ana in Quintas de Dorado, 1 km from the beach and 1/2 km from a river that overflowed.

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Playing dominos with my Aunts in the beach in Dorado. I love how serious they are about the game.

In another part of the island, in the carstic mogotes, I have a group of family members that will most likely be isolated for weeks. The roads getting there are bad on a good day. On a good week, they are without water for days when it rains, and without electricity whenever it decides to not work. There were 4 family houses occupied up there, and I haven’t been able to communicate with any of them. The Observatory of Arecibo is a stone’s throw away, and they don’t expect to be accessible any time soon. The Observatory just posted a message saying that the researchers that fared the hurricane on site are doing well.

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Neighborhood where my family lives in barrio Aibonito of the pueblo Hatillo.

 

These are just 2 groups of people I haven’t been able to access. I have family in other parts of the island and many many friends that I still haven’t heard from. Yes, casualties have been low, but some people lost everything. There was also massive flooding, landslides and yesterday’s news that 2 whole towns had to be evacuated because a dam was about to burst. 70,000 people that do not have access to electricity, cell phones or landlines needed somehow to be informed that they needed to evacuate immediately.

Whenever I manage to get through to a friend in Puerto Rico I sense the hope that is on the ground. Still, from here, the feeling of impotence creeps up. From here, I’ve talked with my closest friends and family in the diaspora. I am in Croatia right now, my closest prima is in Virginia, my other two closest diaspora friends are in Sweden and Florida respectively. We want to get on the next plane there, but in reality that is not wise and that is not what we will do. Going there now, as many have advocated, will not help the relief efforts because we are not doctors or construction workers and there is no electricity or running water and there are limited amounts of food and fuel. We would only be going there to take up what little resources they have available to them. Sending money and provisions is all we can do. Donating money to relief funds is the easiest, though you can also send provisions via postal mail if you know who to send them to. Some cities are collecting goods to send to Puerto Rico as well.

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Puerto Rican’s in DC collecting provisions for Puerto Rico. Photo by Diana M. Cruz Abad.

I did some research yesterday and I really like this group: conPRmetidos

http://www.conprmetidos.org/

They are independent, non-partisan and non-profit. This is very important for a population that has persistently been robbed by politicians. The first lady immediately opened a fund to collect money for the cause. I don’t doubt her good intentions, but as a Puerto Rican that has seen corruption for so many years on the island, I can’t trust that they won’t use the management-overhead of these funds for their political gain.

This group is vowing to use 100% of the funds received. NO OVERHEAD. This is also essential to me.

You can find more details on this page:  https://www.generosity.com/emergencies-fundraising/maria-puerto-rico-real-time-recovery-fund

If I find other options for Puerto Rico, I will update this post.

For Mexico, we donated to Topos México, there are also these other organizations that can use your help. Here is a great NY Times article that lists the options. 

We had an amazing time in Puerto Rico this last summer. As soon as we are not a burden on the people of Puerto Rico, we will be back there, spending our American-tourist money. We will go to whatever establishments are open and support the local economy. That is the single most important thing we can do in the Caribbean, not give up on it. A great article from AFAR magaine explains why. 

I know that Puerto Ricans are going to build a better Puerto Rico. I’ve already seen the desire to help, in the strangers that have sent me information on my Aunt’s neighborhood, on the people that have offered to go see them as soon as the roads are open, on the people that are on the streets right now, cleaning and helping their neighbors. I have seen videos of people giving coffee to the people that are cleaning the streets, supermarkets that are giving away food packets, people giving hot-dogs to those waiting in the long gas lines. These are my people, we have big hearts and we are resilient ante el temporal.

I leave you with this song, about who we are as people, and how resilient we are.  The lyrics, in Spanish, are below.  I will try to translate, at a later time, I have to get ready to fly out to Bangkok.

With a heavy heart, but still full of hope,

Vanessa

CLICK HERE FOR UPDATE ON ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE HELPING PUERTO RICO.

 

 

[Verso 1: Residente]

Desde que nacimos

Nuestra mancha de plátano salió del mismo racimo

Somos hermanos del mismo horizonte

Todos nos criamos en la falda del monte

Crecimos, pero pa’ que otro se aproveche

Somos un pueblo con dientes de leche

Los hijos del trabajo sin merienda

La limonada para el capataz de la hacienda

Todo lo que sobrevive

Somos la caña fermentada del Caribe

Pero aunque la historia nos azota

Somos como una botella de vidrio que flota

La central Aguirre la pusimo’ a producir

Sin saber leer ni escribir

Y la depresión la curamos sin jarabe

Porque caminamos al compás de la clave

Nuestra raza por naturaleza es brava

Salimos de la tapa de un volcán con lava

No hay identidad dicen algunos

Pero aquí todos llevamos en la espalda el número 21

Aprendimos a caminar hace rato

Con un pie descalzo y el otro con zapato

Con la medalla del cacique en la casa de empeño

Somos los dueños de un país sin dueño

[Coro: Francisco “Cholo” Rosario]

Hijos del cañaveral

Nunca se nos cae la pava

Esta raza siempre es brava

Aunque sople el temporal

Pa’ que sientas el calibre

De un caballo sin jinete

Mira como corre libre

Se refleja en el machete

[Verso 2: Residente]

Somos el rocío cuando se desayuna

Somos la marea cuando baila con la luna

Nos secamos el sudor con el viento sin toalla

Y nos perfumamos con la sal de la playa

Cuando el sol cuelga las nubes en el tendedero

De agua de coco son los aguacero’

Y soñamos desde la misma orilla

Sin perder el camino porque aquí los cucubanos brillan

Viene el huracán y le rezamos a la cruz

Y jugamos brisca cuando se va la luz

El calor nos calienta la cerveza

Y nos bañamos en el lago hasta que abran la represa

Aquí los viernes santo se come yautía

Aquí los reyes magos vienen de Juana Díaz

Velamos parao’ a los difuntos

Y en las patronales en la Caja e’ Muerto nos mareamos juntos

Lo nuestro no hay nadie que nos los quite

Por más nieve que tiren aquí la nieve se derrite

Aunque siembren las raíces como les de la gana

Los palos de guanábana no dan manzanas

[Coro: Francisco “Cholo” Rosario]

Hijos del cañaveral

Nunca se nos cae la pava

Esta raza siempre es brava

Aunque sople el temporal

Pa’ que sientas el calibre

De un caballo sin jinete

Mira como corre libre

Se refleja en el machete

[Coro 2: Francisco “Cholo” Rosario]

Hijos del cañaveral

Nunca se nos cae la pava

Esta raza siempre es brava

Aunque sople el temporal

Pa’ aprender a defendernos

Nunca fuimos a la escuela

Aunque el toro tenga cuerno

Nuestro gallo tiene espuela

[Verso 3: Residente]

A latigazo limpio desde el descubrimiento

No pudieron, seguimos con el mismo acento

Nuestro aguante ha sido digno

Somos los versos que no cantan en nuestro himno

Hay que soltar los barcos del muelle

Esta carreta ya se mueve sin bueyes

Al Colón lo bajaremos del trono

Pa’ que nuestra bandera cante en un solo tono

 

 

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