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Puerto Rico sitting high and dry after brutal hurricane

by Breonnah Colon - Campus Talk Editor
Tue, Sep 19th 2017 08:00 pm

The past few weeks have been devastating for millions of Americans, especially those living in states like Texas and Florida. Two category five hurricanes within a time span of a week and a half is unprecedented in the history of the United States. This comes with some significant consequences, one being that many people are not mentally prepared for the devastation that occurred with just one hurricane, let alone two of the same caliber. The other consequence being extensive damage to property. 

Both Texas and Florida have constantly been in the news either for the extreme weather the states experienced or for relief efforts being made to help citizens in need during the aftermath of the storms. However, there were other parts of U.S. territory that were just as, if not more devastatingly impacted by the hurricanes. Those were the Caribbean Islands, one in particular: Puerto Rico.

Now this is not particularly surprising. The U.S. has had a history of ignoring my tiny island and leaving its inhabitants to their own devices. We saw this with the depleting economy on the island, as well as the deteriorating job market over the past few years. 

However, it’s exactly those sorts of situations which make circumstances such as facing a category five hurricane, like Irma, so devastating in the first place. Puerto Rico has been in an economic deficit to the U.S. for several decades, which is a whole other story in and of itself, so we won’t even go there.  The point is, Puerto Rico has no means of paying for the sort of construction necessary to get the island back on its feet and the U.S. is certainly not doing as much as it can to help.

Now the thing is, Puerto Rico is just as much part of the U.S. as Florida or Texas, give or take a few legal exemptions, yet the island is clearly not a priority for the government.  In fact, an LA Times article speaks on many islands that faced the wrath of Irma. Islands from Antigua to St. Martin and Barbuda are covered with information on how much of the islands were damaged, as well as how their inhabitants were fairing in the aftermath. The one island exempt from this coverage: Puerto Rico.

Now, there are some people who may still believe part of the reason there hasn’t been much coverage from the U.S. on the status of Puerto Rico is because the island isn’t part of the country. Yes, people still very genuinely believe that Puerto Ricans who live on the mainland emigrated from the island and are immigrants. 

As a Boricua born and raised in New York City, I can very clearly state: I am an American citizen, so are my parents, my grandparents and every aunt, uncle and cousin I have. This is not because I was born in New York state, it’s because Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. We are all citizens. 

If you can’t take my word for it, look it up. According to History.com “On March 2, 1917, [President Woodrow] Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act, under which Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans were granted statutory citizenship.” For 100 years now, Puerto Ricans have been American citizens. I should also mention that islands such as St. Martin and Barbuda, which were covered by the LA Times, are not U.S. territories. Barbuda is part of the British Empire and St. Martin is owned by France. The question remains: why wasn’t Puerto Rico covered? 

It’s interesting that my island, which is frequently marketed as an ideal vacation destination, is important enough to be used as a means to rack up dollars from tourists, but not important enough to rack up support from its own country, a country which granted us citizenship in the first place so we could help fight their enemies during WWI. 

See, Puerto Ricans can be drafted for war, but can’t receive aid. What will they do if their little summer get-away can’t house their summer homes anymore? Presumably, just move onto another Caribbean oasis; however, those who actually live on the island do not have that same option.

Upwards of three million people live in Puerto Rico according to census.gov. Of those three million, approximately one million people will be going without power according to NPR. NPR reported that over 70 percent of the entire island’s customers of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority will be going without electricity for anywhere between four to six months. Given the state of the island and its economic crisis, I expect that time span will far exceed six months. 

ABC News reported that “an estimated 50,000 people living in the U.S. territory don't have access to safe water,” not to mention whatever property damage or environmental hazards that took place.

With all that Puerto Rico has gone through, you would expect there to be a little more assistance if not awareness of the happenings on the island. Florida and Texas have experienced similar circumstances and each state has been making the news both before and after Hurricane Irma hit because so many people were worried about the impacts of the storm. My people were just as worried and they need just as much help as our citizens in Florida and Texas do.

I am here to say on behalf of my island and all the Puerto Ricans who live there and are impacted by the effects of Hurricane Irma: we are here, we are Americans and our well being is just as important as anyone else’s on the mainland. Remember us because we aren’t going anywhere, pa’ que tu lo sepas.

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