Welcome to Project Puerto Rico!
A year ago today a devastating hurricane hit my father’s homeland. Hurricane Maria brought not only high winds, rain and extensive damage, but in the days, months and now year that have followed, this natural disaster exposed an unnatural one: the long-term and on-going effects of Puerto Rico’s political and economic status.
As video and photos of the damage started to emerge, I watched in horror and heartbreak at the ineffectual response by Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA)[i]. And in the disastrous lack of response from the US federal government, the Puerto Rican FEMA went to work.
What is Puerto Rican FEMA you ask? Family Emergency Making Actions. “Family” in this case means the Diaspora: the extensive network of Puerto Ricans mostly on the mainland US displaced by 150 years of colonial policies.
I don’t know what your Facebook feed looked like on September 22, 2017 and the days that followed, but mine was full of notifications of fundraisers. These notifications popped up daily, two or three a day. The events took place on the East and West Coasts with music, food, etc. There were benefit concerts and benefit recordings. There were food drives and supply “drop-off” sites. Almost all of these efforts were led by Puerto Ricans for Puerto Ricans. And I was part of it, of course.
The impacts of Maria are personal. This is my family, my community.
When Puerto Rican FEMA went into action, I reached out to my community, which includes many non-Puerto Ricans. I am still moved by the donations that poured in from my friends – whether it was $5 or $500 – because of our relationship. Each of them knew their contribution would be delivered directly to someone on the islands impacted by the hurricane: one of my family members.
As inspiring as this effort was—and it was incredible!—I realized two things: 1) this disaster didn’t start with Maria; and 2) Maria could be an opportunity, not in the “disaster capitalism” way that Naomi Klein[ii] talks about, but rather, an opportunity for a systemic shift toward a more autonomous Puerto Rico.
The current situation in Puerto Rico didn’t start with Maria. The death of 2,975[iii] Puerto Ricans is the result of climate change, colonization and capitalism.
Through Project Puerto Rico, I want to engage you to: learn about how this came to be; take concrete actions to rectify this situation; and become part of a growing number of individuals in the US who want Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans to never again be vulnerable to these forces in this way.
Project Puerto Rico has four goals in mind:
- Educate allies on the current and historical colonial status of Puerto Rico
- Acknowledge and heal from the impacts of colonization on us all (including colonizers)
- Encourage allies to take specific actions that support a more autonomous Puerto Rico
- Excite allies to establish a Puerto Rican Solidarity Network
Project Puerto Rico will launch with a series of events in 15 cities across the mainland US in 2019. The event will be from 7 pm-9 pm (local time) and limited to 40 tickets at $20 each. At each event there will be opportunities to learn, heal, act and connect. With your ticket you will:
- Be facilitated by internationally recognized leader Nanci Luna Jiménez, Founder and President of Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation (LJIST), in your learning and healing journey as allies;
- Learn first-hand about amazing locally-led projects and programs that are transforming Puerto Rico and how to support their work;
- Raise funds and sign petitions that will directly contribute to the long-term sustainability of Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rican culture on our islands;
- Become part of a growing movement of committed allies willing to stand and act with Puerto Ricans in solidarity;
- Enjoy Antojitos (Puerto Rican appetizers) and non-alcoholic drinks;
- Be entered in a raffle to win fabulous prizes!
Your commitment could be as little as two hours of your time and $20. Your impact could be immeasurable. Won’t you join us?
If you’d like to be an organizational co-sponsor or individual contributor to Project Puerto Rico, contact us!
[i] Don’t get me wrong: FEMA has done amazing work in many parts of the US. It is underfunded, undertrained and understaffed in the face of increasing, in number and scope, natural disasters. They did the best they could, if we take everything into account, including the decision to clear out the emergency supplies in Puerto Rico to support US Virgin Islands inhabitants in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation just the week before. This is not an indictment of FEMA.
[ii] Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007.
[iii] At least four university studies have attempted to determine the death toll in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. These studies estimate between 1,100 and 4,600 people were killed. The truth is we’ll never know the actual count.