Puerto Rican Diáspora response to Post-María Recovery
January 7, 2019
Puerto Rican diaspora is what the Puerto Rican residents in the island call us. We are those Puerto Ricans that left the island for lack of jobs and for a better financial situation. Some left to join family members in some of the many cities where you will find Puerto Ricans working. This is no longer limited to New York City, like it was in the 40s and the 50s. We have heard of some moving as far north as Alaska or South Dakota, and as far west as Hawaii. Many have landed in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Reading, Lebanon, Harrisburg or Lancaster after Hurricane Maria.
We occasionally dream about returning back home to the Enchanted Island [Isla del Encanto] when economics get better or we retire. Traveling across the Atlantic Ocean helps us keep connected with our ethnic roots and nurtures our sense of belonging and identity back in the USA. We are always welcomed by our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, but our ideas and ways have been Americanized.
Pastor Madeline Maldonado, of College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana says “Born Nuyoricans out of Brooklyn and the Bronx we’ve kept our heritage through our language, stories and food. Visiting the island in years past was an adventure of discovery…from walking the beautiful beaches to traveling the roads through the lush mountains. When the hurricane struck the island we suffered from afar desiring to help in the reconstruction. We are thankful to MDS for inviting us to add our piece to the puzzle of reconstruction.”
We open our home for hospitality when church people, relatives or friends back in the island call us for a favor such as finding a job, getting housing for them, searching for medication or just a second medical opinion. When we are in the island we are happily bienvenidos[welcome], but we are not quite sure if our opinions are welcome. And then Hurricane Maria happened!
Diaspora Boricuas all wanted to be helpful in times of such large devastation. Those who could not travel back raised money and organized donations to be sent back to the island, sent money to families and many more efforts. Our powerlessness was a strong drive in joining the Latino community to respond. Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer and Broadway actor, got many Latino singers to sing “Almost like Praying” together to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
A few of us had the opportunity to return to the island to help in the recovery. The Puerto Rican Diaspora is present working with FEMA, non-governmental organizations, companies and businesses. We are here ‘Presentes’ doing our share to work with the residents to rebuilt and restore. We seek no recognition, only the satisfaction of giving a hand in repairing houses for those who are still in need. Nestali Espinosa arrived with four other skilled workers recruited by Kingdom Builders to serve in Puerto Rico through MDS. In Ponce, members of the Mennonite Ponce church came to the site almost every day to volunteer at Nilda’s house. MDS provided volunteers and finances to help in the rebuilding process of the Utuado church. I reached out to Madeline and David Maldonado, pastors at College Mennonite in Goshen, and they came to volunteer for two weeks and brought Goshen College students and members of their congregation to serve. There were many other Latinos and Latinas that signed up to serve with MDS in Puerto Rico and we welcomed them all with open arms and appreciation. We also had the children of missionaries returning to the island to serve. Volunteer Services workers that served in the 1960’s, ‘70s and ‘80s joyfully joined the task of reconstruction. We are not finished yet, so please keep coming because you know the culture and language of our people.
MDS Respond, Rebuild and Restore even empowered local workers to collaborate in the mountains of Aibonito and Utuado, and in Ponce we had local volunteers showing up every day to build. Puerto Rico, we will remain working by your side until the job is done. After all, you are leading the recovery and we follow “porque somos parte de Ti / because we are part of You.”
Asi nos ayude Dios /May it be so with God’s help.