After attending numerous fundraisers, private parties, and all sorts of activities to raise funds, or send supplies to Puerto Rico I decided that we needed to do more. I thought that we needed to talk about the future of Puerto Rico beyond supplies. I thought that sending supplies is fine and that is something that I and the Puerto Rican Diaspora have been doing every time that there has been a major climatic disaster on the island. I personally was involved in helping Puerto Rico in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit the island and was proud that the first plane to land was our plane. It was a plane full of water and clothes that my office coordinated. I was then Director of Latino Affairs for City Council President Andrew Stein and we convinced him that sending supplies to Puerto Rico would be good for his Latino image in New York City. Our staff was able to collect supplies, but we needed them sent to Puerto Rico. Stein and Donald Trump were friends, and Stein asked him for a plane from his Trump Airlines.
When we arrived in Puerto Rico I saw a lot of destruction and we had to use much of the water we took for the week that we remained in the island working with the governors office. However, what I saw then and what I have seen today from the countless pictures, videos and conversations with family and friends on the island is nothing near to the catastrophe that Maria has brought to Puerto Rico. Thus, the number of events in New York that I have attended for Puerto Rico has been many. However, though I am about sending supplies, I am no longer willing to go back to my routine after relieving my soul thinking that I have done what I can for Puerto Rico by making a donation, NO, not this time. After seeing the destruction on the island that I have learned to love from a New York distance and seeing the manner in which this Federal government and president has responded, has urged me to re-think about helping Puerto Rico. I am convinced that we can do much more and it’s not in sending supplies, but in helping to organize conversations here on the mainland about what we all witnessed. Perhaps these conversations can move us towards a national movement within the Diaspora that can help effectuate a much needed change to the relationship between Puerto Rico and the Federal government in Washington and between Puerto Ricans here in the mainland and those in Puerto Rico.
Regardless of our political beliefs for Puerto Rico’s future: Independence, Statehood, Commonwealth, or an enhanced form of Commonwealth, the fact is that we can all agree on one thing: Puerto Ricans on the island who are all U.S. citizens are not treated like citizens in the mainland. This disaster has taught us a lot and one thing is clear, Puerto Rico is treated more like a stepchild and not as part of the U.S.
On that note, after the crying, the anxiety of not hearing from friends and not being able to travel to Puerto Rico (my flight to the Aguadilla airport where I fly into was cancelled 3 times) I spoke to a few of my friends and family members about the need to talk about Puerto Rico after the storm. They all agreed and as a result we had an incredible event on Tuesday December 12th, 2017 at Pregones Theater.
It was symbolic that our first ever meeting of Boricuas to talk about the future of Puerto Rico took place in the South Bronx, the Mecca of the Puerto Rican community in the mainland. It took place in Pregones Theater, the only Puerto Rican Theater company in the U.S. that the land its on is owned by them and not leased. Perhaps a spiritual message to the approximate sixty community leaders that attended. I use the word “community leader” in a different context; I don’t mean to insinuate that every person is a director, or representative of an organization. Yes, there were some of those and clergy and labor members present. However, the most impressive thing about that meeting was that the majority of those present were not representing anything but themselves. This was the first time that I have attended anything for Puerto Rico that I did not know the people majority of the people present. That was a relief, because frankly I stopped attending meetings called for just about every issue in our community when all I saw were the same people in every meeting. Very rarely did I see new people, or more importantly, never saw new and youth from our community.
This meeting on December 12th was different. It had a good mixture of old and new, male and female and there were people from all of the political perspectives of Puerto Rico. I stated in my introduction, “we welcome everyone who has taken the time to attend, the pro Independence, pro statehood and those that believe in Commonwealth, or enhanced commonwealth. However, this meeting was not called by any of those sectors, it was called by Puerto Ricans and it’s to discuss the issues affecting the future of Puerto Rico among all of us that are Puerto Ricans, or friends of Puerto Rico.” Everyone got the message and responded positively. We had no agenda and we asked the panelist to talk about: the present status of Puerto Rico, the Debt, the PROMESA Oversight Board and learn a bit more about the Jones Act, the audience was totally engaged and eager to give comments, but more importantly recommendations.
The presenters were:
Evelyn Mejil – National Chair for Unity March for Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Evelyn could not attend because she was in Puerto Rico on another relief mission. However, Evelyn conveyed a message of support for the event and looked forward to working with whatever comes out of the forum.
Jonathan Soto – Mayor’s Office. Who gave us a historical overview of the problems of PR that started way before Hurricane Maria & a brief description of the work that the city is doing to accommodate the PR migrants that are coming to the city.
Eddie Rosario – President Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. (LCLAA) Spoke about some of the issues also addressing some of the historical issues that has brought PR to the present situation and also touched on some of the issues affecting the Jones act and some of the issues that have already surfaced re: Labor and its relationship to not supporting the issue of eliminating the Jones act from PR, while LCLAA took a position on it that has brought down much heat to him personally.
Nelson Dennis: Author, War Against All Puerto Ricans: Gave an in depth and emotional overview of Puerto Rico from the U.S. invasion in 1898 to the present. He detailed and referenced how the U.S. has plundered PR and it’s representatives since day 1. He gave specific and informative details that gave meaning to many of the actions that have been taken against the island.
The following are some of the key recommendations that were given.
- · Lifting the Jones Act: Suggestion of marketing the key issues of the Jones Act and the economic crisis by: Keeping It Simple Stupid. END THE JONES ACT – CANCEL THE DEBT (kill Jones/Cancel Debt).
- · Organizing a March from Orlando, FL (the new growing PR community where many from Puerto Rico are relocating to) to Jacksonville, FL the major port that benefits most from the Jones Act on Puerto Rico (approximately 4K jobs there).
- · Lobby our PR community in the Diaspora to contact every national elected official wherever we live to Give PR Equal Reimbursements and parity to states on all services like Medicaid, Medicare, and all other services that states get. For example: US citizens can receive SSI, but not in PR where it will get cut off if one was to move to PR
- · The need to create a new narrative for the future of PR especially on its dependence on imported oil for all of its electricity output. The future of PR needs to seriously turn to alternative green energy.
- · Encourage the PR Diaspora to buy land, houses, apartments whatever they can afford in Puerto Rico as the island is being sold off to again, vulture investors.
- · Support local CBO’s, Cooperatives, small Puerto Rican startups in the island,
- · Develop Micro-Loans for the island.
- The obsolete infrastructure before hurricane Maria.
- · Consider Boycotts on US firms that are affecting the island and benefitting from the islands woes.
- · Need further discussion more clarification on the Jones act & unions. Consider amendments of “retaining workers rights” but allowing foreign vessels to dock and deliver goods in PR. This proved to be a more complicated issue due to its interest and its affect on powerful U.S. unions.
- · Education on the island is a major concern and needs to be evaluated as to teaching for critical thinking, rather than the old “banking system” of education.
- · There is a critical issue of health affecting the island from obesity, diabetes, cancer that needs immediate attention and spotlighting alternatives for these critical issues that is slowly killing the population.
- · Researching the extent of the pollution that has been steadily occurring in PR for decades to the present.
- · It was also mentioned that we need to guard ourselves from the many opportunist and egotistical members of our community and those that would love to divide us on the petty, so we won’t focus on the greater and more important issue.
- · We need to respect each other. If anyone wants to do something, like a prayer service for PR, why, not? Let them it’s all good.
- Puerto Rico belongs to all Puerto Ricans whether they were born on the island, speak Spanish, or ever visited. If you have an ounce of Puerto Rican blood Puerto Rico is part of you.
Everyone was encouraged to sign a sheet to give their emails and or cell #’s if they wanted to be part of this spark that was started in Pregones for the future of our island and how we in the Diaspora can begin to do more than sending supplies for the future of our Puerto Rico. It was clear that everyone present was sincerely interested in demanding Respect & Justice as Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens.
I encourage my readers, or anyone who reads this to please help expand what we started here in the South Bronx. Help spread the communication we started with each other. We are open to any suggestions and respect any idea.
As my father would say: “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” Thus, let’s all join in making this disaster a great learning experience for all and help unite ourselves to help our homeland like never before.