Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and Migration

Aerial view of damage from Hurricane Maria. Photo: Defend PR

Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion
Let it sink back in the ocean
Always the hurricanes blowing
Always the population growing
And the money owing

When the musical West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957 few could have envisioned how these lyrics, sung by the character Anita, would describe Puerto Rico’s current troubles. In mid-September 2017 the island met a devastating hurricane named Maria. The storm brought death and destruction on an unprecedented scale, and touched off a mass exodus of people fleeing to safety on the U.S. mainland. It’s estimated that more than 135-thousand people have left the island since hurricane Maria. According to some projections Puerto Rico will lose up to 14 percent of its population by the end of 2019.

Those who fled – and continue to flee – are widely regarded as climate migrants, people forced from their homes by the effects of a warming planet and now faced with an uncertain future wherever they land. They join thousands who had already left Puerto Rico in recent years due to the island’s economic crisis.

Those who remain have started to rebuild, in many cases literally from the ground up. For citizens of Puerto Rico, whether on the island or the mainland, the challenges of recovering from the hurricane are enormous.  But as time passes there is a growing sense that the critical needs of Puerto Rican communities are becoming less of a priority for the U.S. government and for many Americans tired of endless waves of bad news, and that Puerto Rican voices are not being heard in the recovery process.

Elevating the voices of people affected by the storm and listening to their stories was one of our main goals as we put together this issue of the Feet in 2 Worlds online magazine – Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and Migration.

We formed a partnership with Professor Lillian Agosto Maldonado at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart University) in San Juan, PR. Students in her journalism class set out to chronicle the lives of fellow students, many of whom have joined the tide of those who left Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Some quit school while others were determined to complete their studies despite constant power outages and lack of Internet service and other basic needs. All were profoundly affected by the storm and it’s aftermath.

Their stories, as well as a report by Professor Maldonado about Casa Pueblo, an innovative solar energy project on the island, mark the first time that Feet in 2 Worlds is publishing in both Spanish and English.

What’s notable about the Casa Pueblo solar project is that it offers a way to make Puerto Rico more self-sustaining in electric energy. The question of sustainability also applies to communities on the mainland that have received large numbers of Puerto Rican migrants. Reporting from Lawrence, Massachusetts, reporter Amaris Castillo looks at how host communities are struggling to move from short-term aid to long-term solutions. Her report is a vivid reminder of how the impact of the storm has reverberated across the U.S. far beyond the Caribbean.

In Florida the impact may be felt at the ballot box next November. Florida has received more Puerto Rican hurricane evacuees than any other state. Journalist Mc Nelly Torres found energetic and well-organized voter registration efforts aimed at the new arrivals by Democrats, Republicans, and non-partisan groups. As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can register to vote in states where they settle. Thousands of newly registered voters in Florida could dramatically change the state’s political landscape, if they vote on Election Day.

Stories in this issue also focus on the shortage of housing for hurricane evacuees in New York City and the role artists are playing in Puerto Rico’s recovery.

The team that produced our coverage includes Fi2W’s managing editor Rachael Bongiorno and special issue editor Catalina Jaramillo, a former Fi2W reporting fellow and currently an environmental journalist at WHYY in Philadelphia.

We hope you find our coverage informative, thought-provoking and inspiring.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.

1 comment

  1. Pingback: Estudiantes cuentan sus historias después del huracán

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