I recently overshot an anniversary that I can’t leave unmarked. A year ago, my son Tyrell and I attended NorthAmericon ’17 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was a lovely convention (though small), and a memorable bright spot in my life. We blogged about it in this space (and its twin), though I never did manage those follow-up photos from Old San Juan.
|A tourist paradise vision of Puerto Rico (the NorthAmericon ’17 hotel, the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino), from happier days–although the financial seeds of the disaster had already been sown, even then.
Then, on September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck. The Category 5 hurricane (it was Category 4 when it made landfall on Puerto Rico, but that was plenty bad enough) made a diagonal track across the island that ensured every square foot of the entire US territory would be devastated. And don’t forget, they’d already been nailed by Hurricane Irma a couple of weeks before Maria came along.
I watched in horror (safe in Kansas City), I donated money, I blogged about it, and I prayed for my friends there, their families, and their communities. But time seems to have marched and marched and marched by, without touching Puerto Rico as much as we could have hoped. Thousands were still without power as recently as May. As of July 17, it’s still not on, everywhere.
FEMA has struggled to deal with the island-wide disaster. Yet the need is enormous. One estimate of the total cost to rebuild is $94 billion (yes, with a “b”). If you want a chilling overview of the general dimensions of the problem, there’s a recent Frontline production that sketches in enough to give a decent taste.
|Duke Energy linemen from North Carolina and Ohio help restore power in the mountains outside Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Some problems are exacerbated by bureaucratic requirements in ways no well-meaning middle-class person might anticipate (they hauntingly remind me of bureaucratic tie-ups here in Kansas, designed to suppress votes).
But then that other ugliness rears its head. There’s a reason voter suppression bears a haunting resemblance. Voter suppression, in Kansas and elsewhere, has deep roots in racism. I apologize that some of the sources I will cite to make this argument are not “mainstream news” sources, but even today most mainstream news sources are predominantly run by socio-economically advantaged white people who just don’t see this problem the way minorities who have to live with it do.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid the realization that racism has played a part in both the financial disaster that already had begun creating difficulties for the territory, and in the government’s response to the disaster. Minority-run news outlets had no trouble finding it. I’ve come to the conclusion that anyone who doesn’t see racist and colonial roots in the Puerto Rican crisis really isn’t looking very hard, or thinking too much.
|Does this man (his name is Miguel Garcia) look like your fellow American to you? Your answer could make an enormous difference to him, and everyone else in Puerto Rico, when you go to the polls this summer (don’t miss the PRIMARIES!) and fall (You DO vote, right?). Photo by Alvin Baez/Reuters.
Does the US owe the Americans of Puerto Rico a better response than they’ve gotten so far? Unfortunately, that largely depends on whether you see Puerto Ricans as “us” or “them.”
If you’re seeing too much of the wrong kind of response–and if you actually live in a state, where you can vote for your senators and congresspersons, I hope you’ll leap any and all hurdles to your registration, so you can VOTE in primaries (where many decisions are made!) AS WELL AS in the general election! For most of us, it’s our most important political power.
IMAGES: Many thanks to the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino (lovely place to stay), for the photo of their “Edge of the World” pool, convention center, and environs; to NOAA via YouTube, for the infrared satellite video clip of Hurricane Maria crossing Puerto Rico; to Duke Energy for the photo (and cool accompanying article) about their efforts to restore power in the mountains of Puerto Rico; and to Alvin Baez of Reuters and The New York Daily News, for the photo of Miguel Garcia and his ruined home in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, in January, 2018.