REGARDING MY TRIP TO PUERTO RICO
By Rocky Anastasio
Agradecido… This is a word I heard numerous times this past week during my time with the “All Hands and Hearts” team in Puerto Rico’s poorest municipality, the town of Yabucoa. It was in the barrio Martorell where I met the homeowner of the roof, I would spend four days, power-washing, chipping at old concrete and prepping for finishing.
When I asked the homeowner, Jose “Roberto” Diaz, how he felt about the work “All Hands and Hearts” was doing on the island, specifically in his town, “agradecido” was his response. Roberto bought his home weeks before Hurricane Maria hit the island and had actually begun the process of moving in five days before the storm made landfall in Yabucoa as a category 5 storm. Roberto lost everything, due to the storm and thieves who stole appliances and furniture.
However, through that all, Roberto still felt “grateful” for what had.
The people of this municipality are poor, there really is no way to put it. Some sleeping in mold filled homes, on mattresses whose corners were wet from leaking roofs. However, through all that, our teams were always fed lunch by the folks whose homes we worked on and we were always treated to dinner on base in the evenings by locals who made it a point to show how grateful they were. Bacalao con viandas, arroz con pollo guisado, spaghetti con salchicha, Arroz con carne guisado, tostones, etc…
It was a Puerto Rican cuisine fan’s dream.
I was amazed at how these people were so giving, yet had so Little to give but were so adamant to give all they could to show gratitude for the strangers who set up shop in an old school and volunteered their time, sweat, energy, and blood (mosquitos) to help rebuild.
Additionally, seeing faces from all over the globe really struck me. There were people from Germany, France, New Zealand, Eritea, Spain, Venezuela, Mexico, and all over the United States. What struck me the most, however, and unfortunately so, was how little fellow Puerto Ricans joined in to volunteer. This was something that Roberto and others I spoke with mentioned on more than one occasion.
The following may hurt but what the hell, I’m going to be honest.
I wish I could create an online challenge and dare my fellow Puerto Ricans on the mainland to volunteer time if they can to go down and help. How often do we all see Puerto Ricans on the mainland show their pride and fly the flag and colors, screaming “Yo soy Boricua, pa que tu lo sepa” yet, they fall silent when the island calls to them for help. Many non-Puerto Ricans have heard that call, but where the hell are we? The reason I posted the picture along with this long-winded post was to drive that point. I’m asking our fellow Boricuas on the mainland to “Mete Mano” and get our hands dirty. This is our fight and we should be the ones at the forefront fighting it.
Food, clothing and water drives last year helped tremendously, however there is still so much work that needs to be done. Yes, there have been many improvements on the island since the storm hit and hitting Old San Juan for the last few days of my trip made that apparent. However, in the rural areas, places that people rarely go out to venture in, where tourists don’t ever visit, the storm looks as if it hit only a few weeks ago.
Do your part. If you are in between jobs, please consider volunteering if for only a week.
I don’t mean to turn this post into a rant calling out my fellow mainland Puerto Ricans, but my eyes were opened and humbled with how the outside world has responded to our people who are in need. Our own Federal government continues to turn its back on the people of the Island, and yet, a bunch of strangers are dedicating time, some through the end of this year, to help the island rebuild.
Trust, they are not doing it for glory or pay. The sleeping arrangements weren’t the greatest (twin sized air mattresses in bunk beds in a hot room with no AC and lots of mosquito netting) and there was sporadic warm water for a shower.
Many volunteers were there because they saw people in need. Not their people, but people.
For that, I was the one who was ‘grateful” or as many of my Boricuas on the island always said, “agradecido.”
Thank you for reading.