Whenever anyone asks me how the “trip” to Puerto Rico was, I tell them it was intense. This really throws people off because they expect the standard, “oh, it was great!” But this wasn’t a vacation, this wasn’t just an outing. This was a trip that revolved around serving the people of Puerto Rico through humanitarian brigades and pro bono legal services. As Student Attorneys in the University at Buffalo School of Law Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, we traveled a lot, and we saw a lot too. We observed a mix of average/rich people, as well as the very poor. We experienced the clash of a daydream and reality
Puerto Rico is beautiful and confusing. The natural beauty of the landscape, flora and fauna, and the wonderful people all makes you feel like you’re in a little paradise. You can easily find Walmart, Marshalls, K-Mart, Old Navy, Macy’s, JC Penny, Forever 21, and outlet malls with every fancy name brand you can think of. However, I can guarantee you, within a quarter mile of any of those stores or malls, you will see the reality of Puerto Rico’s current situation.
You will see people just trying to make things work so they can live their lives. You will see innumerable blue tarp roofs, houses without roofs, people living in abandoned storefronts because their house was destroyed, and more. It’s like walking from a daydream into a harsh reality. If you move a little further from the façade, you’ll see poverty on a scale that should never exist in America.
It’s a constant conflict that’s very unsettling. It’s hard to comprehend how there can be a shopping center right next door to a community that’s suffering and struggling just to put roofs back over their heads. It’s why we were there as part of #UBLawResponds.