On the first night in Puerto Rico I found myself dancing, singing, and parading through the streets of Old San Juan as thousands of people gathered to celebrate the San Sebastián (“SanSe”) Street Festival. This festival is a huge celebration honoring the Christian saint and martyr Saint Sebastian. There was an overwhelming feeling of community and home pride at the festival, something I have not experienced anywhere else. The music, food, and the atmosphere made it apparent to me that the love for Puerto Rico is not easily matched. Amazingly, this home pride and love did not dissipate when the festival was over or when we put distance between ourselves and San Juan. The feeling of love for Puerto Rico was unwaveringly pervasive throughout the mountains of Caguas, the small college towns of Mayagüez, and everywhere in between.
In Salinas we met with a local community activist to assess some dirty power plants which have created a dangerous and anti-resilient centralized power situation in Puerto Rico. During our visit, we found ourselves at the largest oil power plant in Puerto Rico. The unpleasant sounds released from the plant were deafening for the marginalized community adjacent to the plant. However, this unfortunate situation did not stop Hery, a locally-born young man determined to help his community. Through film, community organizing, and local knowledge, he showed what genuine community activism is all about.
Days later I was feeling deep guilt and stress as we walked through the refugee camps in Guanica, where people who had lost their homes to recent earthquakes (or were too fearful to stay under a roof), were living in tents and under tarps, experiencing very poor conditions with insufficient supplies and resources. Despite personal hardships, it appeared the community was there in full force to bring what aid they could afford and to volunteer at the camps.
Further, in the wake of Puerto Rico’s earthquakes, a scandal was revealed. FEMA and other supplies and resources intended to be distributed to the public after Hurricane Maria were found stored away in warehouses. Accordingly, the community was immediately activated and a series of protests organized to apply pressure on the Puerto Rican government. As word spread the protests grew in size. Quick and effective organizing is essential in response to government negligence.
From these examples and many more I have developed a firm belief that Puerto Rico has an incredible foundation in home pride and community activism, that could launch a robust and formidable social and environmental justice movement. This movement, tailored toward natural disaster resilience, sustainable resource and energy practices, and genuine representative governance, would be difficult to deny.
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