The Chance to Connect with the Puerto Rican Community as a Ph.D. student joining #UBLawResponds in January 2020

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By Alex Bakke, University at Buffalo PhD student in Spanish Literature & Language

IMG_7614Upon arriving in Puerto Rico to join the #UBLawResponds team and do embedded work with the University at Buffalo Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, I was immediately and continually greeted with warm hospitality. Whether it be asking for directions or recommendations, the willingness to help demonstrated to me that this place is very united and there is a strong sense of community. For example, we stopped right after landing for food at a local restaurant and bar: there, the spirit of the people seemed to ignite, everyone enjoying each other’s company, waitresses dancing as they take your order, people singing together. As a native of Buffalo, who studies the Spanish language and the cultures associated with it in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, it was very interesting to see the culture of the community (it was also interesting to simultaneously noticing they have many of the same chains and service providers that we have in the mainland).

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After taking some time to realize where I was, we were able to begin the process of seeking out ways in which we can boost resilience in the archipelago after natural disasters occur. This moment was very surreal to me, as I could not believe that I was seeing the aftermath of the earthquakes with my own two eyes. I knew that we needed to do whatever we could to help in the ways that we are able to. Although I am unable to provide legal advice unlike the student attorneys who were on the #UBLawResponds team, I was elated that I could help bring resources to those who are in need of them to the refugee “camps.” We used our language skills to inquire about additional resources that are in demand, and helped to translate so that the whole Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic were aware of the supplies that we could bring to be most helpful. This happened after we noticed that there were many donations that could not be used by the camp … the volunteers who help to manage the donations were elated to find out that we would listen closely to exactly what they needed, and brought a large set of supplies to them the next day.

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Ya que estamos en Puerto Rico, yo creo que es importante decir algo en español. Yo vengo de Búfalo, una ciudad de los Estados Unidos con una población alta de puertorriqueños. Esto incluye amigos que tengo y tenía durante mi infancia, colegas, estudiantes, y mucho más. Por eso, yo estoy muy feliz de estar aquí y ayudar en cualquier manera que pueda. Sin embargo, mi trabajo no se acaba aquí. Yo creo que es muy importante traer la historia de Puerto Rico a Búfalo para que la gente allí sepa que nuestra comunidad también está involucrada, historias como por ejemplo cuando los Estados Unidos invadieron Puerto Rico en Guánica. De hecho, tuvimos la oportunidad de ir a Guánica, donde vimos una escuela que ha sufrido de mucho daño estructural a causa de los temblores. La experiencia me ha humillado, y la mentalidad resistente de los puertorriqueños es impresionante.

Through being able to see the damage caused to the school in Guánica and seeing how resilient-minded the Puerto Rican people can be when facing such an adversity, and also being able to help the community with the cultivation of its own food sources by assisting with a city farm in Caguas, we were able to connect with the Puerto Rican community, which is important for someone was born and raised in Buffalo. By connecting here, I will be able to bring these experiences back home and do my part in spreading awareness there.

To help support the continued work of #UBLawResponds in Puerto Rico, please donate here.

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