THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


Mi Puerto Rico

by Sebastián Otero, Soraya Ferdman, AnaSofía Velázquez & Ella Scholz

Illustration by Alex Hanesworth

published October 6, 2017


The Cuban writer and revolutionary José Martí coined the term= “patria es humanidad”––homeland is humanity. After Hurricane María hit my island, I kept coming back to this definition. More than symbols, anthems, political parties, and geography... faces and community are undoubtedly the firmest ground we have on which to build a new nation, to give birth to a better Puerto Rico. A Puerto Rico that will no longer be a colony of the USA; a Puerto Rico where we will be better at listening to one another; a Puerto Rico that will value the power of love and solidarity; a Puerto Rico that will have full sovereignty over its new, unforeseeable future.

We Puerto Ricans have not received proper aid from the US government, in spite of our official citizenship status. We know that our American citizenship will never guarantee us the ‘same’ help, resources, or boots on the ground. The USA has always occupied the dominant position in this far-too-long relationship of economic and political subordination, and must be held accountable for reconstruction and disaster relief efforts in the wake of this disaster. The passing of Hurricane María has rendered the unjust and precarious economic situation of Puerto Rico as evident as the fury of its winds.

Last week I went to a packing and collecting drive for hurricane relief organized by the Puerto Rican Professional Group of Rhode Island. I found myself thinking that I had never seen so many Puerto Ricans in one place in Providence before, and I was reminded: we are everywhere, and we are hurt, and we are strong, and we will overcome this.

–Sebastián Otero B’18

 

Growing up, I was always witnessing destruction: destruction of memories, of time, of past. In this way, life is painful, because every day you’re given is a day you lose. With María, it was so sudden. I tried jotting down my emotions after it happened, but what came instead were scattered memories. 

When I walk out of the airport, the humidity gripped me desperately. My skin, hair, hands, armpits, stomach, and feet breathe differently because of it. I suppose I’ve grown gills because I breathe easiest in watery air.  Some mornings I’d wake up to the freshest breeze I ever breathed or would breathe. I’d sit in my human silence and listen to nature rise. Shadows rise up the palm trees and tickle their leaves, still until a red-legged thrush pops upward to sing, to squeak. Blue sky escaping pink sky escaping orange bed. 

And then all gray. Everything howling. The hurricane swallowed my home and spit out something else. A friend I talked to afterwards said it looked like winter because all the trees were bare. Imagine that: a rainforest without green. The winds blew off my grandmother’s windows, her bedroom open to the elements. My dad was able to get inside after the sand was cleared away and took pictures. Seeing them was painful. You can smell the mold.

There’s a saying in Puerto Rico, “pa’lante.” It means to move forward or to continue. After a period of grief, which I go back to when needed, I started thinking more deeply about that idea of forwardness. The term is useful but also numbing. It requires a certain blindness to the past and even to the present. My feelings after María have been in continual oscillation between this numbness and an overwhelming sadness. 

What’s interesting is that moment of transition from grief to pa’lante. Sometimes it starts with a laugh, an odd memory. Like getting home after a long flight and my mom not wanting to hug me because I smell. Leather seat and air-conditioner, car door closes. Sweat dripping down my long-sleeved shirt—my mom told me I smelled like a truck driver—but who cares, I was home. Or how lucky I am that my family is safe. I don’t know if I’m still supposed to call this home. I’m undecided. I stare outside the window at the familiar route: Carolina, San Juan, Guaynabo. Drive home, home to dogs, home to breeze, home to bed. 
My home is still there, I know that. I’m trying really hard to remember that. And slowly, so incredibly slowly, I’ve accepted that the pictures are real. 

–Soraya Ferdman B’18

 

Aún Así

Cuando una madre
Con la voz entrecortada
Tragando lagrimas
Ocultando la desesperación

Cuando un padre
Con la voz firme de esperanza
Protegiendo la familia
Ocultando el miedo

Cuando una abuela
Con la voz positiva
Esperando Milagros
Ocultando la realidad

Cuando tu isla
Con la voz a gritos
Matando, robando, muriendo
Sobreviviendo la destrucción

Cuando yo
Sin voz
Aguantando frustración
Viendo desde afuera
Sintiendo el dolor de la madre, el padre, la abuela, la isla
sin poder

Cuando un pueblo
con la voz alegre
pensando en el futuro
amando, ayudando, cooperando

mi madre triste
mi padre nervioso
mi abuela ansiosa
mi isla en ruinas y
yo enojada.

Aun así,
Mi pueblo feliz,
Mi pueblo orgulloso,
Mi pueblo, mi Puerto rico, me dueles, le dueles, te dueles.
Aun así, me amas, los amas, te amas.

–AnaSofía Velázquez B’20

 

Discrepancias

Despierto a las nueve y me hago un té
chai, en específico
mi roommate sigue dormida
el día está soleado
el verde brilla en los árboles de afuera
me visto con traje de azul cielo
con florecitas que fluyen
mi roommate se despierta
le doy una bienvenida al día
las dos estamos de buen humor
ella prende las bocinas
escuchamos canciones de los Beatles
me llega un texto recordándome:
tengo planes de almuerzo
son con amigas
salgo al día
el sol me abraza
camino a mi clase, sonriente
me llega una llamada
es mi mamá
  
conversamos
 
la llamada me recuerda
de las imágenes devastadoras
de mi abuela sin insulina
de mi hermana sin escuela
del dolor, la tristeza
los cuales duelen más
porque no se dirigen a nadie
huracanes no son falla del sistema
son parte del ecosistema
la tragedia lo parece ser también
me siento
 
lloro
 
en San Juan la música sigue tocando
y sé que su futuro brilla
pero lloro por mi olvido
por el de todos, siempre
lloro por los números de muertos en la tele
que siempre uno los ve e ignora
por lo fácil que es ser feliz cuando el sol brilla
y cuando me pongo trajes que fluyen
y cuando amigas me invitan al almuerzo
lloro por todos los días como hoy
todas las personas como yo
las que pueden olvidar
a las circunstancias del otro
lloro por la discrepancia
que siempre estuvo
y temo que

siempre estará

–Ella Scholz B’20

The Indy urges those who are able to donate to relief efforts for Hurricane María at unidosporpuertorico.com, dominicarelief.org, and cfvi.net/donate/hurricanerelief.