Friday, October 27, 2017

Looking There, From Here

I've been trying to come up with a way to write about this, but couldn't quite find the words. Being that this blog is about art, artists, the Puerto Rican diaspora - and my experience within the intersection of all of that - I feel it's only right for me to write an entry about what Puerto Rico is going through right now. I am referring to the devastation left by Hurricane Maria on the island, and the relief efforts.

I live in NYC, which obviously has a huge Puerto Rican presence, so from my perspective, I have seen an incredible effort on the part of people here - grassroots, union, community and artistic groups - coming together, doing fundraisers, collecting (and sometimes personally delivering) donations, and so on. However according to what I see in the news, the Administration's response has been deathly insufficient, leaving so many Puerto Ricans (still) in a state of emergency; without sufficient food, clean water, power or medical care. From what I've read in the news, the corporate opportunists and hedge fund vultures are circling overhead, scoping out their next Puerto Rican windfall (in an economy that was already in dire straights). From what I've read, a lot of stateside Americans do not know what Puerto Rico is, or that Puerto Ricans are Americans at all. On the upside (if you can call it that), so much about Puerto Rico of what was rarely talked about in the mainstream, has been the topic of much discussion and debate; such as the Jones Act and the fact that Puerto Rico is a US "commonwealth" in name, but a colony in practice. I imagine that in the months and years to come, there will be much restructuring and repositioning, for better or for worse.

When Maria hit, I felt a complicated mix of fear, worry and sadness for a land I have never lived on, but have always felt a part  of; or rather that it was a part of me. The land where my father was born and where he and our family farmed, lived and grew. A land whose culture I've learned primarily by way of New York City and Nuyoricans. When Maria hit, it was a few weeks before my birthday and I thought I would ask my friends who might have bought me gifts, to instead donate money to a worthy relief fund. I was lucky enough to quickly find that an organization, Defend Puerto Rico, had already started a fundraiser (because there was another hurricane, Irma, that had hit the island a couple of weeks prior). Little did they know that this fundraiser would end up also being for the second, harder hit of Maria, and that their efforts would have to become so grand. I've noticed a number of other people, groups and organizations that I know have also decided to donate funds to Defend Puerto Rico, so I feel good about the concentration of collective trust, good intentions, work and energy being directed here.

As I mentioned, in NYC there have been and continue to be many fundraising efforts (going to varios organizations), including many creative events; proving that music and art (and nightlife!) can make a difference. Some examples are Defend Puerto Rico's bomba party and art auction; A Party Called Rosie Perez with Casitas Wisdom at the Highline; Helping Hands for Puerto Rico house music dance party at Output; Arte for Puerto Rico Fundraiser at EL Museo del Barrio; AbrazARTE benefit with the Loisaida Center and Teatro LaTEA; Salsa Meets Jazz for Puerto Rico at Le Poisson Rouge; and the most plainly named, Sh*t's Fu*ked Up: Send Help art auction by the Con Artist Collective. These are all examples of creative grassroots organizing that makes a big impact - artivism, if you will. Of course, there are the major organizations contributing towards relief efforts too, and not to mention the various celebrities who have lent their time and talents toward helping raise funds - such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, J Lo & Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, Fat Joe, Jay Z, and Bethany Frankel (yes, even a RHONY!). Every little bit helps.

Thankfully, there are many more fundraisers popping up every day. And there are lots more people, like myself, wondering how we can help the island from afar. One great resource I have found is the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. They have an e-newsletter called Centro Voices as well as a special newsletter to specifically address recovery efforts, Rebuild Puerto Rico . They have been hosting events, like the upcoming symposium, "Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans" to address the complicated questions arising.


In pictures: Hurricane Maria pummels Puerto Rico


From CCCADI newsletter

We give a heartfelt acknowledgement to Defend PR, “a multimedia project designed to document and celebrate Puerto Rican creativity, resilience, and resistance,” for organizing our community around the Puerto Rican debt crisis and raising funds around Hurricane Relief. DefendPR has been working tirelessly from the diaspora and on the ground to ensure Puerto Rico is rebuilt by and for its people. They are a true example of the power of art and culture to transform society. Contribute to their Hurricane Relief Fund by clicking here.

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