Puerto Rico: How to Educate Yourself and Help Relief Efforts

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane — the first since 1932. 

The majority of the island, home to 3.4 million people, will remain without power for six months (USA Today), say officials. People cannot contact their family. Half of the island still doesn’t have drinking water. Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico ravaged. 

People on the mainland U.S. and on campus here at AU might seem helpless, but that is far from the truth. 

Action is possible. I talked with Daniela Martínez Berríos, SIS ‘19, about the actions she has taken along with other campus organizations and proud Puerto Ricans to aid in the island’s recovery.  “It was triggering to see videos and images of the destruction back home and saying ‘hey that’s the road to my house’ & it’s just destroyed...it’s been hard coming to terms with how bad it was,” said Berríos. 

Daniela reached out to the club Nourish International, which she is a part of, as well as to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Over three days of tabling, they raised $1,600 for Unidos Por Puerto Rico, an initiative started by Puerto Rico's First Lady, Beatriz Rosselló, which will go toward rebuilding Puerto Rico and providing immediate aid. Nourish and LULAC also received item donations such as: bottled water, diapers, and dry foods. 

Daniela noted that faculty, students, and staff have all shown support by donating. “An old professor of mine reached out to me to see how I was doing, so I told him what we were doing on campus and he forwarded that email & explained the situation to the entire SIS faculty." 

Though, there has been a positive response on campus, support has not been as strong from the U.S. government. “You hope that in this humanitarian time of need they [the American government] would have repealed such a colonialist act [Jones Act] that has impeded our economic development. I’m really happy we’ve gotten a good response here. I hope this leads to more conversations about our political status," said Berríos. “It has been really overwhelming for me to feel so much support from community organizations and the administration. It has been amazing in that sense.” 

Her Campus American University: Have you told your family back home about the efforts on campus? 

Daniela Martínez Berríos: Yeah…my mom called me crying. At first, she told me not to do anything, but I love to get communities together and get everything going. I obviously wasn’t gonna stop when she told me that. She saw what we had collected and what I had posted on Facebook, after she finally got access to wifi, but she called me crying saying: ‘I’m so proud of you. You didn’t have to do this. You’re the best.' It was really emotional.’"

HCAU: How has the rest of the AU Puerto Rican community been doing? 

DMB: At our community meeting [the Office of Campus Life organized a Caribbean community meeting] there was crying; people are still dealing with it. Some people had just heard from their families that day. 

I’m in a Puerto Rico Updates group, and people are still asking about their family members to see if they’re alright. Sometimes I’ve heard ‘oh a friend of a friend, or a cousin of a friend, told me that my parents are fine.' But that’s kind of the Puerto Rican way; we’re all connected and have tried to help each other out.

We were able to make a Facebook group for Puerto Ricans. We’re almost up to 70 members, and AU Campus Life told us that about 70 AU students have a permanent Puerto Rican address so it’s good since we’re almost at that number. We’re looking forward to having a weekly community meeting for us to come together, bond, speak in Spanish, and we want to eventually plan a big night - either a Puerto Rican night or a Caribbean night for all the islands. 

HCAU: What would be your biggest piece of advice to people who aren't from Puerto Rico? 

DMB: I’d say read up on Puerto Rican history and Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. and how there’s an unequal power balance between the two. Educate yourself so you don’t offend Puerto Ricans; show that you’re invested in them and care about them and their country. Show your support — like on campus, just go say hi when we're tabling. The main point is education and understanding that background.

Do your research on [relief] organizations and look to your local community members who are donating because there are grassroot efforts that are way more helpful. If you want to do a fundraiser, talk to community members first. Accept help from the community that is being directly affected.

Solidarity and self-education: those are the two main focuses. Calling and letting your Congress person know that you care about what’s happening. Let Congress know that you don’t stand with the Jones Act. When Congress knows that their constituents care about this specific U.S. territory, they’re gonna eventually speak out and help us change the system. 


To donate to Students for Puerto Rico on Go Fund Me, click here


Photo Credits: cover, poster belongs to Daniela Martínez Berríos