Category: Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and Migration

Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and MigrationPuerto RicanSpanish

Desafiando la Estructura Energética: Una Pequeña Comunidad Muestra Cómo la Energía Solar Podría Transformar Puerto Rico

Casa Pueblo, una iniciativa ciudadana que cuenta con ayuda de la diáspora puertorriqueña en Estados Unidos, se transforma en un oasis energético luego de que el huracán María dejara a Puerto Rico a oscuras por meses.

Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and MigrationPuerto Rican

“There Is No Space For Us” –  NYC Housing Shortage Leaves Hurricane Evacuees In Limbo

Andrea Tejeda, 26, feeds her 4-year-old daughter, Jadieliz Padilla.  Limited food and cooking facilities are available in a Manhattan hotel where they are living. Photo: Maite H. Mateo

The terrifying message came via a robo-call: April 20 is your last day at the hotel.

“Pack your things. Your stay is not the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) responsibility anymore,” Andrea Tejeda, 26, recalls hearing on her cellphone.

Hours later she received a text message from NYC’s Department of Homeless Services saying that it didn’t have anywhere for her and her 4-year-old daughter, Jadieliz Padilla, to go.

Of the 12 Puerto Rican families staying at a hotel on West 38th Street in Manhattan, five received the same message. All of them have young children. “We got desperate,” Tejeda said. “We didn’t know what to do.”

The following day, she joined about 50 people rallying on the steps of City Hall, protesting their imminent eviction. Later that day Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would cover the cost of the hotels for evacuees from Hurricane Maria until May 14.   

Andrea Tejeda received a text from FEMA giving her only days notice to leave the hotel. Photo: Maite H. Mateo

FEMA subsequently stepped in and resumed paying the bill. But even after FEMA extended the deadline to June 30, the fate of Tejeda, her daughter and the 136 other Puerto Rican families currently staying in hotels in New York State is uncertain. The only thing they’ve been told is that FEMA is offering tickets to fly them back to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

“I feel in limbo because every time I go ask for help, they never want to help,” Tejeda said. 

Her frustration is shared by many evacuees who are trying to navigate the bureaucracy as they look for a place to stay, a job, schooling for their children or health care.

The New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), a nonprofit group that worked at the city’s Hurricane Relief Center, estimates there are still some 10,000 evacuees from Maria living in New York City. While many are staying with relatives, others have gone to city shelters. Peter B. Gudaitis, CEO of NYDIS is calling on the state and city governments to do more to coordinate relief groups’ assistance and to help the displaced find jobs.

“FEMA has fallen short when it comes to planning for and responding for diaspora events in the United States,” Gudaitis said.   

Gudaitis says Puerto Rican evacuees also face steep challenges because many lack English language skills.  A large number are senior citizens in poor health.

For Tejeda, trying to survive in New York City is a daily struggle. She receives $352 a month from the city to spend on food, but she’s been skipping lunch because she can’t cook in the hotel and food at nearby restaurants is expensive. She said she often eats nothing until a dinner of rice with ketchup and canned sausage.

After June 30 when FEMA stops providing temporary accommodation, she thinks she will have to try to go to a shelter. But Tejeda is concerned a shelter can’t accommodate them. “As they say, there is no space for us there, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I can’t be on the street with a 4-year-old.”

Her goal is to find an apartment so she can have a stable and safe life. But while she is in the FEMA hotel, she is not eligible for a rent voucher, which makes planning for longer term housing a challenge. “I want FEMA to let me go and the government to give me a push so I can move forward, find a stable job and raise my daughter.” 

“There is definitely a feeling that we have to hope for the best, but now we have to prepare for the worst,” said Luz Correa, chair of the Bronx Coalition Supporting Hurricane Maria Evacuees. She has been in touch with families at the hotels and said some are preparing to enter the city’s shelter system. Placement isn’t guaranteed, though. A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said it “will continue creating strategies to support case management for these families affected by Hurricane Maria,” but didn’t provide details.

The city wouldn’t reveal how many Puerto Rican families displaced by Maria are currently in shelters. Officials did say the city’s Hurricane Relief Center processed 2,521 families and made 945 referrals to HomeBase, which oversees the city’s homeless prevention strategy. It was unclear, though, how many of those referrals led to shelter.

In the weeks immediately following Hurricane Maria, the NYC government tried to dissuade evacuees from settling in the city. At an October 12 news conference Mayor de Blasio said the city didn’t have a housing plan for Puerto Rican hurricane evacuees, although he promised education and health services. “I don’t want to encourage people to come here if they don’t have some family to turn to,” he said. “We have to be really clear about that. This is a city that’s ready to do anything and everything for people that come here, but we are also clear that we have tremendous strains we are dealing with right now, and housing is our number one.” 

Victor Martinez, founder of Diaspora Por Puerto Rico, a community-based organization that sprang up after Maria, acknowledged, “there are a lot of homeless in the city, but this is also an issue that should be attended to.”

Martinez describes evacuees’ experiences as an emotional rollercoaster as they search for housing and services. In addition to the emotional impact, the lack of housing impedes their ability to get jobs, access education, and medical services.

4-year-old daughter, Jadieliz Padilla plays with her doll in their hotel room. Photo: Maite H. Mateo

Tejeda has been bouncing from place to place since arriving in New York City from San Juan on December 14. Initially, she stayed in her uncle’s two-bedroom apartment for two months, then she moved to a shelter in Manhattan which she says was infested with rats and cockroaches. On March 3rd, FEMA offered her a space at the hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

Coming to New York wasn’t an easy decision. But she felt compelled to leave Puerto Rico after her four-year-old daughter witnessed a murder while they were staying at her mother’s home in San Juan. That came a year after the slaying of Tejeda’s ex-husband.

While Tejeda’s main concern is safety, Barbara Pena, a mother of two, one with special needs, came not just for housing security but also the support she needs for her children. Recently she gave up trying to live in New York City and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. “I couldn’t deal with [the uncertainty] anymore,” she said. “I wouldn’t go back to a shelter. I’d have to go to the streets.”

In Springfield, her rent voucher from Puerto Rico was accepted. She is living in a FEMA hotel while she raises money to pay a security deposit on a rental. “In New York, I couldn’t find anything with my voucher because the rent is too expensive,” she said.

Nonprofits like Diaspora Por Puerto Rico, the Bronx Coalition and New York Disaster Interfaith Services have been trying to connect evacuees with the social services available to them. In March evacuees met at Hostos Community College with representatives of city agencies, food pantries, and medical nonprofits.

When the April 20 deadline was approaching, the groups helped organize the City Hall demonstration. They also planned to open an emergency shelter to give evacuees time to decide whether to stay in New York City or go back to Puerto Rico.

Beyond losing their homes and possessions, many families feel they cannot rebuild their lives in Puerto Rico because of the slow recovery from the September storm. Power outages continue across the island and officials recently announced plans to permanently close 266 schools.

At the end of April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the New York Stands With Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative. Construction workers and about 500 students from the State University of New York and the City University of New York will be deployed by early June for two to four weeks to help rebuild homes and infrastructure on the island. The 2018 hurricane season officially started on June 1.  

Gudaitis, from New York Disaster Interfaith Services doesn’t see this plan as a solution. He said it is probably cheaper to fly Puerto Ricans home and help them rebuild than absorb them into New York’s economy. “The problem with that is that Puerto Rico’s economy is no better today than it was a year ago – it’s worse,” he said.

Tejeda’s salary as a clothing vendor in San Juan decreased after the hurricane from $320 a week to $130 because the store was rotating employees to make sure everybody would be paid as business sagged. On May 8, she got a part-time job as a college assistant for $7.25 an hour in Queens. She said it would take her more than a month to save up for a deposit on an apartment.

In San Juan she lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the 20th floor and could see the ocean from her balcony. The hurricane broke all the windows and flooded her home. Her furniture, clothes and her daughter’s toys were destroyed by mold and none of the apartments in Tejeda’s government-owned building have been repaired.

Even though housing in New York City is proving to be more of a struggle than she imagined it would be, Tejeda, who has a degree in criminal justice, feels that going back is not an option.

She wants to stay and become a police officer. “I want to study here,” Tejeda said. “I want to make progress here and give my daughter a good life.”

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.

Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and MigrationPuerto RicanSpanish

Leaving Puerto Rico (and College) to Join the Army

Photo courtesy of Angelica Padilla de Arce

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Hurricane Maria left Angelica Padilla de Arce, a 20-year-old Puerto Rican student, without classes, without a job, and with big economic problems.

Padilla was in her third year at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez campus, on the west coast of the island. In November 2017, Padilla opted for a new way to face her economic situation: enlisting in the United States Armed Forces.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Why did you decide that that was your best option?

Without a bachelor’s degree finding a job with a good salary is hard, and even more so with Puerto Rico’s economic situation. The situation at the university gets harder every day. As registration fees and other services increase, the money soon will not be enough. I’m also seeing my brother, who has a bachelor’s degree, not be able to find a job that’s more than 15 hours a week, so I decided to look for another alternative. My uncle is in the Armed Forces, my grandfather is a veteran, and my mother was enlisted in the Army for a time, and they talked to me about the benefits. I decided it was the best thing to do.

Is it a good source of income?

The military has good benefits and it’s a good source of income. It offers a 20-year career.  If I enlist now when I’m 20, I can retire when I’m 40. Whereas, in a civilian job, the retirement plan is thirty to forty years long. This is assuming I find a job quickly after I graduate. There’s also the situation with the university — whether or not it will remain open remains unknown, which creates an environment of uncertainty and unnecessary stress in my life.

When did you make the decision to leave Puerto Rico?

Several weeks after Hurricane Maria I went with my brother to a conference about the military test [ASVAB Test]. My brother had already decided to enlist before the hurricane and when I saw Puerto Rico’s situation I decided to enlist as well. At the moment, my university is on alert for a possible strike. That, plus falling behind because of the hurricane, made me decide to look for a better future.

What will happen to your family after you leave?

My family supports me unconditionally in everything I do, at least I’ve been lucky in that regard. If it is something that I really want, my mother will support me. She also knows the sad situation that Puerto Rico is in, which is why she always encourages me to keep looking for a better future.  

Without Hurricane Maria would you have enlisted in the military?

I probably would have stayed one more year in Puerto Rico. But living with the situation of the university I am sure that I would have made the same decision of enlisting in the military. Personally, I don’t have family in the United States with whom I could have gone to for a season while I look for a job there, so the military would have been my plan B if the situation with the university got bad.

Aren’t you scared of dying or receiving a bullet wound?

I would be lying if I said that the remote idea of dying or getting shot doesn’t scare me. Everyone fears being wounded and even more so if it is something serious, like a bullet wound. But it is a risk I am willing to take when the time to move forward for me and my family comes.

What would you like to do in the Army?

In the beginning I wanted a job that had to do with communications or technology, however, this changed at the time of taking the ASVAB test, which allows me to know which job I can choose. My recruiter gave me a list of jobs which I can apply for, and among them is paramedic, or 68W, as they call it. I have always liked helping other people, so this is a job I see myself doing. There’s also the additional benefit that I come out with a degree and can work as a paramedic in my civilian life.

What is your opinion of war?

For me, war is more about loss than gain. There are situations that can be resolved by having a dialogue like civilized people without the need to lose millions of soldiers’ and innocents’ lives. If political leaders want a war, let them enter a ring and may the best one win.  

Dejar la Isla (y universidad) para irse al ejército

El huracán María dejó a Angélica Padilla de Arce, estudiante puertorriqueña de 20 años, sin clases, sin trabajo, y con grandes problemas económicos.

Padilla cursa su tercer año universitario en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, en el campus de la ciudad de Mayagüez, municipio ubicado en la costa oeste de la Isla. Pero en noviembre del año pasado, Padilla optó por un nuevo camino para enfrentar su nueva situación económica: ingresar a las Fuerzas Armadas de Estados Unidos.

Esta conversación ha sido editada por claridad y extensión. 

¿Por qué decidiste que esa era tu mejor opción?

Sin un bachillerato, conseguir un trabajo con buen salario es difícil, y más con la situación económica de Puerto Rico. La situación en la universidad se pone cada vez peor. Al subir la matrícula y otros servicios, el dinero pronto no va a dar. Además, al ver que mi hermano con un bachillerato no consigue un trabajo de más de 15 horas semanales, decidí buscar otra alternativa. Mi tío pertenece a las Fuerzas Armadas, mi abuelo es veterano y mi madre estuvo un tiempo [en el ejército], y ellos me hablaron de los beneficios. Decidí que era lo mejor.

¿Es una buena fuente de ingresos?

El ejército tiene buenos beneficios y es una buena fuente de ingresos. Ofrece una carrera de veinte años; si entro ahora a los veinte años, ya a los cuarenta años puedo retirarme.  Mientras que en un trabajo como civil, el plan de retiro es de treinta a cuarenta años. Esto asumiendo que consiga un trabajo rápido después de graduarme. Además, está también la situación de la universidad, la cual en estos momentos no se sabe si va a continuar abierta, lo cual crea un ambiente de incertidumbre y estrés innecesarios en mi vida.

¿Cuándo fue que tomaste la decisión de irte de Puerto Rico?

Luego de varias semanas de María fui con mi hermano a una charla de los repasos del ejército.  Mi hermano ya tenía decidido irse al ejército antes del huracán y cuando yo vi la situación de Puerto Rico decidí irme también.  En estos momentos, mi universidad está en alerta de huelga, más el retraso a causa del huracán, me hicieron decidir ir a buscar un mejor futuro.

¿Qué pasará con tu familia luego de que te vayas?

Mi familia me apoya en todo incondicionalmente, al menos he tenido esa suerte.  Mi madre me apoya, si es lo que en realidad quiero, y ella también sabe la situación penosa en la que se encuentra Puerto Rico, por lo que me exhorta siempre a seguir buscando un mejor futuro.

Sin el huracán María, ¿hubieras pensado en unirte a la milicia?

Lo más seguro, hubiese estado un año más en Puerto Rico. Pero al vivir la situación antes mencionada con la universidad estoy segura de que habría tomado la misma decisión de irme al ejército.  Personalmente, no tengo familia en Estados Unidos con los que pudiera irme una temporada en lo que busco trabajo allá, por lo que el ejército hubiese sido mi plan B si la situación de la universidad se viese mal.

¿No te da miedo morir o recibir una herida de bala?

Mentiría si dijera que la idea remota de morir o que me disparen no me da miedo. Todo el mundo le aterra ser herido y más si es de gravedad, como una herida de bala. Pero, es un riesgo que estoy dispuesta a tomar a la hora de salir hacia adelante por mi y mi familia.

¿Qué te gustaría hacer dentro de la armada?

Al principio quise hacer un trabajo que tuviese que ver con comunicaciones o tecnología, sin embargo, esto ha cambiado al tomar el examen de ASVAB el cual me permite saber qué trabajo puedo tomar. Mi reclutador me dio una lista trabajos a las cuales puedo aplicar y entre ellos está paramédico o “68w”, como ellos le llaman. Siempre me ha gustado ayudar a las personas así que es un trabajo donde me veo involucrada, además con el beneficio que salgo con un grado y puedo trabajar como paramédico en mi vida civil.

¿Qué opinas de las guerras?

Para mí las guerras son más pérdidas que ganancias. Hay situaciones que dialogando como personas civilizadas pueden resolverse sin la necesidad de la pérdida de millones de soldados y vidas inocentes. Si los líderes políticos quieren guerra, que ellos entren a un ring y que gane el mejor.

This story was written by Thalia Mercado. 

The story is part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and the journalism program at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Translated from the original Spanish by John Pink.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.

Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and MigrationPuerto RicanSpanish

From Puerto Rico to Pennsylvania: A Pregnant Mother’s Journey to Save Her Baby

Photo courtesy of Aidamarys Torres Pardo

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After Hurricane Maria, Aidamarys Torres Pardo, a 20-year-old Puerto Rican student, had to move to Hatfield, Pennsylvania in order to save her daughter’s life. Torres suffers from Homocystinuria, a genetic disease that disrupts the body’s metabolism and has multiple ramifications that can worsen with pregnancy.

Since she was three years old, Torres has had more than seven risky operations to help this condition which affects the organs in her body. Her doctors told her that the condition lowers the chances of being able to have a child. But despite the bad diagnosis, Torres and her partner Jonathan were able to have their first daughter, Janaiah, who was born in good health. Thanks to the medical care she was able to receive in Pennsylvania, her condition is now stable.  She was interviewed from her home in Pennsylvania.

How did your life change after Hurricane Maria swept through?

Hurricane Maria complicated everything. On the one hand, I had only seen the gynecologist once and the laboratories were not open due to the lack of electricity. I had to get lab tests so I could take the results to the doctor’s office on my next appointment, which was September 25, 2017. I was visiting the gynecologist’s office week after week and couldn’t get anything. I was getting desperate.

My house is also in a flood-prone area and we didn’t have a generator so I had to protect myself from the mosquitos, due to the high incidence of Zika.

Obviously, I got really sad when I couldn’t see my baby with the sonogram due to the lack of power.  I only listened to the heartbeat. And that was how I started becoming more and more convinced about traveling.

The hurricane brought me closer together with my family, with my partner. Family nights were for playing Bingo with pennies, and I would say that I matured and I really learned to appreciate time with my family.

How was your family affected by you leaving?

My family, especially my mom who I lived with, was sad.  But they understood that I would have all the necessary care here [in the United States] for my health and the baby’s. I was 17 weeks [pregnant] when I came and I had only seen the gynecologist at eight weeks and 5 days [into the pregnancy].

Who has been your guide through this process and why?

My guide, who takes me to my appointments and took me to get help, is Jonathan’s brother’s wife, with whom we lived with for two months when we got here from Puerto Rico.

What did it mean for you to give birth?

My life now has meaning. I am a happy person. She is a miracle because I was told I couldn’t have babies due to my condition, Homocystinuria.

Now that you had the baby, what will happen to your academic future?

I was able to make arrangements with four of the six professors and I was able to finish four classes online. My plan is not to quit studying. I did not register this (past) semester because my pregnancy was categorized as high risk and I had two to three appointments a week. Additionally, I was due to give birth in March and I wasn’t going to be prepared for finals. I do have plans to continue in August, online if possible.

Will you go back to the island when you ensure that your health and the baby’s are safe?

We have everything here in Pennsylvania, after only two months of having moved here we were able to move out of Jonathan’s brother’s place. We have our own apartment and our humble little things.  Jonathan has a good job with a good salary, something that didn’t happen in Puerto Rico.  Here he makes in a week what in Puerto Rico he would earn in two. For the moment, and for a while, we plan to stay here.

De Puerto Rico a Pensilvania: La travesía de una madre embarazada para salvar a su bebé

Desde que Aidamarys Torres Pardo, puertorriqueña de 20 años, viajó a Hatfield, Pensilvania, para salvar a su hija después del huracán María, su vida cambió. Torres padece de homocistinuria, una enfermedad genética que trastorna el metabolismo y tiene múltiples síntomas que pueden verse agravados con el embarazo. 

Torres ha tenido que someterse a más de siete operaciones riesgosas en el transcurso de su vida y la enfermedad ha afectado órganos de su cuerpo desde que tenía tres años. Sus médicos le dijeron que la enfermedad minimiza la probabilidad de tener un hijos, pero a pesar de los malos diagnóstico, Torres y su pareja Jonathan, pudieron tener a su primera hija, fue Janaiah, que nació saludable. Gracias a los medicamentos que le recetaron en Pensilvania, ahora su condición es estable. Torres fue entrevistada desde su casa en Pensilvania. 

Photo courtesy of Aidamarys Torres Pardo

¿Cómo cambió tu vida tras el paso del huracán María?

El huracán María lo complicó todo. Por un lado, solo había visto al ginecólogo una sola vez y los laboratorios no estaban abiertos por falta de electricidad. Tenía que hacerme unos análisis para llevar a la oficina del médico la próxima cita, que era el 25 de septiembre de 2017. Estuve visitando la oficina del ginecólogo semanas corridas y no conseguía nada. Ya estaba entrando en desesperación.

Por otro lado, mi casa es en zona inundable y no teníamos una planta eléctrica así que tenía que cuidarme mucho de los mosquitos por la alta incidencia de Zika.

Obviamente me puse triste por no poder ver la bebé en el sonograma por falta de luz, solo escuché los latidos. Y fue así como poco a poco me fui convenciendo de viajar.

El huracán me unió mucho a mi familia, a mi pareja. Las noches en familia eran para jugar bingo con chavitos, y yo diría que adquirí más madurez y realmente aprendí a valorar el tiempo en familia.

¿Cómo se vio afectada tu familia por tu partida?

Mi familia, especialmente mi mamá con quien vivía se entristeció, pero entendieron que por mi salud y la del bebé acá  [en Estados Unidos] iba a tener las atenciones necesarias. Yo tenía 17 semanas cuando me vine y solo había podido ver al ginecólogo a las ocho semanas y cinco días.

¿Quién ha sido tu guía en este proceso y por qué?

Mi guía, la que me lleva a las citas y me llevó a conseguir las ayudas, es la esposa del hermano de Jonathan con quien vivimos cuando llegamos de Puerto Rico por dos meses.

¿Qué significó para ti haber dado a luz?

Mi vida ahora tiene sentido. Soy una persona feliz. Ella es un milagro ya que por mi condición de Homocystinuria me habían dicho que quizás no podía tener bebés.

Ahora que tuviste a tu bebé, ¿qué pasará con tu futuro académico?

Logré hacer arreglos con cuatro de seis profesores y pude terminar cuatro clases en línea. Mi plan no es dejar de estudiar. Este semestre no me matriculé porque mi embarazo estaba catalogado como alto riesgo y tenía dos y tres citas por semana. Además de que daba a luz ahora en marzo y no iba a estar preparada para finales. Sí tengo pensado continuar ahora en agosto, en línea de ser posible.

¿Regresarás a la Isla cuando te asegures que tu salud y la de tu bebé estarán a salvo?

Acá en Pensilvania lo tenemos todo, ya a los dos meses de estar acá pudimos independizarnos del hermano de Jonathan. Tenemos nuestro apartamento y, humildemente, nuestras cositas. Jonathan tiene un buen trabajo con un buen sueldo, algo que en Puerto Rico no pasaba — aquí cobra en una semana lo que allá cobraba en dos semanas. Por el momento, y por un buen tiempito, tenemos planes de quedarnos acá.

This story was written by Imalay Cruz.

The story is part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and the journalism program at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Translated from the original Spanish by John Pink.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.

Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and MigrationPuerto RicanSpanish

Torn Between Caring for an Ailing Mother and Completing College

 

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Photo courtesy of Christopher Morales

Christopher Morales, a twenty-year old engineering student at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico sits down in a small and intimate restaurant in San Juan. Quiet and reserved, he lowers his head as he reflects on how his life changed in the blink of an eye.

When Hurricane Maria hit, suddenly he was confronted with a difficult decision.

As an only child who doesn’t have a relationship with his father, he is one of the main care-givers for his mother, Carmen, who is fighting colon cancer. Without electricity, running water and cell phone service he felt that staying on the island was not an option for them.

In the wake of the storm, Morales frantically looked for information and was finally able to get a flight to Orlando, Florida, where his mother could get the medical treatment she needed.

In Orlando, his aunt, Ana, offered them housing and took take care of his mother. She soon adjusted to her new life and her condition was being treated. But he could not stay with her because very soon his classes would start again and he is close to finishing his studies.

It was difficult for him to leave but he’s committed to staying close to her whatever way he can.

“There is not a moment when I do not think about her.  All the time I write to her and tell her everything that is happening. When they are giving her treatment, I send her funny videos and we see each other on FaceTime. I’m always thinking about her,” he said with a smile.

Morales lives in an small apartment close to the university with a childhood friend. He juggles a few part-time jobs, fixing computers, working as a tutor, and from time to time as an Uber driver to make a little extra cash.

As he enters his last academic year, he’s thinking about whether he should look for a job in the United States and possibly expand his career opportunities.

His mom wants to stay in Florida, and he wants to have her close.

“No matter what I do, I will do it with my mother in mind, she has given everything to me and I want her to see me graduate, to be healthy and to move forward…my mother gives me the motivation to continue forward and prosper,” Morales said.

Desgarrado entre el cuidado de su madre enferma y sus estudios 

En un restaurante, pequeño e íntimo, perfecto para charlar, Christopher Morales, estudiante de 20 años de edad de Ingeniería en la Universidad Politécnica de Puerto Rico (UPPR), cuenta cómo su vida cambió en un abrir y cerrar de ojos.

Después de que el huracán María impactará la Isla, se vio enfrentado con una decisión díficil. 

Morales es hijo único y su madre, Carmen, sufre de cáncer de colon. Al no tener relación con su padre, él es el único a cargo de su madre. En octubre, al ver la salud de su madre empeorar estando sin energía eléctrica ni agua corriente, decidió llevársela a Florida.

“Busqué información y pude conseguir un vuelo hacia Orlando, Florida, donde mi madre obtuvo servicio médico”, dijo Morales, bajando la cabeza.

En Orlando, su tía, Ana, les ofreció techo y cuidó de su madre. Carmen se adaptó rápido a su nueva vida y su condición estaba siendo atendida. Pero él podría quedarse con ella. Muy pronto comenzarían sus clases y se encontraba cerca para terminar sus estudios. 

Para él fue díficil dejar a su madre, pero está en constante contacto con ella desde Puerto Rico.

“Mi madre me da la motivación para seguir hacia delante y prosperar”, dijo Morales con voz ronca. “No hay momento en el que no piense en ella. Todo el tiempo le escribo y le cuento todo lo que está sucediendo. Cuando le están dando su tratamiento, le mando videos graciosos y nos vemos por FaceTime”.

Morales vive en un pequeño despartamento cerca de su universidad con un amigo de infancia. Hace malabarismos entre un par de trabajos temporales, arreglando computadores, trabajando como tutor, y a veces como conductor de Uber para hacer algo de dinero extra.

Al emepezar su último año académico, Morales piensa en buscar un trabajo en Estados Unidos y en expandir su carrera. Su madre quiere quedarse en Florida, y el quiere tenerla cerca. 

“No importa lo que haga, lo haré con mi madre en mente. Ella lo ha dado todo por mí y yo quiero que ella me vea graduándome, que esté saludable y echar hacia delante”, dijo Morales.

Written by Barbara Beccerra Marcano.

This story was part of a collaboration between Feet in 2 Worlds and journalism students at  Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico 

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation, the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an anonymous donor and readers like you.