Tag: puerto rican

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

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.

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

“Home Will Always Be Puerto Rico” – A College Freshman Tries to Rebuild His Life in Ohio

Photo courtesy of Sebastian Maldonado

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Sebastian Maldonado was just starting his first year as an undergraduate when Hurricane Maria destroyed his hometown of Humacao, Puerto Rico, and temporarily shut down his local university.

After eating cold food and being without electricity for three months, the 18-year-old student decided to apply for a transfer to the University of Dayton (UD) in Ohio to pursue his studies in psychology away from the disaster. Even though he was not offered free tuition or economic help, he chose this school because his brother already attends UD, so he would be close to family.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What did you think was going to happen with your studies when the hurricane hit Puerto Rico?

I had no idea what was going to happen. The university I attended at the time suspended classes for more than a month. Even though we were able to return to our schedule and finish the semester, the conversation about leaving Puerto Rico became more pressing in my family. When they accepted me at Dayton I just had to take the opportunity.

What has it been like, being away from home?

When you are used to being with your family every day, of course, the change is hard. However, we all understood that this was the best decision for my future. The experience of the university is completely different here because of the need to adapt to an education that’s all in English, and that has been challenging.

Would you consider going back to Puerto Rico once you graduate?

I would think about it. The island has a long way to go, and here not only are there more employment opportunities, but the quality of life is completely different. Either way, home will always be Puerto Rico.

What’s your life like in Ohio?

The weather is much colder, which is something I’ve had to get used to. The people in Ohio have made me feel really welcomed and life here has been full of many experiences. Also because I live far away from home, life for me is more independent now.  I need to do everything myself I need to do laundry, wake up for class, work, and keep my room tidy without being told. I also get to leave my campus and go on excursions, which is a good way to explore my surroundings, since it’s my first year away from home.

There aren’t many Puerto Ricans in Dayton, do you feel isolated?

There is a Puerto Rican house that you can always visit if you feel isolated. They always have some Puerto Rican food and they happily welcome you. Sometimes when you spend too much time with Americans you do feel isolated, but it doesn’t last too long since all the Puerto Ricans look out for each other. Of course, it helps that my brother is here so he can guide me with anything I need around the university.

Has being away from the island changed your perspective on what happened during the hurricane or what is happening now in Puerto Rico?

Yes, Hurricane Maria was a big scare for all of us from the island. But since I’ve left  I feel that it has gotten a lot better. My family is happy, but they are working a lot harder after the hurricane. There are still people without power and that is something that worries me. I know Puerto Rico is still in recovery but the impact of the hurricane will always be there and that is something that all Puerto Ricans feel. I guess the bad experience we had after the hurricane remains in the past for me and my family, but the recovery Puerto Rico is having will be there for the next few years.

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The University of Dayton has around 100 students from Puerto Rico who, during the emergency, collected cases of water, hygiene products, and batteries to send to the island. Maldonado said that the effort showed by this community to help their people reassured him that if anything were to happen he could still help his island while building a new future from afar.

“I love that Island, but I had to make progress in my career. Knowing that the Puerto Rican community is growing in Ohio makes me feel like I’m not going to be alone.”

He said his goals now are to embrace the opportunities that he couldn’t get in Puerto Rico, without losing the essence of his identity and culture. Despite the chaotic conditions on the island, Maldonado will always be proud of his people and their resilience.


El Orgullo Latino house embraces the Hispanic community at the University of Dayton. Sebastian would find comfort here when he got homesick. Photo courtesy of El Orgullo Latino house

“Puerto Rico siempre será mi hogar” – Un universitario intenta rehacer su vida en Ohio 

 

Sebastián Maldonado apenas cursaba su primer año de universidad cuando el huracán María destruyó su pueblo Humacao, en Puerto Rico, dejando la institución que atendía en condiciones difíciles para su normal funcionamiento.

Luego de pasar cerca de tres meses sin electricidad y comiendo enlatados o comida fría, el estudiante de 18 años decidió solicitar transferirse a la Universidad de Dayton (UD) en Ohio y perseguir sus estudios en sicología lejos del desastre. Su hermano mayor ya se encontraba estudiando en la UD y él decidió seguirle los pasos,  a pesar de que no le ofrecieron ayuda económica ni matrícula gratis.

¿Qué pensaste que iba a pasar con tus estudios cuando el huracán impactó Puerto Rico?

No tenía idea de qué iba a pasar. La universidad que atendía en aquel momento suspendió las clases por más de un mes. A pesar de que pudimos regresar a nuestro horario académico y terminar el semestre, la conversación acerca de irme de Puerto Rico se volvió más presente en mi familia. Cuando me aceptaron en Dayton supe que tenía que tomar la oportunidad.

¿Cómo ha sido la experiencia de estar fuera de casa?

Cuando estás acostumbrado a estar con tu familia todos los días, por supuesto que el cambio es difícil. La experiencia de la universidad ha sido completamente diferente [a la de Puerto Rico] por la necesidad de adaptarme a una educación que es completamente en inglés. Y eso puede ser retador.

¿Considerarías volver a Puerto Rico después de graduarte?

Tendría que pensarlo. La Isla todavía tiene un largo camino que recorrer, y aquí no solamente hay más oportunidades de trabajo, pero también la calidad de vida es diferente. De cualquier manera, Puerto Rico siempre será mi hogar.

¿Cómo es tu vida en Ohio?

El clima es mucho más frío y es algo a lo que he tenido que acostumbrarme. Las personas en Ohio me han hecho sentir bienvenido y mi vida ha estado llena de experiencias. Mi vida ahora es más independiente porque estando fuera de casa veo que necesito depender de mí mismo para cualquier cosa que haga. Tengo que lavar mi ropa, levantarme para clase, trabajar y mantener mi espacio limpio sin que nadie me lo diga. También salgo del campus en excursiones, creo que es una buena manera de explorar los alrededores, sobre todo siendo mi primer año lejos de mi casa.

No hay una comunidad muy grande de puertorriqueños en Dayton, ¿te ha sentido aislado en algún momento?

Aquí tenemos una Casa Puertorriqueña que siempre podemos visitar cuando nos sentimos aislados. Tienen comida puertorriqueña y te reciben felizmente. A veces, cuando pasas demasiado tiempo con los estadounidenses, te puedes sentir bastante solo, pero no transcurre mucho tiempo para darnos cuenta que los puertorriqueños siempre nos buscamos unos a otros. Por supuesto, me ayudó que mi hermano estaba allí para que pudiera guiarme con todo lo que necesitaba alrededor de la universidad.

¿Estar lejos de la Isla ha cambiado tu perspectiva sobre lo que ocurrió durante el huracán, o lo que está sucediendo ahora en Puerto Rico?

La verdad es que el huracán María fue un gran susto para todos nosotros en la Isla. Pero al no estar allá siento que puedo ver la situación mejorar. Mi familia es feliz, aunque están trabajando mucho más duro después del huracán. Sé que todavía hay gente que no tiene electricidad en sus casas y eso es algo que me preocupa. Puerto Rico aún está en recuperación, pero el cambio que hizo el huracán siempre estará allí, y eso es algo que todos los puertorriqueños sentimos. Supongo que la mala experiencia que tuvimos después del huracán permanece en el pasado para mí y para mi familia, pero la recuperación de Puerto Rico estará allí en los próximos años.

———–

Cerca de cien estudiantes puertorriqueños de la Universidad de Dayton, recolectaron cajas de agua, productos de higiene y baterías, para enviar a la Isla y ayudar a múltiples comunidades. Maldonado dijo que ese esfuerzo le reafirmó la creencia que si algo pasará en Puerto Rico, siempre podría ayudar aún estando lejos de casa, construyendo un nuevo futuro.

 “Yo amo esa Isla, pero tenía que hacer un progreso en mi carrera. Al saber que la comunidad boricua estaba creciendo en Ohio supe que no iba a estar solo en esta lucha”, enfatizó Maldonado. Su meta ahora es adquirir las experiencias de vida que no pudo obtener en Puerto Rico, sin perder la esencia de quien es gracias a su cultura. A pesar de las condiciones caóticas en la Isla, Maldonado siempre estará orgulloso de la resiliencia de su gente.

This story was written by Salomé Ramírez Vargas.

The 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.

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

Finding My Way Home – A Student Weighs His Options in Florida and Puerto Rico

Photo Courtesy of Alexander Cabello

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For Alexander Cabello leaving Puerto Rico was tough. Cabello, a 20-year-old college student who was studying at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) in San Juan, PR,  flew out one day before the hurricane without saying goodbye to anyone. But returning seems to be more difficult due to the lack of work opportunities. He currently works full-time in a construction company in Florida and dreams of finishing his nursing studies. He’s also considering joining the army for more economic stability.

How did you end up in the United States to begin with?

My sister was the one who had the idea of me leaving. She lives in Tampa and the day before the hurricane she called me and bought me a plane ticket so that I could wait out the hurricane over here.

What did you expect was going to happen after the hurricane had passed?

Before the hurricane passed I expected to wait the hurricane out and after a week or two I would go back to Puerto Rico. However, that changed completely because of the state that the island was in. The job that I had [in Puerto Rico] was pressuring me to go back or else I would get fired. At that time it was impossible because planes traveling to the island were scarce and I never managed to find one. That’s when I decided to stay.

How did it feel to watch everything that happened in Puerto Rico through the news?

It felt very sad to be honest, because it’s my country, where I was born, where I’ve lived my whole life. Having to leave a place where I have been living my entire life because of a hurricane is something very difficult.

Did you have anyone still living on the island that you worried about?

My whole family was there, my sister is the only one that lives in Tampa. Thank God nothing happened to them but they were without power for a very long time.

Do you plan on returning to the island?

Yes, primarily I wish to finish my studies but beyond that, I left without saying goodbye to anyone, I feel the need to be there. I left the day before the hurricane, it’s been seven months and I still haven’t been able to see anyone from my family.

What do you want to achieve in life?

I want to finish what I started, which is graduating with a bachelors in nursing. After that÷, I want to work as a nurse and then do a Master’s degree in psychology. I also want to be a part of the military, I’ve always thought about doing it but I haven’t contemplated it as seriously as I do now because of the circumstances.

Encontrando el camino a casa – Un estudiante baraja sus opciones en Florida y Puerto Rico 

Para Alexander Cabello, estudiante de 20 años quien cursaba su bachillerato en la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC), abandonar a su Isla fue fuerte. Dejó Puerto Rico un día antes del huracán sin despedirse de nadie. Pero regresar parece ser más difícil, por la falta de trabajo.  Hoy trabaja tiempo completo en una empresa de construcción en Florida, sueña con terminar sus estudios de enfermería y evalúa la posibilidad de entrar al ejército.

¿Cómo terminastes en los Estados Unidos?

Mi hermana fue la de la idea de que me fuera. Ella vive en Tampa y el día antes del huracán me llamó y me compró un pasaje para que pudiese llegar aquí en lo que pasaba [antes de] el huracán.

¿Qué esperabas que iba a suceder con tu vida luego del paso del huracán?

Antes que pasara el huracán, yo regresaría a Puerto Rico en dos semanas. Sin embargo, eso cambió completamente por el estado en el que estaba la Isla. El trabajo que yo tenía en Puerto Rico me estaba presionando a que volviera o que me iban a despedir. Y en ese momento era imposible, porque los vuelos a la Isla eran pocos y nunca llegué a encontrar uno. Ahí fue que decidí quedarme.

¿Cómo se sintió ver todo lo que sucedía en Puerto Rico mediante las noticias?

Me sentí triste, honestamente, porque es mi Isla, donde nací, donde he vivido toda mi vida. Tener que irme del lugar donde he estado viviendo toda mi vida por un huracán es algo bien difícil.

¿Tenías a alguien que se quedó en la isla que te tenía preocupado?

Mi familia entera estaba ahí, mi hermana es la única que vive en Tampa. Gracias a Dios nada les llegó a pasar a ellos, pero estuvieron mucho tiempo sin luz.

¿Tienes planificado volver a la Isla?

Sí, primordialmente quisiera terminar mis estudios. Pero más allá de eso, yo me fui sin despedirme de nadie, siento la necesidad de estar allí. Me fui el día antes del huracán, han sido siete meses y todavía no he podido ver a nadie de mi familia.

¿Qué quieres lograr en tu vida?

Yo quiero terminar lo que empecé, que sería graduarme de un bachillerato en Enfermería. Después de eso trabajaría como enfermero y completaría una maestría en psicología. También quiero ser parte de la milicia; siempre pensé en hacerlo, pero nunca lo contemplé tan seriamente como lo hago ahora por las circunstancias.

 

This story was written by William Gomez Aquino as 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.

Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and MigrationSpanish

From PR to AZ – “It Was Impossible to Not Take the Opportunity”

Photo courtesy of Adriana Castillo

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For Adriana Castillo the hurricane meant suffering and loss. But it also presented an opportunity. Four months after the storm Castillo received an invitation from Arizona State University (ASU) to continue her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in international relations.

Castillo counts the days when she will see her parents again. Her goal in Arizona is to gain skills and experience to bring back to the island. “We are not here forgetting about what happened and what is happening. My goal is to prepare myself and return to Puerto Rico and give back what it has given me for many years,” she said.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Why did you decide to move to the United States?

The reason was the hurricane. I studied at the University of Puerto Rico (UPRM), at the Mayagüez campus, and after [Hurricane Maria] it was closed for like two months. My priority has always been my studies. [But] the lack of water, power, Internet, gasoline, and communication, made my bachelor’s degree become less important because I was focused on surviving. After a crisis like the one we went through life is never the same.

How did the transfer process happen?

I was participating in a study about energy governance at the UPRM, a multidisciplinary study in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU).  My mentor had graduated from there — and after the study the president of the ASU asked my professor for a list of students that wished to continue their studies there.  They offered us residence, medical insurance, and tuition. With the crisis and the needs I had in Puerto Rico, it was impossible not to take advantage of the opportunity.

What have been the biggest challenges since you made that decision?

Leaving my family was the hardest one. My parents were my biggest fear, leaving them by themselves. Watching the news showing that things are getting worse every day makes me want to be in my country. The cultural shock is also a big challenge. Here [in Arizona] we are like 80,000 students from different parts of the world.

How have you adapted to those changes and challenges?

What has helped me adapt is a group of friends from Puerto Rico that came here with me. We are 11, and though there are only a few of us, we keep the culture alive. We are a small community. The university has helped a lot too. They offer psychological therapy, counseling and other services that help us get through the day-to-day. Also, the school of international studies has been supporting us and has been very welcoming.

Have your professional plans changed after the hurricane?

Circumstances changed, but not my goals. I always wanted to come to Arizona to earn a master’s degree, so this helps me get used to it earlier — though my heart is still in Puerto Rico, in my alma mater.

De Puerto Rico a Arizona:  “Era imposible no aprovechar la oportunidad”

Para la puertorriqueña Adriana Castillo, el huracán significó sufrimiento y pérdida. Pero al mismo tiempo una oportunidad. Cuatro meses después del huracán, Castillo recibió una invitación de la Universidad del Estado de Arizona (ASU) para continuar su bachillerato en Ciencias Políticas y una concentración menor en Estudios Transfronterizos.

Castillo cuenta los días para volver a ver a sus padres. Su propósito en Arizona es capacitarse y ganar varios años de experiencia para regresar a la Isla. “No estamos acá olvidándonos de lo que está sucediendo y de lo que sucedió. Mi meta es prepararme y regresar para devolverle a Puerto Rico lo que por muchos años me dio a mí”, dijo la estudiante.

¿Por qué decidiste mudarte a Estados Unidos?

La razón exacta fue el huracán. Estudiaba en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, en el recinto de Mayagüez (UPRM), que luego de [el huracán] María estuvo cerrada como dos meses. Mi prioridad siempre ha sido mis estudios. [Pero] La falta de agua, luz, internet, gasolina, comunicación, hicieron que mi bachillerato pasara a segundo plano porque todo estaba enfocado en sobrevivir. Después de una crisis como la que pasamos, la vida no sigue siendo igual jamás.

Photo courtesy of Adriana Castillo

¿Cómo se dio el proceso del traslado?

En la UPRM estaba participando de una investigación con gobernanzas energéticas y era un estudio multidisciplinario. La investigación era en conjunto con la Universidad de Arizona — mi mentor se había graduado de allí —  y luego de la investigación, el presidente de aquí (ASU) le pidió a mi profesor una lista de estudiantes que deseaban seguir sus estudios aquí. En la invitación, nos ofrecieron hospedaje, plan médico y matrícula. Con la crisis y todas las necesidades que estaba pasando en Puerto Rico, era imposible no aprovechar la oportunidad.

¿Cuáles han sido los mayores retos desde que tomaste la decisión?

Dejar a mi familia fue lo más difícil. Mis padres eran mi mayor miedo, dejarlos solos. Mientras vea en las noticias que las cosas van de mal en peor, [eso] ata emociones de querer estar en mi país. El choque cultural también es un gran reto. Aquí [en Arizona] somos como 80 mil estudiantes de diferentes partes del mundo.

¿Cómo te has adaptado a esos cambios y retos?

Lo que me ha ayudado adaptarme es un grupo de amistades de Puerto Rico que vinimos para acá. Somos once, y aunque pocos, mantenemos la cultura. Somos como una pequeña comunidad. La universidad ha ayudado mucho también. Nos ofrecen terapias psicológicas, consejería, y otros servicios que nos sirven para seguir el día a día. Además, la escuela de estudios transfronterizos se mantiene apoyándonos y ha sido bien acogedora.

¿Cambiaron tus planes profesionales luego del huracán?

Las circunstancias cambiaron, pero la meta no. Siempre quería venir a Arizona a estudiar la maestría, así que esto me ayudó a acoplarme antes — aunque mi corazón sigue en Puerto Rico, en mi alma máter.

This story was written by Shaina Cabán.

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.  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.