New York City wasn’t always the place I called home. I lived in Puerto Rico at the impressionable age of five years old until I was seven. Those two years changed me. It’s where my wanderlust was born. I knew I would always go back to the island, my island.
I made it back when I was twenty-three years old with my first husband and children. Memories of the brilliant turquoise Caribbean sea, crispy plantain chips, and creamy limber de coco (coconut icees) flooded back.
We stayed with family, alternating time between my two aunts, my father’s sister and mother’s sister. We visited my maternal and paternal grandmothers along with all of my cousins. Each family celebrated and cooked wonderful meals like the traditional pasteles (a Puerto Rican tamale) and arroz con gandules (pigeon peas native to Africa). Each dish was made with the rich sofritos--- a mix of peppers, garlic, and vegetables---that give Puerto Rican food it’s delicious flavor.
When not with family, we visited the stronghold and bastion of the Caribbean, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. We toured the United States’ only tropical rain forest, the El Yunque National Forest. We wandered through the time worn cobblestone streets of the Old San Juan barrio. It was all as enchanting as I remembered it.
Moreover, it seemed like Puerto Rico was doing well. There were more and more stores and commerce. Real estate was going up and it was a tax haven for many United States citizens until the government ended special tax breaks in 2006. Puerto Rico just couldn’t seem to recover from this. Then Hurricane Maria hit, November 2017. I was devastated. Watching the news, seeing the utter destruction, and hearing of the lives lost, was heartbreaking.
Then this week, watching Anderson Cooper on CNN and reading The Wall Street Journal, it turns out that the death toll after Hurricane Maria was in the thousands, not in the 40’s to 60’s as cited by the United States government. Isn’t Puerto Rico part of the United States? Isn’t she supposed to be protected by the government because it is a common wealth? What happened to the help Puerto Rico deserved? For years Puerto Rico was a second home to citizens and great place for businesses. Now when the going gets tough, the U.S. gets going.
Please remember we are not talking about immigrants or illegals, that is an entirely different issue that needs to be addressed. Puerto Ricans are United States citizens. Puerto Ricans are dying and hurting. There is not enough being done about it. Everyday I pray that we will not forget our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.
Click here to read Song of the Boricua by Olivia Castillo