The Resilience of The Puerto Rican Community
“No one expected how bad hurricane Maria could get. We’ve always had to deal with loss of property but never loss of life.”
It’s been over a year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, but the island’s humanitarian crisis persists. Immediately following the disaster, U.S. news coverage provided conflicting numbers related to the impact of the event, largely skewing public opinion and inaccurately portraying its severity. Months after the storm, the official government death toll was estimated at 64. According to a recent independent study conducted by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, Hurricane Maria was responsible for approximately 2,975 deaths. Maria also contributed to a perilous energy grid failure, which still affects the island today.
Lilia Luciano, a Puerto Rican investigative journalist, documentary film director, producer and public speaker, recalls the shock and hopelessness when the news initially surfaced. Puerto Ricans on the mainland couldn’t reach their families for days, some for weeks. Amidst this crisis though was a powerful resurgence of Puerto Rican resilience and grassroots organization - on and off the island.
A year after the fact, the Puerto Rican community remains focused on solving this crisis. In late 2018, the Latino Community Foundation, Hispanic Federation and Twitter Atlas hosted Stand With Puerto Rico offering potential solutions to the crisis and showcasing some of these grassroots efforts, including Lilia’s documentary, Puerto Rico Rises, which she directed and produced for ABC Sacramento.
DOcumenting the aftermath of hurricane maria
Lilia, a previous Telemundo reporter, NBC national correspondent and VICE freelancer, embodies one of many forms of Puerto Rican resilience. Instead of remaining idle, she leveraged her journalistic craft and worked on a documentary exposing the real impact of Hurricane Maria. “I was desperate to go. I ended up going the first week of December  and stayed there for 3 months.” She spent a week interviewing influential personalities from all political parties. “I was nervous, because my family is super political.”
Her grandmother, the late Velda Gonzalez, whom she credits as her inspiration for becoming a journalist, was an influential actress-turned-Senator of 24 years. “She was involved, fixed problems and wanted to make a more equitable PR. She was all politics, but for human rights, gender equality and LGTBQ rights.” Fueled by her grandmother’s legacy of activism, Lilia focused on creating a realistic and apolitical documentary. In 2018, Puerto Rico Rises received a regional Emmy Award.
Thanks to the powerful dedication and resilience of the Puerto Rican community, change is underway, but Lilia urges Puerto Rican allies to help PR on its road to a full recovery.
How can allies make a positive impact on Puerto Rico?
Support initiatives that empower locals, low-income Puerto Ricans and the people on the ground who work directly with people in need.
Keep this story alive. We need to maintain Hurricane Maria’s relevancy.
Use your networks. We have many in which we are powerful. Money and donations are important, but make sure you’re talking to local organizations.