“When I go to the States, people look down on me because I have an accent or because I am from Puerto Rico. It’s like I have cooties instead of being an American citizen, but we are all the same. We have been citizens since the Jones Act in 1917. In Puerto Rico, we know our neighbors. We are nosy and openminded and outspoken about our problems. We are a mix of native, African and Spanish blended together that gives us cinnamon skin and almond eyes. There can also be a white woman with kinky black hair and beautiful green eyes. You see every color and combination here.
I lived through hurricanes George and Opal. When Irma came, we all prepared for the ‘storm of a lifetime’ but it never happened. They said the same about Maria, but we blew it off. This hurricane was so angry with the wind and rain crashing down on us. There were landslides and floods. There was no phone service or way to find out if our family members and friends were okay. My daughter was living in the mountains with my ex-husband. By day four I hadn’t heard from her and went to where he lived to find her, but the roads were closed. I walked and climbed until I go to the point where I couldn’t climb anymore. I ate my nails waiting for help when I saw her dad’s car come down. I had big tears when I heard her say ‘Mommy.’
There was no power for six months. We had to wait in line 16 hours in line to get gas. You talked to the people waiting around you to pass the time. FEMA gave everything out in other disasters and hurricanes and was down to Grandma’s Cookies and beef jerky. The mail took six months to get back on track. Checks and donations took forever to get to us. We waited in long lines at grocery stores to get one bag of rice, one can of beans and one can of tomatoes. The days were busy with survival and washing clothes by hand. At night we tried to sleep with generators running all around us. I needed to take a shot just to get a few hours of sleep. The generators ran out of gas early in the morning and it got quiet but two hours later the birds began chirping. After months of this, people got irritated. Many are still depressed.
Our doctors and educated people are moving to the United States for a better life. I hurt my ankle hiking in May and wasn’t going to be able to see a doctor until October. I had to buy a plane ticket when they were very expensive to see my brother who is a doctor in the U.S. You can tell that traffic is different here. It is not as hard to get around because we don’t have as many people. We were stuck in this situation after the hurricane. How are we going to work together? We get caught up in procrastinating and waiting on tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. Puerto Ricans finally started grabbing life by the horns at Christmas, but this is still a bad time. There are blue tarps still on roofs and people still hungry.
The hardest part of living here is the Puerto Rican government. They are corrupt and treat us as fools. I wish I had the patience and knowledge to get into politics and tell them this is not how to run a country. Puerto Ricans have learned to live with it and on weekends go to our little corner of the beach. I stay because I love my island. I don’t have to drive more than half an hour to get to the beach, a mountain, a rain forest, or a cave. I love being in the mountains jumping from one place to another. I have lived here all of my life and I am always finding a new favorite spot or favorite food. The rain forest is the mask I put on when I am suffering internally and want to forget about it. Life is hard here, but we have beautiful places to escape.