What is spreading ahora among Puerto Ricans and friends in these still anxious and frankly, horrible days since Hurricane Maria engulfed an island slightly smaller than Long Island, is an exchange of conversation that has ratcheted way past “Como está la familia?”
"How's your family?" “Have you heard anything?” “Yabucoa is practically destruído!” “Can anyone get word to Hilda Marrero in Ponce?”
That kind of talk is, sadly, still going on, as the days stretch towards a second week without proper communication. Without enough water, food and medicine. Without an answer for scared children and babies. Without enough to care for the elderly. You do not sleep until you know. One way or the other.
Frankly, there is still so much early work to do, like getting to towns that have bodies lying in the ruins, that we are collectively too strapped to exhale. Yes, we are a spiritual people. But there are times when prayer only goes so far. Are you all right? Will I survive? I thought we were all Americans!
Yeah, about that…we certainly are. And proud of it. Whether you’re for statehood, the commonwealth status quo, or even independence the majority of us believe strongly in the American Dream. We know of someone in our family who shed blood in this country’s wars and military actions. Our emotions stir when we hear our anthem La Borinqueña, or the first verse of the Star Spangled Banner. When our team meets the team from the mainland in the World Baseball Classic, it is like the Super Bowl. Big fun. And then when it’s over, we root for “our guys and their guys” when they are all integrated back into the Yankees, Rangers, Cubs. Or even the Red Sox (that one was for Julio Ricardo Varela). And we share in the glow when “Americanos” also cheer the excellence of Roberto Clemente or Monica Puig.
But who is rooting for us now?
We all know: this crisis wouldn’t have been allowed to go on so long in Texas or Florida. My mother raised me to be a person who doesn't point fingers at a time when we all must stand together. Put all fingers on that rope and pull! Get ‘er done first, as the hero cowboy would say.
But delaying some criticism is partly why we are in this mess. And even my Mom is fed up. She is using language – two languages really – that I have not heard since we watched the news on TV showing civil rights activists being hosed or sheriffs siccing dogs on them, or my father getting a bit too friendly with that woman after a few drinks at that party.
We have family and friends on the Island, and they are talking. Why hasn’t more attention been paid to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, health system, and power before this? Why is all the focus on taking everything over because of a debt the average Puerto Rican had nothing to do with?
Why is it so easier for los Americanos to see their political and economic problems as faults of their leadership, their corrupt officials – yet look at Puerto Rico and think we did it? Because all those governors and others, THEY did it. Puerto Ricans know Joe Six Pack did not cause the water crisis in Flint. Janet Soccer Mom did not put us in the Afghanistan quagmire, nor the Vietnam one before it. We join you in looking at Washington and inept municipal governments. Just as we look at San Juan and our local governments.
As that Red Sox fan Julio Ricardo Varela noted recently on NBC Latino, the leaders in Washington with the responsibility to protect, who oversee Puerto Rico, knew Maria was coming. And I say logic dictates they knew well before September 18th, two days before actual landfall, even with the twists hurricanes often take.
Because this sucker was HUGE. North Korean meteorologists checking winds before their next test knew. Cuban hurricane trackers, reputed to be among the Caribbean’s best, knew. Amateur forecasters in Iowa knew. That farmer in Tennessee who puts a just-licked finger to the wind knew. The abuelita (grandmother, y’all) who felt that familiar crick in her bones knew.
Yet somehow, the invasionary force gathered. And there were no preparations.
But it’s our fault. Our debt. Our lousy power grid. Right. So here’s what’s really happening. Down here on the ground: we have had it. This is your hurricane, Governor Rosselló. your hurricane, President Trump. your hurricane, American media that does not really pay attention. And we are not just pointing fingers at others, but at ourselves. Now that we’ve seen the White House and Congress in action: will becoming a State really help us? Governor Rosselló: de verdad?
We blame ourselves for allowing them. And after we have joined with the belated arrival of welcome U.S. personnel and aid to rebuild, after we tend to our injured and suffering, after we bury our dead and cry, we will roll up our sleeves again.
And throw the bums out.
Pablo Guzmán is a longtime television journalist and music and talk show host in New York and Philadelphia, and has written for a variety of publications including the NY Daily News and the Village Voice. Pablo was also a founding member of the Young Lords.