The wrath of Hurricane Irma was felt throughout the Caribbean and the southeast portion of the United States. Having family in both Latin America and in Florida, I followed the news closely for updates. Yet, there were prominent disparities in the media’s coverage leading up to and following the destruction left behind by the hurricane in the Caribbean and the U.S. While Irma battered the Caribbean, news sources such as CNN were more preoccupied with the possible effect the hurricane would have on Florida instead of focusing on areas that were, at that very instant, struggling to survive the Category 5 hurricane. For example, CNN stories such as “Irma hits Bahamas on path toward Florida,” mention the Caribbean, but the importance of the islands is inevitably undermined by the mention of the U.S. The media’s decision to focus on the U.S over the Caribbean is an intentional commercial strategy to appeal to a wider audience, but this decision stems from the United States’ underlying historical disregard for Latin America and the marginalization of its people.
Irma’s devastation of Latin America, compared to its impact on Florida, is measurably different. During its course over the Caribbean, Category 5 hurricane Irma killed 38 people and destroyed 95 percent of Barbuda’s structures. It also destroyed the entire power source of the Puerto Rican town Culebra, which left thousands of residents without power, water and a means of communication with the rest of the world. On the other hand, Florida faced a Category 4 hurricane that weakened into a tropical storm over the state. With millions urged to evacuate, Florida’s preparation time and resources enabled the death toll to remain at seven Floridians as of Monday, Sept. 11. While it is not my intention to understate Irma’s aftermath in the U.S., it is important to note that the hurricane’s outcomes in the Caribbean will cause longer suffering than in the U.S. Latin American islanders were not privileged with FEMA, the ability to evacuate in a timely fashion, or the prolonged watch of the hurricane’s patterns and destructions.
Despite the severity of Irma’s aftereffect on the Caribbean, the media prioritized foreshadowing a hypothetical outcome in Florida. Historically, the U.S. has colonized and exploited Latin America for its resources. Over the years, the blatant American racism and self-proclaimed superiority over the Caribbean has transformed into a more insidious, institutionalized marginalization of Latin American people. The media plays an important role in the continuance of this belittlement of Latin Americans in the U.S. and in their home countries. By piggybacking America’s turmoil on the Caribbean’s instability following Irma, the media perpetuates the notion that the existence and prosperity of Latin America is predicated on the believed righteous interference by the U.S. Therefore, the underrepresentation of the Caribbean in the media during such chaotic times solidifies the American people’s sole interest in extracting benefits from Latin America while simultaneously oppressing them.
As Irma’s path ends and its destruction spreads, it is important to remember those who are less fortunate in the Caribbean and to recognize the shortcomings of media in the U.S. Recognizing the disappointing failures of our media at such a disastrous time is crucial to prevent the erasure of Latin America. Given NYU’s diverse community, my thoughts go out to those whose families’ experiences have been eclipsed in the media.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Paola Nagovitch at [email protected]