This Thanksgiving, I am particularly thankful to be Puerto Rican. As a Puerto Rican living in mainland United States, I have experienced outsider’s guilt watching my home and my people struggle through the aftermath of back-to-back hurricanes. My privilege to live in New York City, away from my family in San German, became a source of remorse as I watched the suffering people on the island because I couldn’t be there to help. Struggling with my own sense of culpability, I watched in awe as my home struggled to rise. The solidarity of the Puerto Rican community, both in the mainland U.S. and in Puerto Rico, helped it endure the near-destruction of our island.
Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Ricans living in mainland U.S. struggled to communicate with their families and loved ones. However, as we worried and waited weeks for cell phone towers to be somewhat restored, our families and friends had already established community efforts to restore towns. Neighborhoods took on the collective responsibility to clear streets, retrieve drinking water from rivers and canals, clean up the rubble from destroyed house and share any resources available. A cultural movement flared up around the island driven by the phrase “Puerto Rico Se Levanta” — Puerto Rico Rises — as a symbol of hope and solidarity. The resilience of the Puerto Rican community lies in its refusal to be diminished by an ignorant government on the island and a negligent, inadequate leader in the U.S.
Not only am I thankful for the reaction on the island, but I am also proud to have been part of relief efforts at NYU. There were multiple bake sales from several clubs and sororities around NYU, including CAS Student Council and Pi Beta Phi. Moreover, President Andrew Hamilton’s decision to accept 50 students from Puerto Rico with full scholarships for the spring semester is an honorable effort to offer some relief to Puerto Rican students. Thousands of Puerto Rican college students have had their studies disrupted over the past years due to protests, financial and political conflicts and hurricanes. We are very privileged to attend NYU, and while someone like John Paulson — who has exploited Puerto Rico — sits on NYU’s Board of Trustees, it is up to the students to organize relief efforts and refuse to contribute to the erasure of Puerto Rico.
While still a colony, Puerto Rico continually challenges the imperialistic narrative the U.S. has constructed. The exploitative relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico insists the island cannot survive on its own. Yet, the past few months have once again shown that Puerto Rico can thrive with minimal to no substantial federal help. Although I wake up every morning proud to be Puerto Rican, when I sit with my family on Thanksgiving, I will feel even more grateful. Amid all the despair and fully acknowledging the long road to recovery that awaits, I feel honored and thankful to be a part of the inspiring Puerto Rican community.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Nov. 20 print edition. Email [email protected]