Holy Cross Responds to Puerto Rico’s Humanitarian Crisis

By Katie Bowles, Staff Writer

Since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 20, the Holy Cross community has been making efforts to raise awareness, donate funds, and call on the federal government to take action and assist Puerto Rico.

Much of the island and surrounding islands also affected by the hurricane have been without electricity, running water, or telecommunications for the past two weeks. Puerto Rico is the home of many students, faculty and staff and their families, and the College is also home to students from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This past weekend, the Chaplains’ Office raised over $900 at liturgies to send to two Jesuit parishes in Puerto Rico. Students Julianna de Haas ’18 and Nicolle Wiebracht ’18 have raised over $2000 for a community organization in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

On Monday, October 2, the Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) program held a town hall about the lack of response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. When asked about the different treatment of victims of hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, Professor Maria Rodrigues, director of the LALS program, explained, “As Dean Taneja and Dean Gago-Jover stated unequivocally in the Town Hall, the answer is simple and a very sad one: racism. The first thing I would like people to know (and it is a major flaw in our educational system!) is simply one of geography and civics: Puerto Rico is part of the United States; Its 3.5 million residents are US citizens. That’s not to say we should only care for people that carry the same passports we do, but it does mean that we should feel the same level of fellowship toward Puerto Ricans as we did toward Texans and Floridians.”

The town hall was an opportunity to hear from students and faculty about their personal experiences, learn about the history and politics of Puerto Rico, and begin a dialogue about what further actions Holy Cross and the nation can take.

Many agreed that raising consciousness on campus is key, especially because the American media is not adequately covering Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in comparison to Texas and Florida. In regards to the governmental response, Professor Rodrigues asserts, “Regardless of our political affiliation, there is no denying that the federal response to the disaster in Puerto Rico is greatly inadequate. Yes, it is an island, but it is not too far away, and the U.S. military and national guard have over 6,000 helicopters (according to at least one source). How many are being used to reach rural areas in tiny Puerto Rico? How many are dropping supplies as we speak? Excuses such as ‘the state of the port or the roads’ are just that –excuses. The real reason is racism: as the saying goes, ‘Some humans are more humans than others…’ In this case, ‘Some U.S. citizens are more citizens than others.’”

Professor Rosa Carrasquillo emphasized that this “natural” disaster is more complex than simply destruction caused by a storm, asserting, “This is a human-made humanitarian crisis. In 2010, Haiti suffered one of the worst natural catastrophes and it was unannounced. The U.S. government then sent immediate help, including hospital boats. In two days, the boats were serving people in the Haitian capital. This year, Puerto Rico experienced a hurricane that was forecasted at least a week before. Two weeks later, the U.S. government has not responded to the natural disaster, creating a humanitarian crisis.”

Celeste Ferre ‘18, a Holy Cross student born and raised in Puerto Rico, wished that the town hall had focused more on how we could immediately and directly help those in need. She shared, “Right now death rates are increasing because hospitals cannot adequately operate due to the lack of water, supplies, electricity. People who are living in the central and coastal regions have no way of communicating and gathering supplies they need to survive. In my opinion, the most important thing right now is helping the people and getting them what they need. This instant is not the time to get too political. Yes the Jones Act, the debt, territory status are all terrible things that I would love to see solved, but right now helping people comes first. If the federal government is not going to help then it should be our job to individually send help (supplies, food, water and money).”

The LALS faculty members are working to educate our campus community as well as demand accountability from media sources and the U.S. federal government. LASO, CASA, HC Fossil Free, and other social justice-minded RSOs have been collaborating on responding to this disaster through the Social Justice Coalition. In partnership with Holy Cross’ Student Government Association, they are continuing to raise money to donate to numerous devastated areas with the Venmo handle @HCDisasterReliefFund.

Although the news cycle may have already forgotten about Puerto Rico, members of the Holy Cross campus are determined to not let our community forget.

If you would look to get involved in maintaining a long-term response to the disaster in Puerto Rico and the surrounding area, contact Professor Maria Rodrigues at mrodrigu@holycross.edu or the Social Justice Coalition at socialjusticecoalition@holycross.edu

Photo Courtesy of NBC news

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