Mi Isla Bonita

My parents met at Academia del Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart Academy) in San Juan, Puerto Rico when they were in fourth grade. Their story is like many others: they fell in love, wanted to start a family, and moved to the United States to give their future children every opportunity possible. Soon after their arrival in San Antonio, my brothers and I were born. Though they left Puerto Rico, my parents made sure Puerto Rico was never far from our home. My brothers and I were raised bilingual, surrounded by stories about life on the island in a community that incorporated diverse traditions and teachings from Puerto Rican and Texan cultures.

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria devastated nuestra isla bonita, our beautiful island of Puerto Rico. It was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century, and caused catastrophic damage to homes and businesses in the region, triggering the largest blackout in American history. The death toll is unclear, with hundreds of individuals still missing from the count four months later. Nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s residents remain without power. Maria is one of the most expensive natural disasters America has ever seen, causing over $95 billion in damages.

In spite of the magnitude of the disaster, the media has failed Puerto Rico and its people. The Sunday after Maria made landfall, the nation’s five largest political talk shows spent less than one minute of coverage on the Puerto Rico crisis. While coverage spiked the day President Trump visited the island, it fell drastically in the weeks that followed. This pattern continues in the months since, even as Puerto Ricans struggle to survive with the paper towels tossed their way. The lack of coverage is unacceptable. Though some of it is likely attributable to hurricane fatigue on the part of the media, much of the lack of coverage is rooted in bias against individuals who don’t live on the mainland, low income individuals, and people of color. Though the nightly news has forgotten Puerto Rico, my family ensured I never will, and you shouldn’t either.

The critical conditions on the island have forced many to relocate in order to find jobs and provide food, shelter, and water for their families. They’ve been forced to start over with next to nothing, leaning on the good will of others without long-term prospects for housing or employment. The little help Puerto Ricans have been given is fading fast — on January 30, FEMA announced they would stop all new food and water shipments to the island, taking the Puerto Rican government by surprise and underscoring the need for community members to contribute to recovery efforts.

As San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said yesterday, while describing her experiences advocating for Puerto Rico: “In a time of crisis, you either stand up or stand down. Those are your two only choices.” Though I have a full schedule of campaigning for judge and running my own law firm, I’ve stepped back when possible to stand up and support Hurricane Maria relief efforts here in San Antonio.

I’m a third generation member of the Puerto Rican Heritage Society (PRHS) in San Antonio, which is doing tremendous work to support people both here in the city and who remain on the island. PRHS was founded as a non-profit in 1984 with the mission of promoting and maintaining the Puerto Rican culture and traditions alive in the city. Since Hurricane Maria, they’ve mobilized a team to lead relief efforts in our city. I’ve committed to provide free legal services and consulting to help, and today, I’m asking that you join us by pitching in however you can.

The Puerto Rican Heritage Society is working to connect new residents in Bexar County & surrounding areas with available services and resources. Here’s how you can help:

Volunteer to support their efforts by accepting calls, organizing supplies, managing data, and more.
Contribute resources for new community members, including:

  • Public and/or private housing options
  • Employment support: resume review, professional development trainings, licensure or certification processes for various professions, jobs for individuals who are bilingual or speak only Spanish
  • Non-perishable food
  • Clothing and furniture
  • Transportation
  • Legal services

If you’re able to provide any of these, or know anyone who can, you can connect with the Puerto Rican Heritage Society online. You can also donate and join their mailing list through their website. Together, I know we can make a difference.

My parents came to San Antonio in search of a place to build a family, something they managed only because of a community that allowed them to grow and prosper. While my parents worked at Wendy’s and various entry-level jobs, my grandparents and our neighbors looked after my brothers and me, ensuring we had food on the table, shoes on our feet, & plenty of time for schoolwork. When the time came, as adults, we were lucky to support my mom as she pursued higher education, graduating in 2014 from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

I’m paying it forward by ensuring these families, like my own, have the opportunity to fulfill their own American Dream. I’ve chosen to stand up for the people of Puerto Rico. I hope you will too.

Monique Diaz