Students reflect on Puerto Rico relief

Allyson Waller

Ana Sobrino’s family has endured broken sheds, falling roofs and no access to water as they readjust to life in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. 

Sobrino, a speech and language pathology junior, grew up in Puerto Rico, where the majority of her family resides. Sobrino said the lack of federal relief extended to Puerto Rico has proved difficult for her family members.  

“The majority of them are trying to get to the mainland United States because they just know that for the next two or three months they won’t be able to do anything,” Sobrino said.

According to CNN, more than 10,000 federal personnel have set foot on the island, compared to the more than 30,000 sent to Texas and Florida. 

Graduate student Juan Cardoza-Oquendo, who has family in Puerto Rico, said this disaster has revealed the disparity between the benefits received by Puerto Rico — a U.S. territory — and states on the mainland.

“I think (Puerto Rico’s) relationship with the U.S. brought some benefits,” Cardoza-Oquendo said. “But the hurricane is peeling back all of those benefits.” 

Cardoza-Oquendo said some of his relatives, who live in the San Juan metro area, have already returned to work. The situation is different outside the city, where people are still unable to communicate and roads are blocked by debris, Cardoza-Oquendo said.

Graduate student Michaela Machicote, who studies race in Puerto Rico, said the rate of federal relief response is primarily because of identity politics, or how someone’s quality of life depends on how the world sees them.

“Racially and culturally, (the U.S. sees) Puerto Rico as an exotic other,” Machicote said. 

Starting this week, UT student organizations FLORES and the Public Affairs Alliance for Communities of Color will be collecting items to donate to FLORES president Nikki Lopez said in an email that she hopes the donation drive will prompt students to help the island in its time of need. Donations will be collected at SAC 2.112, GWB 2.104 and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs through Oct. 19.

Sobrino said she has hope her country will recover thanks to the strength of Puerto Rico and its people. 

“I would say that we’re a very resilient culture,” Sobrino said. “My grandma was helping her neighbors to get electricity. They’re all working together to get food. Her neighbors help her to get fuel for her generator that’s on her roof. They all work together to give each other supplies, doing the best that they can.”