Things That Matter

Some Puerto Ricans Plan On Leaving The Island To Give Their Family A Better Life, While Others Tell Us They Feel Guilty Leaving

Nelson Feliciano fills 16 empty soda bottles and milk jugs with brownish-yellow-colored water from the Ojo de Agua, a swollen stream in Aguadilla, a municipality located on the northwestern tip of Puerto Rico. “We’ll use this to bathe,” he tells mitú in Spanish, alluding to his five daughters, ages 5, 12, 13, 15 and 18. They’re the reason Feliciano makes the mountainous trek under the searing sun once a day, and why he is considering leaving his island for the U.S. mainland.

From 2006 to 2015, more than 700,000 people fled debt-ridden Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States, to cities like Orlando, New York, Philadelphia and Miami. Many more are expected to leave in the wake of catastrophic storms. One month after Hurricane Maria’s 155 MPH winds shook the entire archipelago, 80 percent of Puerto Ricans still lack electricity and more than a third of the people don’t have potable water. All over the once lush land lies rubble of homes and businesses, battered, just like the fallen and leafless trees that sit beside them. Countless homes, restaurants, gas stations, shops and jobs were also lost.

According to experts, the massive humanitarian, climate and debt crises will prompt hundreds of thousands more to leave — many are expected to never return. In the three weeks that planes have been taking off from San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, already 10,000 residents have left. Puerto Ricans, who have an imposed second-class kind of citizenship, where they are able to serve in the U.S. military but not allowed to vote for the president or elect voting senators or representatives in the U.S. Congress, can legally migrate to any of the U.S. states. But the decision to do so remains complicated and difficult for most on the island.

“If I were alone, I’d stay. But I have young children, who don’t understand the situation, and us, who know that the hospitals aren’t functioning, if I have the opportunity to leave, I will,” Feliciano says.

We spoke with several Puerto Ricans on the island about their future. Here’s what they had to say.

Shakira, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi / PR on The Map)

“I’m staying. I think a lot of people are leaving the island because they can’t take the situation or to be with family. But I’m staying because I want to be part of bettering my island. If we all leave, there are few left to make change. I want to be a part of the new beginning here.”

Alba DeJesus, Hato Rey

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I don’t want to sound like a privileged class that says ‘Puerto Rico Se Levanta,’ because there are classes that can say that and see that and others that can’t, right, so I don’t want to perpetuate that. It’s intense what happened, and it’s intense what other people are living. They’re at zero. But I don’t want to leave, and I don’t want my family to leave. It’s a hard job, and it’s a job that will require us to really see what solidarity looks like.”

Nelson Rodriguez, Aguadilla

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m going to try to fix my home. It’s not going to be fixed in one day, but if I work on it a little bit every day, then eventually it will be. Things aren’t going to be good, and it’s going to take a long time to rebuild. It will take years and years. If I can’t rebuild it, then I’ll go to the U.S. I have family in Boston and the Bronx.”

Lydia Osorio, Loíza

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“Honestly, my perspective is clear on leaving Puerto Rico. And it’s not just because of what’s happening now with Maria. No. It’s because what we are going through with the government. It’s forcing us to immigrate even if we don’t want to. You look for a job, and there isn’t one, or you have to wait or it’s complicated. There’s a lot of factors that go into play for a Puerto Rican to immigrate. If I go, I’d go to Orlando, Florida. My dad and my oldest daughter, who is 16, are there. And that’s where I’m at.”

Rubén, Vega Baja

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’ll stay here till I die.”

Sophia Rivera, Guaynabo

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m in college, and I’m going to stay studying here. I see myself at least helping as much as I can. If I’m outside, I will help as much as I can. This island, and everything in it, has helped me be the person that I am, and if I would be in another place, I wouldn’t be this good person. I know I’m a good person because I’m giving everything that I have to my community, and that’s the biggest opportunity that I could get here. It’s giving what I can to the people who need it.”

Joel Ortiz, Carolina (by way of the Dominican Republic)

(Photo Credit: Kat Lazo / PR on The Map)

“I would prefer to stay here and live here, but the situation is very bad. Even if you want to leave, it’s very hard to find tickets.”

Joselin, Old San Juan

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“It’s a compromise we have to make to stay, to stay to uplift, to construct. We don’t just want to reconstruct the country. The country that is behind us didn’t work. We need a new one.”

Vanessa Foy, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I won’t leave my country. I was born here, I grew up here and here I’ll wait to die.”

Genisis Quiñones, Loíza

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I can understand why people are leaving. There’s no money. …We’ve been thinking about leaving even before Irma or Maria happened, but I think my mom wants to stay because she doesn’t want to leave her father. … We don’t want to leave just because this happened and there aren’t any jobs. No, just because things are bad and then when things get better we want to come, ‘cause that’s gonna look bad, you know? We’re Puerto Rican, and we’re supposed to stay with the people that we love, even though things get bad. I think we are going to stay.”

Luis, Aguadilla

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m not leaving. I was born here, I lived my whole life here and I will die here. Where would I even go? To the cemetery. That’s where I’ll go.”

Diana Cassanova, Aguadilla

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“A lot of people are leaving, and that’s a big mistake. If it’s hard to survive here that it’s cheaper, most of these people are going to end up in a shelter because the rents out there [in the U.S.] are ridiculous. I cannot survive no more in New York. I did it for 30 years. Once I retired, I cannot survive on my social security. So I came back here. And I won’t leave. I don’t want to be a burden to my kids. I’m here.”

Mariana, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi / PR on The Map)

“I am staying for now, but I lost my job, and so I need to leave to make money to return with more competitiveness and more money. We can’t judge the people who are leaving because of necessity because it’s a reality. We are going through a humanitarian crisis and an economic crisis, that already existed but now intensified with what just happened. If I have the opportunity to leave and work for a month, I’d do it. But ultimately it is necessary for us to stay, and, if we leave, for us to return so that we can continue to work for our community.”

Gabriel Díaz Rivera, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m planning on staying. That’s why we are doing what we are doing, to construct a Puerto Rico for ourselves. The rich and the millionaires will stay on the island. … And it’s important for us to stay to enjoy our terrain and to have a greater influence in the fixing of this country and getting out of this crisis, to create a country that’s for the people and not for the same small few that has benefited.”

Reporting for this article was made possible through PR on The Map, a Latinx independent media team put together by grassroots organizer and former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Rosa Clemente to produce unfiltered, unapologetic and intergenerational coverage on Puerto Rico. Donate to PR on The Map here.

READ: Puerto Rico Is Completely Flooded And Could Go Months Without Electricity. Here’s How People In The U.S. Are Uniting Beautifully To Help

Let us know how you are helping out the people devastated by natural disasters in the Caribbean and Mexico in the comments.

Bad Bunny And Marc Anthony Will Rebuild Baseball Parks In Puerto Rico Destroyed By Hurricane María

Entertainment

Bad Bunny And Marc Anthony Will Rebuild Baseball Parks In Puerto Rico Destroyed By Hurricane María

badbunnypr / marcanthony / Instagram

While it’s been two years since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the recovery efforts aren’t finishing anytime soon. Many people on the island are still trying to put their lives back together, which includes rebuilding homes, churches, and schools. What many might not know is the recovery efforts have also included revitalizing baseball fields on the island where Puerto Ricans once played. 

Among the destruction that both Hurricanes Irma and Maria left in 2017 is more than 300 small league baseball parks that were found inoperative. As a result, many community ball programs were essentially eliminated and youths on the island were essentially left in the dark without fields to play the sport.

Leading the revitalization efforts are Puerto Rico’s own two native sons: Bad Bunny and Marc Anthony. The duo, along with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a U.S. community development non-profit, has teamed up for a new program called Play Ball Again. The purpose of the initiative will be to help rebuild some of those damaged baseball fields and facilitate local programming for 17,500 youth. It is expected that in total, about 300 facilities will be impacted by this initiative. 

The duo hopes the contributions play a huge role in bringing not only baseball back to the island but a place where people can escape from their worries. 

Credit: @laguerradelbsn / Twitter

The initiative is special to both of them not only because they’re helping youth but they hoping these recovery efforts go a long way in bringing back a sense of community. Maestro Cares Foundation, which Anthony owns, is putting money towards the program with a goal of restoring “normalcy” in Puerto Rico.

“Sports and recreation activities help restore a sense of normalcy, in the wake of disasters,” Anthony, who is among the program’s earliest supporters, said in a press release.” Baseball isn’t just a game in this context. It helps young people do better in school and improves family life and health in difficult circumstances.”

Maestro Cares, along with the Good Bunny Foundation and UNICEF USA, will all be putting forth $300,000 of what LISC expects to be more than $1.6 million in baseball field renovations. Joining the efforts is Chicago Cubs second baseman Javi Baez with his Cubs Charities, which will donate an additional $100,000 in support. This also includes the Kohler Company, which made a donation to fund bathroom fixtures for onsite facilities.

“Two years after these devastating storms, the need to rebuild the island remains strong,” Báez, whose family is from the Bayamón area, said in a press release. “Cubs Charities understood the need and has stepped up to the plate to help restore baseball fields and give kids throughout Puerto Rico the opportunity to play the game. This rebuild will make a big difference for the community, and I am proud to continue my efforts to restore the island.”

The recovery efforts in Puerto Rico have been long and tiresome but the fuel behind the revitalization has always been the people. 

 Credit: UNICEF / MAESTRO CARES

While time may have passed, many on the island of Puerto Rico are still trying to get back on their feet. For Bad Bunny, he knows firsthand the power that activities like baseball have on youth. Growing up, baseball was part of his life and much of his time was spent at many of the ballparks that were destroyed in 2017. 

“Growing up on the island I spent a lot of time in some of these parks that are now destroyed,” says Bad Bunny, whose Good Bunny Foundation is part of the initiative. “In parks similar to these, a lot of great athletes like Roberto Clemente, Yadier Molina, Roberto Alomar, Edgar Martinez, and Ivan Rodriguez grew up. Our commitment is to rebuild these parks so that we can help new athletes grow. This is the first step for the rebirth of sports within the island.”

The rebirth of Puerto Rico is taking time but in that process, there is a sense that an even stronger community will come out of this disaster. While simple things like baseball may not seem significant, it’s a part of the fabric of Puerto Rico and displays the love that is shared playing on a field. This rebirth has already started as construction on the baseball field is underway and most field renovations are set for completion by the 2020 season.

READ: The Death of Four-Year-Old Noah Cuatro Has Rocked the Los Angeles Community As They Come to Grips With the Failure of Child Protective Services

This Is How Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Plans To Tackle Poverty In The US

Things That Matter

This Is How Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Plans To Tackle Poverty In The US

Since making her way to Capitol Hill at the start of the year, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been one of the most progressive voices in Congress — and her recently-unveiled policy package to tackle US poverty assures that her vision for the country hasn’t gotten any less bold.

“I am both energized and humbled to introduce legislation today to build upon the most transformative programs of the last century,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.

The first-year lawmaker’s legislative package is called “A Just Society,” and it includes six individual bills.

ocasio2018 / Instagram

First, the Puerto Rican congresswoman aims to update the way the US government currently calculates poverty and determines eligibility for welfare. At the moment, a single person is considered “poor” in the US if they make less than $12,500 a year. If someone makes more than that, then they are unable to benefit from programs like Medicaid, even though they could still be struggling gravely economically.  Through the proposal, called the Recognizing Poverty Act, Ocasio-Cortez would prompt the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to modify the equation so that it takes more details into account, including a person’s geographic cost of living, what portion of their income they spend on health insurance or child care, and spending toward utilities. This act would undoubtedly result in a rise in the number of people who live at or below the federal poverty level and would widen people’s eligibility to welfare programs, like Medicaid, food stamps and family planning services.

According to the U.S. Census, about 40 million Americans live in poverty, a harrowing reality that the congresswoman doesn’t think many people in the country know or understand. “If we can acknowledge how many Americans are actually in poverty I think that we can start to address some of the more systemic issues in our economy,” she told NPR.

Her policy bundle includes proposals that could help the country’s most marginalized communities, including immigrants and people who were formerly incarcerated. For instance, her Mercy in Re-entry Act proposes that individuals who have been convicted of a criminal offense would be ensured access to all federal public benefits. Presently, many states ban people with felony drug convictions from receiving welfare and food stamps.

Even more, formerly incarcerated individuals often struggle to obtain government-issued IDs. 

ocasio2018 / Instagram

Additionally, her so-called Embrace Act would guarantee federal public benefits access to anyone, regardless of their immigration status. Currently, undocumented immigrants, including DACA holders, are not eligible to receive most federal public benefits, including benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), regular Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). They’re also ineligible for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and are prohibited from purchasing unsubsidized health coverage on ACA exchanges. Still, these individuals might be able to take advantage of some benefits that are deemed “necessary to protect life or guarantee safety in dire situations,” such as emergency Medicaid, access to treatment in hospital emergency rooms, or access to healthcare and nutrition programs under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). However, rumors that the Trump administration is considering blocking immigrants using public benefits from getting their green cards is currently halting the most vulnerable in these communities from using those life-saving benefits.

“From the New Deal to the Great Society, we have shown time and again that our nation is capable of implementing big ideas and bold solutions that match the scale of the challenges we face,” Ocasio-Cortez, 29, said in her statement. “We must once again recognize the breadth and consequences of poverty in this country and work together to ensure a path forward to economic freedom for everyone.”

Her wide-ranging proposal also considers tenants and workers.

ocasio2018 / Instagram

The Place to Prosper Act would tackle the housing crisis by introducing a 3 percent national cap on annual rent increases, among other provisions. Meanwhile, the Uplift Our Workers Act would prompt the Department of Labor and the Office of Management and Budget to create a “worker-friendly score” for federal contractors.

Finally, the congressional freshman also proposed a resolution dubbed A Just Society Guarantees the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for All that would request the Senate to ratify the U.N. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

While critics have called Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal a “radical, extreme-left agenda,” the congresswoman believes it could effectively tackle the US’ poverty crisis and help the people of one of the wealthiest nations in the world to live a life beyond destitution. 

“In a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person should be too poor to live,” Ocasio-Cortez says in a video introducing her legislation. “That’s what a just society means to me.” 

Ocasio-Cortez’s legislative package is her latest ambitious proposal. Back in February, when the congressional newbie was just one month on the job, she introduced the much-talked-about Green New Deal, a series of proposals backed by leading Democrats to tackle climate change.

Read: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Made A Student Loan Payment During Meeting To Prove A Point About Corruption