By Chris Schulz
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO –
It’s just before 8 p.m. when we arrive at Iniciativa Comunitaria in the Rio Piedras neighborhood of San Juan.
Every Friday night, Iniciativa conducts Operación Compasión, a nighttime round to serve the local homeless population by providing food, coffee, juice, condoms, clothes, hygiene kits and needle exchange, among other things.
Each week a different member of the organization leads the outreach. Tonight the leader is Emanuel Rivera, a young public health professional, accompanied by his brother Kenneth. Emanuel is already a veteran of the rounds, but this is 17-year-old Kenneth’s first time volunteering. Ivan Figueroa, a local pharmacist who is helping set up but will not join us on the rounds, briefs us about what to expect and what to do while Emmanuel prepares the coffee and juice. Continue reading
By Gwen Aviles
Authored by high-profile former New York State Representative Nelson A. Denis, “War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony” is one of the most well-known books about Puerto Rico’s colonial status. And ever since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico—leaving thousands of people without basic necessities like electricity and water—the book has only become more popular.
Katy O’Donnell, an editor at Nation Books which publishes “War Against All Puerto Ricans,” says they have “seen a 54 percent growth in sales over the same period last year, so there has been a bump post-Maria.”
The increase in book sales seems to demonstrate that people are taking a genuine interest in the U.S. territory—and its relationship to the mainland—as it grapples with the aftermath of the most destructive Caribbean storm in the past 60 years. But like the island, the book has a deep-rooted and tumultuous political past.
By Griselda Flores and Sofi LaLonde
Angie’s Hurricane Maria Experience
“I remember I couldn’t sleep the whole night and day, whatever it was, I don’t even remember like what time it hit and what time it ended. The whole moment is kind of blurry.”
When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, Angie Rosa and her family of four hunkered down in their three-bedroom apartment in Puerta de Tierra, an up-and-coming neighborhood of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, that is experiencing first signs of gentrification. Angie reinforced the apartment’s ocean-facing windows with tape while her husband, Richard, moved their art collection onto their bed and covered it with bed sheets and plastic shower curtains.
The family waited out the hurricane in their sons’ shared bedroom – the safest room in the apartment with the smallest windows. The electricity and water went out before the storm even hit. They waited in darkness.
Marine researcher Loretta Roberson believes rethinking how we grow seaweed has the potential to clean up oceans, replace fossil fuels and protect coastlines from violent weather. She’s headed to Puerto Rico early this year to put her theories to the test.
By Rebecca Fanning
On the southern coast of Puerto Rico, there’s a place where abandoned sugar plantations dot the shoreline, residents of illegal homes dump waste directly into the ocean and blooms of green algae rise to the surface, a visual reminder of the water pollution that’s present here. Known to many as one of the island’s largest estuaries, Jobos Bay is framed by two major power plants and several economically depressed towns. It’s also the site of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, a federally protected area recognized for its seagrass beds, coral reefs and mangroves.
By Grace Austin
The Poet’s Passage is an arts and spoken word café in Old San Juan. It brings together local artists and visitors to listen, socialize, work, and buy goods with inspirational poetry emblazed on them. Owner Lady Lee Andrews prides herself on creating an arts space that continues to make money, even after 10 years, disproving the “starving artist” myth. Andrews also says The Poet’s Passage is a place for those who feel misunderstood to express themselves.
Dario Irizarry performs music and describes memories of his time in India. (Grace Austin/MEDILL)
By Nikita Mandhani
La Perla is an old neighborhood just outside the northern historic city wall of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Stretching about 600 meters along the Caribbean Sea, the neighborhood is tucked between Calle Norzagaray and Fort San Cristobal.
La Perla has been an infamous neighborhood since its early days. In the 19th century, it was the site of a slaughterhouse and home to people — slaves, the homeless and non-white servants — who were required to live outside the city walls.
La Perla’s dwellings were among the first homes built on the waterfront. Today the seaside around Old San Juan is largely home to beautiful restaurants, walkways and hotels catering to tourists, but the hard scrabble neighborhood of La Perla continues to occupy some of the island’s most spectacular coast.
Continue reading La Perla: Vibrant San Juan neighborhood emerges from checkered reputation
By Hannah Rank and Rebekah Frumkin
Jose López sits comfortably in his wicker chair as a February blizzard rages on outside, the wall behind him a collage of Puerto Rican literature and artifacts. When it comes to his homeland of Puerto Rico, López has clear ambitions. He wants his countrymen to decide for themselves what their economic future should be, instead of being saddled with an uncontrollable debt they didn’t solely create.
“Puerto Ricans need a constituent assembly where they decide what they want,” López says. “You could have a level of economic investment in Puerto Rico’s future that could allow it to self-actualize as a nation-state.”
But he knows Puerto Ricans ultimately don’t have the power to decide their future – it lies in the hands of the U.S. government.
By Rebekah Frumkin and Hannah Rank
LA PERLA, Puerto Rico — It’s a sunny February morning in La Perla, a low-income neighborhood beside Old San Juan’s northern city wall. Lifelong resident Lourdes López-Rivera stands on a beachside cliff, considering the Caribbean’s cyan expanse.
“They keep talking about development here,” she says, shaking her head. “Then we’ll have to move.”
By Hannah Rank
Puerto Rico is about to welcome medical marijuana to the island. The action, by executive order, could have potential economic benefits for the debt-ridden country. But it’s also recalling memories of colonial exploitation.
Drug policy activist Rafael Torruella, who is based in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, worries the budding industry will mirror other industries on the island, where foreign investors reap most of the economic reward.
At this point, no medical marijuana is being grown on the island and no dispensaries have been authorized.
“If somebody’s going to grow it, it shouldn’t be pharmaceutical companies that they’re bringing in from outside,” Torruella, who is the executive director of the harm reduction NGO Intercambios Puerto Rico, said. “We wonder where the money’s going to go.”