Donald Trump Said Puerto Rico Wants ‘Everything To Be Done For Them,’ But These Women Are Proving Him Wrong

credit: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi / PR on The Map

On a Wednesday afternoon, three weeks after Hurricane Maria’s ferocious winds ravaged Puerto Rico, the people of the northeastern municipality of Loíza are rebuilding. On one street, two men hammer a metal roof onto a community building and an elder clears debris from the sidewalk. Not far from them, a family is providing their neighbors with hand ringers to wash clothes while a clown is lifting the spirits of about 30 children.

According to President Donald Trump, the people of this island “want everything to be done for them,” but everywhere you turn, community members, not federal officials, are the ones coming to each other’s aid.

 

Mayor Julia M. Nazario stands in front of the U.S., Puerto Rican and Loíza flags. | Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map

“Even though the hurricane made a disaster in Puerto Rico, it also brought us together,” Genisis Quiñones, a 16-year-old student from the coastal town, tells mitú. “We’ve been sharing food. We’ve been sharing water.”

Without the help of neighbors, people in municipalities like this one, where more than one month after the storm hit there is no water, electricity or communication, risk death. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico’s residents pay federal income taxes and are entitled to recovery aid. While FEMA has arrived in Loíza, Mayor Julia M. Nazario tell us their assistance is “not sufficient.” According to her, the town has 44 communities and only 31 of them have received FEMA boxes. Each household, regardless of size, is given one package, which consists of a can of beans, one can of Chef Boyardee, a pack of crackers and a fruit cup that says “store in room temperature.”

“They’ll eat that in one sitting,” Nazario says, also noting that a family cannot receive another box until every barrio has been served. “I still have 13 communities to give to before I can return to Piñones, where I started giving boxes three days ago.”

As Puerto Rico faces apocalyptic humanitarian, climate and debt crises, it’s important to remember that, despite the messages being sent by the White House, federal aid is absent or substandard on much of the island, and communities are largely surviving because of the people — many of them women.

Here are some of the ways everyday Boricua women are helping out.

1. Diana Casanova

Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map

In Aguadilla, Diana Casanova is helping her neighbors any way she can. She uses rainwater to make coffee for residents every morning and cook dinners that feed about seven homes each night. “Today, I made a beef soup. I had to wait in line for almost two hours to get one steak to make it, but I got it. And I’m thankful for that,” she tell us. On a previous day, Casanova learned that an elderly lesbian couple in her barrio had been downing their medicine with contaminated water, so she waited hours in a supermarket line to purchase a 12-pack of water priced at $18.99. “I would not pay it for myself, but I did it for that lady. They need that,” she said. And it’s not just people she’s helping. Casanova, an animal lover, is also caring for hungry stray pets. “I have never considered what I have as mine. Those are blessings, and if I get it, it’s to be shared,” she said.

2. Sophia, Mariana, Shakira

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

Sophia, Mariana and Shakira are three young women who are members of a brigade that is clearing streets from debris throughout Puerto Rico. Using their hands and machetes, the women cut down trees and branches that are blocking traffic. “This hurricane affected us a lot, and if we don’t start doing the work ourselves, who will do it for us? We have to start. There are a lot of us, and little by little we can clean our communities,” says Shakira.

3. Sandra Ramos Rey

Photo Credit: Kat Lazo / PR on The Map

In Vega Baja, in north central Puerto Rico, Sandra Ramos Rey and her husband have connected their generator to seven homes in their barrio. Between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., cables that extend thousands of feet allow for families to fan their children, cool water bottles and light rooms. “I love my neighbors…we have to keep helping them,” Ramos Rey said.

4. Genisis Quiñones

Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map

In Loíza, Quiñones’ family has been sharing food with their neighbors. But the teenager is also lending and giving away her clothes to those in her community who lost everything during Hurricanes Irma and Maria. “We, too, are in need, but we’re still sharing,” she says.

5. Joselin

Photo Credit: Kat Lazo / PR on The Map

In Río Piedras, a part of San Juan, Joselin is a member of a group making and providing free breakfast for the neighborhood. They serve about 150 people, many of them homeless or children, a day from Monday through Saturday. “A lot of people don’t have a way to cook their food, so it’s not just that there isn’t sufficient foods at supermarkets,” she says. According to her, there is a church in the area that serves lunch and another center supplying dinner, but without her group, the people of Río Piedras who don’t have the means to purchase food at the few fast food restaurants that are open would go without breakfast.

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 about other heroines aiding their communities in Puerto Rico in the comments.