Nearly five months after a Category 5 hurricane rampaged through Puerto Rico, most residents still lack electricity and face shortages of health care items and basic necessities, according to Bloomington-Normal residents who have relatives on the island.
They will relate some of these stories as part of a Puerto Rico Teach-In on Friday from 3-5 p.m. at Illinois State University.
Speaking on GLT's Sound Ideas, Stephanie Rodriguez, a senior at ISU and one of the event organizers, said, “Events like this help to bring awareness. You get that personal feel. (You) see people actually affected by this crisis rather than, oh, it’s them, it’s them.”
The Puerto Rican energy secretary estimates it will be June before electrical power is restored throughout the island.
Daynali Flores Rodriguez, an Hispanic studies professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, said her mother is one of those still without electricity at home.
“She just wants to be able to prepare her morning coffee in her own house. All the little things we take for granted, she cannot do on a regular basis. She says she wants to get back to her normal routine, but there is no normal routine anymore.”
Stephanie Rodriguez said her father is facing similar struggles. He had just moved into a new home when Hurricane Maria hit last September. He also doesn’t have power currently. He considered moving to Florida, as did one of his cousins, who could no longer cope with the aftermath of the hurricane.
Hospitals still are not operating at capacity and are using generators.
Rodriguez, a member of the ISU Spanish Club and editor of the school paper, The Vidette, complained that news about Puerto Rico’s plight has dropped off the radar of U.S. news organizations and that aid from the U.S. government has been slow in arriving.
“Most people don’t know we’re U.S. citizens. That is part of the problem,” Rodriguez said.
“Three million people on the island were left without food, left without water and after a while people (outside the island) stopped caring,” Rodriguez said. “We aren’t a state, but we are under the power of the U.S."
Flores Rodriguez noted that Puerto Rico has more residents than 21 U.S. states.
“We are not taking that into consideration,” she added.
She described the power outage in Puerto Rico as one of “the biggest blackouts” in history.
“If we compared that with any other states, this would be news over and over and we are fading out,” Flores Rodriguez added.
Stephanie Rodriguez said she plans to speak at the Teach-In about how emotionally draining it is for Puerto Ricans in the states to monitor from afar the situation their relatives are facing on the island.
“I want people to understand it’s hard and it’s real, and I want students to see it affects them, because Puerto Rico is part of the U.S.,” she said.
The Teach-In will be held in the Escalante Room of Hewitt/Manchester Hall at ISU.
In conjunction with the Teach-In, there will be a benefit concert at the Normal Theater on Monday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. to raise funds for Puerto Rican relief. Local musicians will provide the entertainment.
Flores Rodriguez said he concert was the idea of sociology students at University High School seeking to conduct a community project.
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