• Christine Dickason

#PRSeLevanta — but no thanks to Trump

As Hurricane Florence threatens the Eastern shoreline of the United States, President Trump remarked at a public briefing this week that the U.S. government was fully prepared for the storm. His proof? He referred to the government's response to Hurricane Maria, calling it an "incredible, unsung success."

How dare you, Mr. President. How dare you claim that nearly 3,000 lives lost is a success.

In March 2018, I traveled to Puerto Rico, along with several Obama White House alumni, including Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, to assist with restoring schools damaged by Maria. It was my first time on the island, and I was not sure what to expect.

When I arrived in Puerto Rico, I was shocked to see the devastation just a few minutes drive from the relatively normal-looking tourist areas of San Juan. Our team worked in Cataño—a mere 10-minute Uber ride from the crowded beaches of the touristy Condado neighborhood—which found 60 percent of its population homeless after the storm. I met children at the local elementary school who told me that they just had power back in their homes within the last few weeks—six months after the storm hit the island. It was clear from just visiting one community that the recovery efforts had not achieved their goals and that much more needed to be done.

But what struck me so deeply about my time in Puerto Rico was the resiliency and kindheartedness of the people. Despite their terrible losses and hardships, the Cataño community worked together to ensure the elementary school we volunteered at was presentable before we arrived. Every person I met showed incredible hospitality and warmth, often welcoming me into their homes—or arms—without knowing a single thing about me. And, perhaps nothing is more joyful than watching hundreds of children sing and dance to "Despacito."

How can a community who has experienced so much loss continue to be so kind? That question lingers in my mind to this day.

Children play in the newly painted courtyard at La Escuela de la Comunidad Isaac del Rosario.

So, to hear the President of the United States claim that the government did its job to help our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico is despicable. What about the delay and inadequacy of FEMA's response—something they acknowledged themselves in a recent report? What about the hiring of a contractor who delivered just 50,000 of the promised 30 million meals? What about the thousands of homes in Puerto Rico still covered in blue tarps? What about the clear effects racism had on the government's response? What about the nearly 3,000 lives lost?

The U.S. government failed the Puerto Rican people. With public health crises lingering on the island, the government must act to help alleviate these major problems. Moreover, government officials must approach the recovery of the island as an opportunity to make it more resilient and equitable for all people, so that a future storm does not cost the island thousands of more lives. The government must consider how communities of color are most affected by extreme weather events such as Hurricane Maria and enact policies to remedy these disproportionate effects. Our country’s “legacy on race and disaster recovery” is truly shameful, but we have an opportunity to change that now.

The Puerto Rican people deserved so much better—and they still do. To learn more and get involved in the rebuilding of the island, check out ConPRmetidos, Brigada Solidaria del Oeste, #ChefsForPuertoRico, and Hispanics in Philanthropy.

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