By Daniel Santiago
It was 5 a.m. but nobody would blame you for believing it was midnight. Maybe it was foreshadowing, God’s sick way of saying “the sun ain’t gonna shine for a long… long… time.” There was a throbbing ring since calling it a whistle would imply that it was comforting. Outside was covered by the crashing rain washing away all my childhood memories. “Things would be fine,” I thought while reading my book. I was convinced that the Puerto Ricans were going to survive the nuclear holocaust with the roaches. I kept this mind frame for a couple of days but when our family went to the streets and I saw the endless miles of cars on the side of the road trying to get signal to see if “abuelita” was still making “arroz y habichuela” or if she was another rotting corpse being eaten by the maggots, I wasn’t so optimistic. It’s been about six months since Hurricane Maria, and I still can’t forget. I can’t seem to shut up about it. Despite not wanting to be the Puerto Rican writer, three of the stories I did for The Seminole Scribe ended up being about Puerto Rico. And, at the end of the day, all I have are three lessons I want to share.
‘People make institutions, not vice versa’ – Shere Hite
Sadly, the Puerto Ricans were the ones that learned this the hard way. In an article by Politico titled, “How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico,” it found that, while it only took 10 days for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to approve permanent disaster work at Texas; it took over 43 days for Puerto Rico. The official death count of 64 now is thought to be incorrect thanks to the investigative work at The New York Times, the real number being 1,052. The initial low death count hurt Puerto Rico since it seemed that the island didn’t need as much help as it really did. It only took six days for FEMA to deploy 73 helicopters in Texas, helicopters being instrumental in helping with the relief effort. In comparison, it took more than three weeks for 70 helicopters to be deployed at Puerto Rico. Now, if we’re being fair, the situation in Puerto Rico wasn’t the easiest. Of course, it would have been easier supplying relief efforts to people in Texas than to an island that’s 100 miles away. Also, Puerto Rico geography makes it difficult to reach some of the less urban areas in the mountains, and, even more, the Puerto Rican government’s lack of preparation made it even harder to organize properly. With all these examples, we can see how institutions can fail people time and time again. If half of Puerto Rico waited for FEMA, then Puerto Rico would have 50 percent less of their population. What really saved Puerto Rico, what saved me, were the communities that were formed. The whole time I was in Puerto Rico, I never went hungry. It wasn’t because a megalomaniac wannabe LeBron came in and scored a three pointer with some toilet paper. It was thanks to Dona Jacqueline who on her little gas stove cooked for my whole street and the street next to mine.
In Puerto Rico you would hear a lot, and I mean a lot, of people complaining about the government. Oh the government is full with criminals, oh the government just keeps hurting the working class, oh it always make the same goddam promises (I can’t imagine an American ever relating with this) but then they just go on with their lives forever accepting, “Que las cosas van estar mala.” I don’t judge them at all; on the contrary, I completely understand them. Who can go full MLK on the broken education department when you’re a single mother with kids that haven’t learned their ABCs? But this line of thinking is cancerous and is what leads to governments crumbling down. People forget that we can make real change on our own and force the government to our own end.
One example that is fresh on everybody’s mind is the March For Our Lives activists. Agree or disagree with them, you have to admit that they have turned what would’ve been just another shooting to people actually gathering to have a real dialogue and strive for change. Now let me ask you something? Were these marches organized by a group of bearded intellectual with PHD in political science and hundred of hours interning in congress? No not at all. The marches were organized by teenagers, TEENAGERS! These kids have probably made the same horrible mistakes on snapchat that I have done, yet they are bringing hope to all of the people in America. These kids and the event in Puerto Rico just show that we must stop being dependent on the system and depend more on each other.
‘All that glitter is not gold’ – William Shakespeare
After some time in Puerto Rico, I finally arrive in Florida, and it was a like a goddamn sugar rush. I went to the comic book store and wasted $20 on some overrated venom comics, I rushed to my cousins wifi to see what I’ve missed on YouTube, and then I turned on my brother’s Play Station bowing down to the ever-so-merciful god that is Netflix. I went from wondering if all of my friends and family I loved have died; to feeling like if I was in living in the goddamn Gucci store. It literally felt like going from 0 to 100, like winning the lottery, like getting a real second chance at life. So naturally after an hour of this all I wanted to do was go back to Puerto Rico oh and also I was completely miserable.
I’ve read this book titled, “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger specifically the cheerfully named chapter “War makes us animal.” It discusses Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was suffering through a civil war and had been overtaken by the Serbian army. In the chapter, we meet Ahmetašević who now is a prominent Bosnian journalist and was 17 when the war started. An artillery round crashed into her parents apartment where she was hit with shrapnel of the artillery round. She went through reconstructive surgery on her leg without anesthesia. Six months later into the siege, Ahmetašević was evacuated to Italy and although she was safe in Italy, and finally healing from her wounds, she then started to figure out a way to go back. When the author asked why she would do that, Ahmetašević explained, “I Missed being that close to people, I missed being loved in that way.” This is exactly what I felt. Despite having everything I ever wanted, there was something it never gave me. It didn’t gave me a group of people that I loved so much that I would go back to what was basically a disaster zone to tell them how much I loved all of them.
People might say, for example, that if a person who has lived in poverty gets a million dollars, he will obviously be happier, and that just because I had a bad experience with materialism, it doesn’t mean it’s always true that materialism is bad. Where I would answer that I actually agree with him. That person would be happier and that my experience doesn’t cover all experience. Where I differ is that poverty guy would be happier depending on where he spends the money. For example, I bought myself a hundred dollar bike. The bike would be defined as a material gain but it helped me a lot through those tough times. That is because despite other material things the bicycle gave me positive experiences. In a 2005 research paper, “Experientialism, Materialism, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” it states: “Research from my own laboratory indicates that allocating discretionary resources in pursuit of life experiences makes people happier than pursuing the acquisition of material possessions.” So, if for example, the poor person buys himself a gold plated Lamborghini and gets himself two, emphasis on the air quotes, “actresses,” I will disagree that he will live a fulfilling life. But if he buys himself an education, a trip to Italy, or helping his own community, then yes his life will be much better. Because he is buying things that will give him longer lasting feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment unlike buying a new car every year which in the end will fulfill you in less amount of time.
‘Life is rough so you gotta be tough’ – Johnny Cash
One aspect that is never discussed about being an immigrant is that you do arrive leaving almost everything but that you also bring almost everything with you. Hopes and dreams, a foreign culture and language, the list goes on. For me, other than bringing my excellent genetics; I brought all my regrets and self-doubt. Should I have left my mom and dad back home? Should I have stayed and helped Puerto Rico? Why me? Am I going to be able to do it? People who have gone through tough situations always end up saying what if, I should’ve, and I could’ve. Hell, everyday life still brings the what if, I should’ve, and I could’ve. Just ask your friend who listens to way too much Adele. Sometimes life just comes in your house, asks you if he could crash on your sofa for a couple of days, and then comes in for dinner with your ex. Nobody is free from this but everybody has two choices. You can what if, I should’ve, I could’ve or I’ll forget about it, l’ll improve, I’ll get better. (Those are actually six choices but you get the point.) I don’t have any scientific evidence to prove this. I just have the experience of coming out the other way.
Now it’s 8 a.m. and it’s bright as a baby’s smile. Some might say its God’s loving way of saying Romans 8:18. There’s a father John misty song coming out of my iPhone’s speaker. Outside on the streets there are memories born every day that will never leave the tar on which it first set foot. At first, I thought I was going to completely hate it. Counting the days till get back to my “isla” with a rain cloud hanging over my head. I kept this mind set for a couple of days, but then I met Sofia, Shantal, Thaliana, Kimberly, Deja, Milca, Rosa and whoever else I’m forgetting. You might read all of those names and thinks that I’m some stereotype Latin lover. Which is not true, I am flattered that you thought that, but no I’m just a man who loves beautiful people. Beautiful people that will forever be ingrained within me, all thanks to four weeks of hell. It’s been about six months and I still can’t forget. I can’t seem to shut up about it. I ended up doing three stories focused on Puerto Rico despite not wanting to be the Puerto Rican writer. And it sure is a nice day for a guy who forgot the meaning of the word hope.