special projects

Holy & Wild: Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

THE POWER OF NARRATIVE 

One of the most powerful ways to remain whole, as an individual and as a community, is to exercise the power of your own narrative 

Holy & Wild: Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria is a meditation on the resilience of the human spirit told through the stories of sixteen survivors of one of the deadliest natural disasters that the world has experienced.

Seventy-four days after the hurricane made landfall on the island of Puerto Rico, I landed on the island of my birth. I wanted to visit relatives and friends. I wanted to bring relief. I wanted to see with my own eyes the devastation I was watching from hundreds of miles away. I wanted to bear witness to those who survived. With no electricity and access to clean water and no food, people were eating canned foods or military packets, if they were lucky.

Learning about the mounting food insecurity–one hundred percent of the farms were destroyed on an island that already imported 80 percent of its food– I traveled with two million non-GMO seeds I raised in donations from a small group of friends.

I traveled with a friend and fellow television host, Rebecca Gitana Torres, who had gone on an earlier relief mission a month after the hurricane roared through the island. It was an organic collaboration with Rebecca, whoever had the camera in hand took the photographs, or set up for the video interviews. We asked questions but mostly listened.

Ruben Ramos, a coffee and banana farmer from the mountain town of Utuado, was our driver. His kindness, compassion and patience continues to inspire. He would make sure we had breakfast by the time we woke and water and anything else we needed as we trekked the island. It is remarkable in hindsight that although his farm and his town was totaled, and he had no electricity, that he would put himself through listening to the traumatic stories all over again.

We drove for two weeks from San Juan to Condado then Luquillo, took the ferry to Vieques, and back to Patillas, Maunabo, Yabucoa, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, Utuado, and La Perla, listening to stories of survival and giving away seeds. Armed with an iPhone 8, packets of non-GMO seeds, and our compassionate hearts we met some of the most graceful humans on the planet. In the backdrop of all this was the natural splendor of the island which was blossoming at a rapid pace serving as an inspiration for humans still suffering the trauma of the storm and the after shocks of government neglect, incompetence, and corruption.

People to people visits and donations played a crucial role in saving lives. Many whom we met in the journey said that it saved hundreds of thousands of people from starvation, and even death. This was a self-financed journey– a project that I produced and wrote because I had to.

The bulk of the seeds were donated to an urban permaculture farmer who runs a community garden in La Perla. With our initial donations Mara Nieves had founded twenty eco community gardens in schools where kids and families harvest everything from beans to basil. We left seeds everywhere. We are still raising fund for seeds.

If you are interested in joining this effort shoot me an email.  if you want to help or travel to the island on a philanthropic visit, shoot me an email. The island, its people and creatures, small and large, could use your love and support.

I believe preserving cultures is the most powerful form of resistance in a world that wants to gentrify everything. There has been so much erasure of stories, traditions, and rituals of indigenous people around the world, so much gas lighting on the past and at the truth, this was the kind of story that I could not only understand through the lens of social media or news outlets, but with my own eyes.

One of the most powerful ways to resist is to exercise the power of your own narrative, both on a personal and also, communal level. Considering the way the island and the Puerto Rican people are being treated by national and federal governments, they have shown much elegance and heart as they persevere.

From a unapologetic empowered lens of a feminist, a Black woman, a Puerto Rican with indigenous roots, from the deepest part of my soul, I offer you the stories of sixteen humans who survived one of the most devastating climate change disasters the modern day has seen. They are some of the most graceful people I have ever met.

Click on the names of each person to learn their story. Be inspired by their resilience.

Photos: Sandra Guzmán & Rebecca Gitana Torres