In the wake of Hurricane Fiona, a Category 4 storm that hit the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico on Sept. 18, approximately 233,000 individuals have been without power, dozens of communities were flooded and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Puerto Rico is over 1,900 miles away from Ann Arbor, but for many members of the University of Michigan community, the catastrophe is personal.
Rackham student Daniela Crespo-Miró, who is studying contemporary Puerto Rican literature, spearheaded support efforts on campus to help provide relief to Puerto Ricans. They worked to develop multiple fundraising initiatives in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, including a Sept. 26 fundraiser at the Detroit Street Filling Station that succeeded in raising $750.
“The Detroit Street Filling Station volunteered to offer 10% of their proceeds to four different (relief) organizations: Proyecto Matria, Taller Salud, Brigada Solidaria del Oeste, and ENLACE,” Crespo-Miró said. “It was a fantastic, very effective fundraiser.”
Crespo-Miró orchestrated another fundraiser that will take place on Oct. 7 at the Bridge Community Café in Ypsilanti. According to Crespo-Miró, the café is volunteering to host live poetry readings and raffles, with all proceeds going towards financial assistance for the affected communities.
According to Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Women’s and Gender Studies, Crespo-Miró’s efforts this year are reminiscent of what students did in response to Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico and other areas in the northeastern Caribbean in 2017.
“The University’s response and support five years ago regarding Hurricane Maria was really extraordinary,” La Fountain-Stokes said. “(The efforts) funded a teach-out program called Listening to Puerto Rico. Graduate students and staff organized major relief efforts that even received the support of the auto industry, to be able to transport goods to Puerto Rico.”
Both Crespo-Miró and La Fountain-Stokes agree that the support efforts on campus and within the greater community not only help raise funds for Puerto Rican recovery, but also acknowledge the historical relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.
“It’s not simply about helping people who have been impacted by a hurricane, it is also about raising awareness of the problems with the U.S. government’s relationship with Puerto Rico,” La Fountain-Stokes said.
After Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. in 1898 by Spain, it was almost 50 years before Puerto Rican citizens were allowed the right to self-govern and much of the economic power of local landowners was lost to North American companies. This lack of financial and political power still holds its effects today.
Emphasizing the United States’ historical responsibility to Puerto Rico as an ongoing colony, Crespo-Miró said they believe Puerto Rico deserves better.
“We must all assume this responsibility of aiding in reparations, and not necessarily even being the ones to save Puerto Rico, because Puerto Ricans are doing that for themselves, but to support initiatives and community organizations that are on the ground and aiding the people of Puerto Rico,” Crespo-Miró said.
Rackham student José Hernández said he does not feel as though the University has done enough to acknowledge the hurricane and the additional stress it places on Puerto Ricans in the campus community who might be worried about their friends and family living on the island. Hernández said it is imperative to demonstrate institutional support for the community to promote Puerto Rican identities on campus.
“Shining a light on this, (something) that’s kind of hidden in our community here at U of M, would be not only helpful, but I think also would give us Puerto Ricans over here some sort of feeling that we’re doing something to help and not feeling powerless,” Hernández said.
Crespo-Miró said the best way to support Puerto Rico is through donations and by participating in upcoming fundraisers.
Spreading awareness of Hurricane Fiona’s impact on the island of Puerto Rico is also an important step toward aiding those affected, Hernández said. To do so, Hernández added, is to support the Puerto Rican community at the University and abroad who are in desperate need of aid.
“We come here, we work, we study because we want to be better, but our hearts and our brains are still back home,” Hernández said. “If anyone can help us and help our families and community back there, that would be amazing.”
Correction 10/5: José Hernández is a Rackham graduate student studying chemistry.
Daily Staff Reporter Natalie Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.
Daily News Contributor Alex Vena contributed to the reporting of this article.