This year Louisianans welcomed thousands of new members to an unfortunate club: Americans who’ve survived twenty-first century hurricanes. In Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, our comrades in devastation now struggle with all-too-imaginable losses, battling the scourge of mold, and mourning neighbors and neighborhoods. Awed by the ongoing efforts of the “Cajun Navy,” that fleet of pick-up trucks and fishing boats first forged during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities continues to reach out to our fellow state humanities councils, offering sympathy and support for our colleagues and the people they serve. In November I asked Cesar Rey Hernández, executive director of the Puerto Rican Foundation for the Humanities (FPH), to describe his experiences during the storm and its aftermath. –Brian Boyles, PublisherOver the last one hundred years, Puerto Rico was never hit by an atmospheric event as catastrophic as Hurricane Maria. With an uncontrolled anger, the storm hit a nation already agonized by an ailing economy. Maria lifted the veil that covered Puerto Rico. It exposed the world to harsh realities—the poverty, inequality, and suffering that forced thousands of citizens to leave the island in search of a better future.
The picture is sad and sometimes surreal. We live in two diametrically opposed dimensions. The metropolitan area is the fortunate one, where the government has restored many essential services such as electricity and drinking water. In the mountainous regions, there is no indication that the coming months will see the return of the most basic services. Forty days after Hurricane Maria, much of Puerto Rico lives in the dark, with power restored to just 40% of households. Thousands of families remain homeless, enduring food shortages and limited cell service, in deplorable conditions of public health.
Cultural organizations have not been exempt from the onslaught of this terrible hurricane. Heavy floods destroyed libraries and museums. Works of art, exhibitions, and historical documents deteriorate day by day from exposure to humidity and fungi. Our artists suffer the losses of their workplaces.
Fortunately, FPH had no material losses. The council has joined a coalition of cultural organizations in Puerto Rico to help rescue our artists and our culture. We have provided access to emergency funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In January, the FPH will open a Grant Recovery Program to support preservation and conservation projects. Also, we have set up an account (via Gofundme.com) to support artists and cultural organizations.
I remember the day after the hurricane. I saw hundreds of trees without leaves, their trunks dry and split. Forty days later, the trees grow green again. Puerto Rico, too, will rise. It has been precisely the human fiber of solidarity, empathy, creativity, and innovation that will drive Puerto Rico forward. Support us and your donation will go to help an artist recover. Donate through www.fphpr.org now!
Cesar Rey Hernández, PhD
Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades