By Andrew Hanauer
Puerto Rico’s people are American citizens. Geography, language and cultural differences don’t change that simple fact. To put it simply, there is no “One America” without Puerto Rico.
That is the central takeaway from my recent visit to San Juan, and it’s why the One America Movement is organizing a project that will bring together faith and community leaders in Houston and Puerto Rico to work together on hurricane relief and counter the idea that communities struck by tragedy must compete with each other for compassion, resources and attention.
Make no mistake – our country’s response to Hurricane Maria has been shameful. While many, many Americans have given their time and resources to support Puerto Rico’s people, the ongoing power outages, the immense death toll and the relative lack of media attention are unacceptable. It is reminiscent of our country’s equally unacceptable failures after Hurricane Katrina.
The people of Puerto Rico are doing their part. In my two days on the island, I met Pastors who are leading communities not only stricken by the struggles associated with the hurricane and Puerto Rico’s ongoing economic crisis, but by significant emotional trauma. I met the head of the island’s Catholic Charities, working tirelessly to address both basic human needs and that very same trauma, manifested in growing depression and hopelessness on the island. I met the director of a charity (Chefs for Puerto Rico) that is serving literally millions of meals to Puerto Ricans, including to the hardest-hit and hardest-to-reach areas of the island. As we talked, an enormous vat of paella simmered in the heat nearby. By the time our conversation ended, it was being covered with foil in preparation for delivery to hungry people.
Life continues on the island. But hurricane season is upon us again. Blue tarps cover many, many homes in San Juan – homes still without roofs. And things are much worse outside the capital.
The trauma that Puerto Rico’s people are experiencing is real and must be processed. The trauma that Houstonians are experiencing is real and must be processed. One America is excited to have the partnership in this project of neuroscientist Mike Niconchuk, an expert on issues of brain science, trauma and identity, who will work with faith leaders in both communities to address these issues. Mike joined me in Puerto Rico and talked about how our own pain and trauma often prevent us from fully seeing or addressing other people’s pain and trauma. By bringing together faith leaders in Houston and Puerto Rico, we can promote the idea that our response to tragedy should be to work together, not view ourselves as part of a zero-sum struggle for resources and compassion.
Moving forward together must mean more than simply feeling good about coming together – Houston and Puerto Rico working as one. It means addressing the trauma, addressing the needs of hungry, displaced, tired people, addressing the inequalities in our country’s response to tragedies and addressing the root causes of that inequality. It means building something together – houses, yes. Meals, yes. Relationships, yes. But something more than that – it means building a solidarity that is real, that is meaningful and that transcends the walls we put up within our society, and the miles of ocean that separate us from our brothers and sisters.