This past Parents’ Weekend, many Boston College students had the pleasure of showing their families around campus. For many Puerto Rican and Mexican students, however, the natural disasters that have ravaged their hometowns and left their families stranded prevented many of their parents from coming to visit BC.
What has developed in Puerto Rico is a humanitarian crisis. Since Hurricane Maria made landfall directly over the island on September 20, hundreds of thousands of people are without power, gasoline, or access to infrastructure. Cell towers have been toppled, rendering much of the island unreachable by phone, and the debris on the roads prevents people from getting to areas with generated electricity.
Arturo Balaguer, MCAS ’21, described the emotional toll he has experienced since seeing his hometown in ruins, “Huge trees are falling on the path I took to school. There’s trees everywhere, there’s devastation everywhere.”
Balaguer’s parents made it out of Puerto Rico on one of the few flights to the U.S., but before that, he said he “couldn’t talk to them for a week.” Much of the Puerto Rican community at BC is also suffering, as Balaguer said, “many of my friends in the freshman class will not be able to talk to their parents for weeks or see them for months.”
In times of federal crisis, the government is expected to act accordingly. While the U.S is sending 500,000 meals every day, and military airports are open for aid delivery, Puerto Rico still needs more aid from the U.S. Before the storm, Puerto Rico's infrastructure was already weak, and Hurricane Maria decimated what little infrastructure it had. The hurricane has shined a light on the already troubled relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S government.
While Puerto Rican citizens are officially considered U.S citizens, they cannot vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate. If Puerto Rico were to become a state, it would be the 30th most populous, with more people than Wyoming, Nebraska and Idaho. A referendum on statehood in June showed that over 97% of voters would like a bill to be introduced proposing Puerto Rican statehood, but the historically low voter turnout of 23% called into question the importance of the referendum.
Although Hurricane Maria has caused devastation on a widespread scale, it has not taken a single life. The Mexico City earthquake, on the other hand, has claimed over 200 lives. Mexico City native Beto Luna, MCAS ’21, recalled, “I woke up from a nap, and I had over 600 messages from all of my terrified family members in Mexico as soon as it happened.” As with the Puerto Rican students at BC, a similar sense of community brought Mexican students and their families together in the wake of these disasters. “My mother planned a fundraiser, and my dad went to Mexico to help,” Luna recounted. “We’re so safe here, it’s hard to remember what’s going on in the rest of the world.”
It can be easy for BC students to turn a blind eye to what is happening in the world, but, according to Balaguer, that does not mean they should. “Social media has a huge effect, as it’s how we get our news. It can bring attention to problems like these.” Balaguer himself has started a crowdfunding campaign for Puerto Rican relief, and the greater Latin-American community at BC will be hosting many fundraisers in the coming weeks, including a dance showcase by Fuego del Corazon.
As for relief surrounding the Mexican earthquake, Topos de Tlaltelolco is the leading rescue brigade, and all donations thereto will be put to good use. The Mexican Red Cross is also accepting donations.