United For Puerto Rico
4 October 2017 - By Robyn Moreno
When Category 4 Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, the devastation was swift and unsparing. 100% of the island lost power and means of communication. Residents were left in the shambles, often without food, fuel or clean drinking water. It was a true humanitarian crisis.
In the midst of the chaos and unknown, Latino communities sprung into action: organizing, donating, praying, posting, tweeting. Anything to help those in Puerto Rico, whether it was because they had loved ones on the island, or simply because that’s what we Latinos do.
With her entire family living on the island, including her mom, and aunt who has Parkinson’s, Cristy Marrero was tracking Maria intently. After the storm hit, and the Editorial VP of Hola couldn’t get in touch with any of her family, she went from worried to angry to active.
“Daddy Yankee called me and said ‘Cristy, we have to do something!’ So the natural-born leader got to work. “In 12 hours we had 50 volunteers. We created donation stations at Daddy Yankee’s concerts days after the storm as well as a drop off station at the Puerto Rican Family Institute in NYC. I still hadn’t heard from my family and I had to channel my anger for not being able to be there for my people.”
While Cristy and others were mobilizing, President Trump (and much of the media) spent most of that first post-Maria weekend focused on the NFL and the #takeaknee movement.
But Latino celebs stepped up in a big way, taking charge both financially and on social media. Flying to New York from Las Vegas where she’s in residency, Jennifer Lopez pledged $1million from proceeds of her “All I Have” show to hurricane relief.
Marc Anthony took to Instagram to beg for donations and to twitter to curse out the President: “Mr. President shut the f*ck up about NFL. Do something about our people in need in #PuertoRico. We are American citizens too.”
The hashtag #weareuscitizens became a trending topic as the New York Times released a study that said half of all Americans didn’t know Puerto Ricans “are fellow U.S. citizens.”
Frustration and fear are galvanizing forces, ones that led therapist and self-esteem expert Christine Gutierrez to mobilize. “My grandparents are 88 and 92 years-old, and they live in Isabela, near where the Guajataca dam broke.”
Having not heard from them and growing increasingly alarmed as she watched posts on Facebook of people begging for help, Gutierrez found herself stressed and sad. “It's that kind of sadness you feel in your bones because you feel helpless.”
Thinking of her abuelos, and many like them, Gutierrez launched an event, “Fuerza La Isla Bonita” to benefit Waves for Water and Hurricane Maria Recovery Fund.
Responding to the initial bureaucracy and political bickering around hurricane relief, Gutierrez said, “People need help. This isn’t about politics. No law should come in the way of the spiritual law of humanity.”
Latinos in Hollywood have long been a tightknit community. And when some were in need, everyone jumped in to lend a hand. That’s what happened with the celeb-led group, Voices for Puerto Rico.
“It started the day after the hurricane,” said One Day at a Time actress, Justina Machado. We were calling and texting: me, Lisa Vidal, Roselyn Sanchez, and others trying to help. We decided to organize, so we gathered together to plan a strategy. We all work in this business, and in that room, even if we weren’t all Puerto Ricans, we were all for Puerto Rico.”
The star-powered group is a who’s who of Latino talent from Gina Rodriguez and Benicio del Toro to Rita Moreno and Eva Longoria. It also includes non-Latinos like Kristin Chenoweth and Blair Underwood.
“Our focus is on the little campos,” explained Machado whose family is from Ponce. “We’re in it for the long run and we want help the local communities rebuild; those little places that get overlooked.”
The one upside that everyone agrees on is that out of chaos and tragedy have come community and unity. “It’s just powerful what you can do when your heart is behind it,” says Machado. “It really shows the power that we Latinos sometimes forget we have.”