Updated: Jul 17, 2020
by Briana Hernandez
As I hung up my phone, I did my best to calm my nerves.
They’ll be okay, I told myself. They had enough money for a plane ticket, and they have enough for a hotel. They won’t be there when the brunt of the storm hits.
I buried my face in my hands and imagined my uncle, sixty-eight years old and retired, feverishly packing a travel bag as he waits for his daughter – my only adult cousin on my mother’s side – to finish putting together hers and her kids’ luggage.
They’d become migrants in their own country, pushed out of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. There was some help from the government to prepare, but my family wanted to play it safe and decided to wait it out in Florida. Many weren’t fortunate enough to have that choice.
Being bilingual, they’d get along just fine on the mainland. They’d perhaps face a few dirty looks if they spoke their native tongue but that’s true of any part of the country.
The hurricane would hit swiftly and harshly. Winds would reach record highs, and the death toll would be higher than 9/11’s.
I wish I could tell my family that it would be a long time before they could return to their normal lives. That their home would be horribly damaged and that their city would be without power for weeks. That supplies and materials sent by good Samaritans would be left to rot in the beating sun, miles away from where they needed to be. That some of their friends in the countryside had died. That the babies of some of their friend had died.
I wish I could tell them that our leader would launch a roll of paper towels at our people as if we were primitive savages who would clamor for simple necessities as if they were jewels.
I would I could tell them that the coverage of the disaster that uprooted their lives would end after a few weeks, and everyone would return to their normal lives thereafter. People who were once outraged and donated money would stop being angry, and the donations would stop. Only part of the money would reach its destination.
I wish I could tell them that they’d continue to be treated like second class citizens by their non-Puerto Rican counterparts as well as the very government that was supposed to be helping them. That they’d be treated as if their land’s poor financial situation was their own fault. That they’d face deportation threats despite being legal citizens from birth. That those who knew they were legal citizens would instead treat them like acquired property.
I wish I could tell them all of this. I would have, if given the chance, if only to lessen the shock and anger. Instead, all I can do watch in amazement as my family and my people repair their lives.
About the Author
Briana Hernandez is a graduate student finishing up her MFA in Writing. She's a Puerto Rican woman who is passionate about the problems that face Hispanics in the United States, and strives to shine a light on the Latinx experience.