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Local Puerto Ricans To Observe Hurricane Devastation, Make Call To Action

Sep 20, 2018

Vigils will be held Thursday in Hartford and Bridgeport to mark one year since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico.

Jason Ortiz believes that the experience has empowered Puertorriquenos.

“I do think that the diaspora movement, or the folks in the diaspora that want to help bring justice for Puerto Rico, are more strongly connected now,” Ortiz said. “I do think that those communications channels are much more open.”

Ortiz, the president of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda, said that the marches and vigils are a good representation of the strength exhibited by the diaspora since Maria. He referred to his correspondence with Barbara Lopez of Make the Road CT and Ilia Castro of CT Latinas En La Resistancia – additional groups that advocate for Puerto Ricans impacted by the hurricane -- when making that point.

“When Barbara and Ilia contacted me about doing this, it was just an immediate ‘yes’ where before, maybe I wouldn’t have even known these folks,” Ortiz said. “So, I do think, as a movement, we’re stronger.”

The events were designed to give people a time and space to gather and talk about what’s happening. By holding them exactly one year to the day the storm hit, organizers are seeking to honor those who died will be memorialized. A recent study by George Washington University said that’s 2,975 people -- a number that’s being openly disputed by President Donald Trump.

One year later, Jason Ortiz said that the September 20 marches and vigils are a good representation of the strength exhibited by the Puerto Rican diaspora since Hurricane Maria hit the island.
Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

“Not only do we have to get together and help each other heal, but also raise our voices in a more direct and angry way that the way we were treated by the federal government is unacceptable,” Ortiz said.

For Milly Guzman-Young, that kind of treatment is the hardest thing to face when looking back at Maria’s impact.

“It brings a lot of pain because of all the suffering and the fact that our people were left behind,” Guzman-Young said. “Even though they are American citizens, I feel like they were treated like second-class citizens.”

Guzman-Young, who now resides in Suffield, is from the mountain town of Utuado. She’s a member of CT Latinas En La Resistancia. She joined after the storm.

“I went to a meeting and I loved their passion and compassion,” Guzman-Young said.

It’s a group of about 15 women that reach out to those with un-met needs. Guzman-Young said she actually proposed the vigil portion of the Hartford event and that her intent is to honor evacuee families who don’t have a permanent residence yet after being given temporary housing by FEMA.

“Even though politicians have met with the families, things haven’t been happening even though the politicians know what’s going on,” Guzman-Young said.

CT Latinas En La Resistancia failed to get a permit for the event but it – along with other groups organizing the events – doesn’t believe its commemoration necessitates one. As a compromise with the department, Guzman-Young said her group has agreed to keep the march on the sidewalk for the first half of the route.