No pudo con el empuje

It’s been quite some time since I last sat down to write anything that isn’t related to my dissertation, but today cannot go unnoticed. I write this in English to make sure anyone outside of Puerto Rico is able to comprehend the magnitude of what just happened last night, when our EX-governor resigned (porque no pudo con el empuje!).

Last night was a historic win for the people of Puerto Rico. For decades, we have been crushed by corruption and white collar money laundering. We have been subjected to colonial rule during the worst economic crisis our country has seen, overseen by a fiscal control board appointed to the island – a board that pulls puppet strings tied to corrupt politicians. We were taken advantage of in the aftermath of Hurricane María, when our people were hurting the most. 

Roselló (and everything that he represents) thought that we would quiet down, that we would get tired of raising our voices, banging on cacerolas, protesting on the streets in every corner of the world… But what these buffoons didn’t realize is that two years ago, Hurricane María gave us more than it took away from us: it showed us we are not just resilient, but RESISTANT. It forced us to roll up our sleeves and build a stronger Puerto Rico from the bottom up. It mobilized those of us in the diaspora and those in the island to unite and help each other. It taught us that we can make it through ANYTHING, so long as we are united and determined. My heart is satisfied and full of vindication, knowing that every drop of sweat I have put into helping my country has been worth it. 

Today we show the world what it means to take the streets to protest peacefully but with determination. Creativity has poured out of our pores these past 15 days, but so has strength. Our generation will no longer stand for corrupt, disgusting, self-serving tools who destroy our society. Today we celebrate, but tomorrow we keep fighting, because this is only the beginning of a new chapter for Puerto Rico!



Photo credit: Verónica Colón Rosario 

What I’ve learned from my 10-day social media hiatus…

I tried. I really did!

I told myself I needed a social media hiatus (specifically, a Facebook and Instagram detox) for a myriad of reasons. It’s too distracting. It eats up too much of my time – time better spent writing, reading, creating, class prepping, meditating, any-other-ing but social media-ing. It sometimes makes me anxious, upset, and fidgety. It makes me prone to oversharing and unnecessary people watching. It interrupts my attention span and my time in the “real-world.” It messes with my OCD-tendencies: how many times do you really need to hit “refresh” to see new notifications? And, every time I read an article about 45, it makes my blood boil.

So, I figured I’d cut cold turkey. Rip the bandaid right off. I did it once before, years ago, and it was fine. Off Facebook for over a year. This would be a piece of cake. Think “sugar detox,” but “no notifications” instead.


Well… this time has been different. Yes, it’s been good to be offline: I have had a chance to really hone in on developing class content for the class I am teaching: “Social Media and Public Health” (oh, the irony!). I’ve also stopped mindlessly scrolling and engaging with content that I don’t particularly need in my life (because, let’s be honest: scrolling through Twitter and LinkedIn will NEVER be as satisfying). My real-time Face Time game has also improved: less interruptions from an inanimate object in my hand = more in-depth conversations with the people in front of me. And, instead of looking for my social media apps, I’ve been spending some time on Headspace and Buddhify.

Yet, I also realized the added value these social media platforms bring to my life. As a social media researcher, I’m constantly looking at my social media content with a critical lens. I can’t help but see different ways social media affects our daily lives, which makes me strive to fully understand these platforms and their effect on our interactions and communication.

I’ve also been having such an amazing time teaching this course… every time a student asks a thoughtful question, or when I can see it all *click* in their eyes, I just want to share that excitement with my friends and colleagues. Not because I need validation for teaching, but because one of the personal uses and gratifications I get from being on these platforms is being able to share my experiences with those I care about. I love being able to express the joy, ridiculousness and happiness that are living, just as much as I want to share the frustrations, pains, sorrows and unexpected things that happen in life. It’s an outlet to express the things that matter, and it gives me a window into how others in my life are experiencing their lives, as well. And, for those who know me and my complete inability to keep my emotions inside, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to share experiences and genuine happiness with important people who play a part in my life story.

And, of course, there’s the fact that in four days it will be one year from the day Puerto Rico was changed forever… and that 45 is an insensitive narcissist who expels filth every time he presses “tweet.” At first, I thought it was good that I decided to take a break that coincided with his word vomit. It is only distracting and anger-provoking, and that time would be better spent working on things that matter (which, is 100% accurate). But then, I watched two documentaries that have stayed with me: CNN’s film on Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Mr. Rodger’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” In different ways, both films reminded me that, when shit hits the fan, you cannot sit idly. Words have power, and action creates change. While, yes, it’s true that posting a livid message on Facebook will do absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of 2018’s debacle, expressing yourself does a few other things.

Expressing my pain last year led me to share information on ways to help and mobilize my immediate network via FB and IG. Expressing my anger in light of the response to Hurricane María helped others stay aware that the situation was far from over and find ways to contribute. Sharing our work through Puerto Rico Stands provided people with proof that grassroots mobilization is effective at getting people what they need. Using my blog to write about Harvard’s study (the first of three reporting excess death rates after the hurricane) let people unfamiliar with public health research understand the validity and transparency of their findings. And, more importantly, it gave me a vehicle to express my emotions: my grief, sadness, resilience, and desire to make home a better place. A place where people are provided the dignity they deserve.

So, I’ve decided to stop my hiatus. Instead, I’ll be setting some boundaries to see how it fares. Time limits. Maximum visit limits. Posting limits? Maybe I’ll go full-on grayscale. Or keep social media to every other day. We’ll see how it goes (any suggestions, please add below!). The goal is for it not to interfere with the other things I have going on, like meditating (which is soooo hard) and finishing up my post on Summer 2018 (on it!). Intentional use only.

And, I’ll also be playing around with randomly calling my friends and loved ones… for as much as their presence on Facebook and Instagram make me smile, I need to play catch-up on quality phone time. So, don’t get scared if you see my name and number show up on your phone… just calling to say hi! 😘

Cuatro mil seiscientos cuarenta y cinco…

El pasado martes, 29 de mayo, el New England Journal of Medicine publicó un estudio conducido por investigadores de Harvard University, donde se estiman 4,645 muertes relacionadas al paso del huracán María en Puerto Rico.

He leído varios comentarios del público relacionado al estudio, algunos de los cuales cuestionan la veracidad de estos números, mientras que otros solo se enfocan en esta parte de los hallazgos. Aquí comparto mi opinión sobre los resultados del estudio y sus interpretaciones. Lo intentaré hacer de una manera simple, sin mucho tecnicismo, para que sea más fácil entender de dónde salieron los números estimados y cómo podemos utilizar esta información para mejorar nuestros sistemas de salud pública en preparación para próximos huracanes.

Sobre los métodos

Quiero empezar por darle un poco de contexto a la metodología que se utilizó para calcular estos estimados. Primero, el gobierno de Puerto Rico aparenta no haber querido compartir sus estadísticas con los miembros del estudio. Lamentablemente, esto es  algo bastante común en la isla… las agencias gubernamentales tienden a retener este tipo de información (por ejemplo, han sido extremadamente celosos con compartir estadísticas sobre las infecciones de Zika en la isla). Al no tener acceso a esta información, los científicos utilizaron métodos estándares para estimar muertes en áreas afectadas por desastres naturales. Este tipo de estudio se hace cuando no se puede llegar a todos en la población (primordialmente, porque es demasiado caro y no es costo-efectivo) y/o cuando no hay maneras concretas para calcular muertes exactas (ya sabemos lo difícil que esto se hizo en los meses después del huracán). Los autores dan ejemplos de estudios previos donde se han calculado muertes después de terremotos y otros desastres naturales; en estos casos, típicamente se trabaja por medio de encuestas para estimar muertes. Esta práctica es común en el mundo de la bioestadística y salud pública, donde se diseñan estudios para que los hallazgos puedan representar a toda la población. En este caso, la metodología que utilizaron los investigadores para seleccionar barrios y sectores en múltiples partes de la isla está basada en prácticas aceptables y comunes en el mundo de las ciencias. (Sin entrar en mucho detalle, identificaron y categorizaron barrios desde más cercanos hasta más remotos a ciudades con sobre 50,000 habitantes, y de estas categorías escogieron barrios al azar). De ahí, los investigadores pueden estimar muertes y otros factores al resto de la población.

Otra cosa sumamente importante es que los investigadores han permitido que sus datos estén disponibles públicamente, para quienes quieran hacer sus propios análisis. Para la comunidad científica, este nivel de transparencia es óptima en estudios donde se tienen que hacer ciertas suposiciones en los cálculos. De igual manera, los investigadores del estudio han compartido las preguntas que se hicieron en la encuesta (las puedes leer aquí). Estas son fáciles de entender y no requieren que los participantes hayan tenido que acordarse de cosas que pasaron hace mucho tiempo, lo cual minimiza tener respuestas erróneas en este tipo de estudio. También son muy transparentes en explicar las suposiciones que hicieron en sus cálculos, explicando cómo estas afectan los resultados. Los investigadores reconocen que hay varios factores que tuvieron que omitir, y es por esto que están abiertos a compartir sus datos para que otros investigadores puedan hacer estudios adicionales.

Sobre las muertes estimadas 

En el campo de la salud pública, pensamos tanto en lo micro, como lo macro. O sea, aunque nos interesa capturar las muertes inmediatas, también queremos saber cuántas muertes ocurrieron a causa de condiciones y/o falta de servicios ligadas al paso del huracán María. Los investigadores del estudio consideraron electrocuciones, interrupción de servicios médicos, complicaciones clínicas, suicidios y otros entre las causas de muertes atribuibles al huracán.

Según sus hallazgos, los investigadores estiman que las muertes por causas relacionadas al huracán entre septiembre y diciembre del 2017 pueden ser tan bajas como 793 y tan altas como 8,498. Aunque este es un rango bastante amplio, los investigadores fueron conservadores en sus cálculos, ya que no incluyeron posibles muertes en casos donde las personas entrevistadas vivían solas. En otras palabras, supusieron que ninguna de las personas en Puerto Rico que vivían solas entre septiembre y diciembre del 2017 murieron a causa del huracán. Hicieron esto porque es imposible entrevistar a personas que hayan vivido solas y fallecido a causa del huracán (ya que estarían muertas). Sin embargo, cuando hacen ajustes basados en las muertes que hubo en el 2016 en Puerto Rico para personas que vivían solas, sus estimados suben a 5,045… y al hacer ajustes basados en los tamaños de las familias en la isla, el total sube a 5,740. Nuevamente, los intervalos son amplios, pero siguen siendo números mayores a los reportados por agencias gubernamentales.

(Es importante recalcar que las cifras reportadas no son exactas, sino que son estimados. Las cifras están basadas en las respuestas que dieron los participantes, quienes representan al resto de la población en Puerto Rico.)

A las personas que hemos estado trabajando con comunidades remotas afectadas por el huracán, no nos sorprenden estas cifras estimadas. Muchos hemos escuchado historias sobre cómo el paso del huracán afectó el acceso a atención médica. Como un ejemplo personal, la tía de mi padre tuvo un accidente durante el huracán mientras ella estaba sola: una ventana se colapsó y le dio en la mandíbula, mientras ella intentaba mantenerla cerrada. Por meses después del accidente, ella tuvo muchos problemas para poder ingerir comidas sólidas, particularmente por el dolor que le causaba. Esto le causó una deshidratación y malnutrición severa. Falleció en marzo por fallo renal, después de haber bajado de peso a menos de 90 libras. Esta es solo una historia de muchas, por lo cual es importante no tan solo cuantificar casos como este, sino entender por qué sucedieron.

Sobre los demás hallazgos 

También quiero mencionar otros hallazgos del estudio que considero sumamente importantes, pero que a mi entender, no han recibido tanta atención en los medios. Aunque el propósito principal del estudio era estimar la cifra de muertes, también estima la cantidad de personas que emigraron a distintas partes a causa del huracán. Las cifras reportadas son muy similares a otros estimados y vislumbran posibles cambios en la tasa poblacional de la isla para el próximo censo. Y, claro, están las posibles ramificaciones políticas en los estados hacia donde emigraron estas personas.

Este estudio también estima la cantidad de personas y familias que estuvieron sin servicios de luz, agua y teléfono después del huracán. Me interesaría comparar estas cifras con las que reportó el gobierno local por medio de sus páginas de internet y la prensa local durante esos meses…

Finalmente, creo que es bien importante compartir que los investigadores incluyeron preguntas en su encuesta para describir qué tipo de problemas tuvieron las personas en obtener cuidado médico debido al paso del huracán. Según sus hallazgos, 31% de hogares tuvieron algún tipo de interrupción de servicios médicos. Entre estos hogares, aproximadamente:

  • 14% no tenían acceso a medicamentos
  • 10% no tenían acceso a carreteras
  • 10% no podían utilizar equipo respiratorio que requiere electricidad
  • 9% reportaron que habían facilidades médicas cerradas
  • 6% reportaron falta de doctores
  • 4% no podían costear gastos médicos
  • 3% reportaron problemas con transportación
  • 2% no pudieron comunicarse al 911
  • 1% tenían personas quienes no pudieron dializarse

Esta información le da contexto a las cifras de muertes reportadas en el estudio. Aunque los investigadores indican que no todas estas interrupciones necesariamente causaron muertes, sí ayudan a explicar cómo ciertos factores relacionados a falta de servicios clínicos pueden impactar a personas con enfermedades crónicas. Los investigadores no se limitaron a solo preguntar “sí” o “no” en cuanto a la interrupción de servicios médicos. Esto permite que futuros estudios puedan analizar los efectos que tuvieron los distintos tipos de retrasos en servicios en el total de muertes, al igual que otros factores capturados en la encuesta (como emigración).

Estos hallazgos también nos permiten tener conversaciones sobre cómo el huracán destapó problemas que llevan tiempo “cuajándose” en Puerto Rico, como diría mi abuela. Llevamos años discutiendo los efectos que el éxodo masivo de doctores y profesionales de la salud tendrá en la población de Puerto Rico, particularmente porque esta sigue envejeciendo y padeciendo de múltiples enfermedades crónicas. Mientras no se hagan esfuerzos para reponer y retener a doctores (y otros profesionales) en la isla, seguiremos sufriendo de estas situaciones.

En fin…

Los hallazgos de este estudio, por más limitaciones que tenga, tienen ramificaciones bien grandes. Aunque las encuestas siempre tienen ciertas limitaciones en comparación con métodos que utilizan actas de defunción para estimar muertes, los investigadores demuestran que sus extrapolaciones rindieron resultados comparables con estimados de la población durante otros años. En cierta forma, le dan veracidad a los hechos y confirman sucesos que antes pasaban como simples “anécdotas”… ¡y esto es importante! El trauma que el huracán ha causado no debe, ni puede ser ignorado. Confirmar estos incidentes por medio de estudios científicos nos permite, como pueblo, exigirle cuentas al gobierno y entender cómo podemos hacer mejoras públicas que impactan nuestra salud y bienestar. Además, creo que estos hallazgos demuestran que el gobierno no ha divulgado información suficiente (ni transparente) sobre las muertes y los efectos del huracán en nuestra sociedad. Estudios independientes, como este, son de suma importancia para entender los verdaderos efectos del paso de un huracán de esta magnitud en la isla.

Por mí, que venga el próximo estudio. Pendiente estaré a lo que reporten los investigadores de George Washington University…

Foto cortesía de Tostfilms 

Back at it

A lot can happen in a month.

When I started this very young blog back in the cold, snowy month of March (which feels like eons ago), I thought I would be able to write at least once a week. I figured it would be a way to channel my thoughts and process my emotions as life happens. However, the past five weeks have been pretty intense… not so much in the negative sense of the word, but in the pace at which things have been occurring. Ergo, writing here fell to the wayside.

I’m currently juggling several facets of my life that are all in alignment and important, yet managed to speed-up simultaneously. Since my last post, I was involved in back-to-back activities related to relief efforts in Puerto Rico post-María. I first moderated a panel discussion regarding the social, economic and public health impacts of the hurricane six months after its passing (it was really informative – you can watch it here). The following week, I took over my university’s Instagram account to share a fundraising event for community members in Sector Maná. Thankfully, both events were incredibly successful at raising funds and getting the word out about the needs Puerto Ricans are still facing. This also led to more exposure about PR Stands, which has brought about opportunities for new projects, partnerships, funding mechanisms, membership growth and other very exciting things that require lots of time and planning.

Yet, my month didn’t stop there. Simultaneous to the growth of our organization, the PhD side of things also picked up. I received IRB approval for my dissertation research, which is scheduled to happen over the summer in Tampa. With IRB approved, I finally had the green light to start planning my trip and data collection timeline. A few days later, I received the amazing news that I was selected to attend a summer program for doctoral students at the Oxford Internet Institute for two weeks this July… so I had to start scheduling that in as well. Then, another email came in: I had a manuscript I’ve been working on for quite some time accepted with minor revisions (finally!), which were due by the end of April. Oh, yeah – I also had pending data analyses for a study exploring Snapchat advertising among adolescents… plus two personal trips scheduled smack in the middle of April: one to Puerto Rico to visit my sister, and another week-long trip with my husband to New Orleans.

Needless to say, I’ve had a lot going on; so much so, that the end of March and beginning of April felt like a blur. I was going through the motions, but didn’t have the time to process and contextualize my emotions given the pace at which things were happening. The events related to PR relief efforts left me with conflicted feelings: I was elated that our efforts were successful and impactful, yet I was frustrated with the current situation in the island. I mean, just recently there were two major blackouts within a week of each other, and there are a myriad of social and political issues being trampled upon by the island’s current administration – which is why thousands are marching today. I was also really excited about the professional and academic opportunities coming my way, but felt anxious about getting everything done on time and in a way that meets my standards. It was a lot to try to put my finger on, and it took a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out how to manage it all.

Although things are not slowing down quite yet, I’ve managed to get a handle on the speed at which things are happening. How? This is what has worked for me:

(1) Make a list.

When things start to feel chaotic and messy, I try to realign myself by making lists of what needs to get done. It may sound somewhat mechanical or overly simplistic, but it really forces you to think about what it will take to get things accomplished and how much time is needed to do so. It also compartmentalizes your thoughts into plans that are easier to digest. Making detailed lists for each project has helped me identify what needs to be resolved immediately, and what can be tabled for later. It also lets me visually compare tasks and make a timeline; mine is currently out until the beginning of August. Now that I mapped it all out, it’s easier to tackle each day and build in time for myself. Personally, I use several journals and a weekly/monthly planner to break down my days and write down my thoughts as things come up. Whatever methods works for you, the most important thing is to remember that there are only 24 hours in a day – no matter who you are. So, manage them wisely.

(2) Say no.

One of the harder things in life is saying no, both to things that are out-of-scope and to people who take you off track. Again: our time is limited. Every thing you do takes up a portion of that time. Therefore, when you say yes to things and/or people misaligned with your goals, you are saying no to yourself. Recently, there have been several opportunities that I’ve had to politely decline because I knew that the quality of my work would suffer if I took on another project. And, even if the quality of my work didn’t suffer, my mental health would. Meeting other people’s deadlines and priorities at the expense of unnecessary anxiety and stress is not a worthwhile investment. I’ve also had to say no to people – those who truly matter will understand when you need to disappear for a while and take care of what’s important. Here’s a great essay on the need to say no.

(3) Surround yourself with similar vibes.

Energy flows from person to person. In my experience, this energy has the power to fuel you when life gets difficult. When those around you have ideas and priorities that resonate with your own, it’s much easier to stay motivated and use their energy to fuel your own. Being around friends with similar values has allowed me to stay concentrated on things that matter and refocus my energy on getting tasks accomplished. It also keeps me positive, which is so important when life starts to get stressful. Yet, not everyone has energy or values that align with your own; some people’s energy can be draining. It’s okay to remove yourself from this negativity, if it is starting to influence the way you approach things or the way you feel about yourself. It may be temporary, but it could well be permanent – that’s for you to decide. In the words of Joshua Fields Millburn, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.”

(4) Share your emotions.

With time, I’ve learned the importance of expressing my emotions when I start to feel overwhelmed. Doing so allows me to process things that don’t quite make sense. Sometimes this takes place in written form, when I start making lists and jotting down random thoughts. Other times, it’s more helpful to talk to someone who might be able to share valuable insight – or just lend a friendly ear. There are times when all it takes is listening to yourself say something out loud to find the answers you are looking for! That’s the great part of surrounding yourself with people who care and bring out the best in you: it is easier to share your thoughts and figure out how to best navigate present challenges. Regardless, my experience has been that the more you articulate situations and the accompanying emotions, the easier it becomes to identify how you feel about them. Getting clarity in this regard can help you figure out how to tackle what’s right in front of you.

(5) Take a break.

Seriously, find a way to stop the madness and center yourself. At first, I was somewhat anxious about my two pre-scheduled trips, because that was time I wouldn’t be able to get work done. Then, I decided to do the exact opposite: I did zero work those 10 days. Instead, I used that time to enjoy myself and let my mind relax. Rather than chastise myself for taking this time off, I gave myself permission to do something fun and soaked in every second of it. Whenever I started to feel anxious, I reminded myself I deserved to take a break. Once I returned home, I had the energy to hit the ground running with a new sense of clarity. Although I know it isn’t always possible (or realistic) to take a vacation when you need a break, it is feasible to take some time for yourself – exercise, mediate, sing, dance… whatever feels right. Do it – your mind will thank you!

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when multiple things – good or bad – happen all at once. Instead of letting it overpower me, I’m embracing the ebbs and flows of life and findings ways to manage the things that matter. Taking this approach has allowed me to find balance and tackle things with a new sense of purpose.

And, before I knew it, time did its thing: it’s no longer snowing or 30 degrees outside. Instead, April showers brought beautiful May flowers… and lots of sunshine. Like I said, a lot can happen in a month!


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Six Months Later…

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Puerto Rico’s recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane María is far from over. Today we hit the six month mark of the storm’s impact, and there is still much to do.

As a founding member of Puerto Rico Stands, I have been working with members of the Johns Hopkins community to host several events to raise awareness about the public health needs still affecting Puerto Ricans. Check them out and see how you can help!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 – Panel Discussion

Race in America

Johns Hopkins University (JHU) forums on Race in America is hosting the panel, Six Months After Maria: Public Health Issues in Puerto Rico. The following article by JHU’s The HUB outlines the current state-of-affairs and the topics to be discussed. Here is an excerpt of my interview:

“It’s important to continue to bring light to the issues that are happening on the island,” Rivera says. “We thought it would be good to do a follow-up six months later to remind people that the people of Puerto Rico are still facing days and nights without power, without running water, and without some of their basic needs met.”


She adds, “These are U.S. citizens, and they’re going through loss and mourning. It’s our job as public health professionals—and as citizens—to try to assist them in whatever way we can.”

I will be moderating the panel, so if you have any questions you would like addressed, let me know in the comments below!

Livestream broadcast can be watched here.

For free tickets via EventBrite, click here.

Monday, April 2nd, 2018 – Fundraising Event


The majority of community members in Sector Maná and Sector Palmarito in Barranquitas, PR still lack power and running water. Others lost their homes and need assistance rebuilding. That is why Puerto Rico Stands and the Latino Public Health Network will be hosting a Food Expo to raise funds for this community. Although the event will only be open to members of the Johns Hopkins community, anyone can donate through our Go Fund Me page. Every dollar counts, so chip in if you want to directly help those impacted by the storm!

Funds will be used to purchase construction materials to rebuild houses, help bring power and running water back to the community, and assist in any other basic needs identified by community leaders from El Familión.

LPHN Food Expo

Puerto Rico will take a long time to rebuild, but if we start small and scale up, anything is possible. Thanks for being part of the solution.img_8313

“People are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.”

~Paulo Freire

Life after Hurricane María

On September 20th, Puerto Rico was hit by Category 4 Hurricane María. Although I did not live through the storm like many of my friends and family, I vividly recall the collective sense of despair felt by members of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Many of us experienced immense anxiety during the storm, as we watched our Facebook NewsFeed and live videos from afar. I painfully recall the tears that streamed down my face as I tried to communicate with friends and loved ones for days – at times, weeks. After feeling completely useless for several days, I decided I had to do something. So, I sent an email to basically everyone I know on ways to help. I also offered to take donations in-person to ensure the right people got the help they so desperately needed.

Three weeks after the storm, I made my first trip back home. Thanks to the generosity of many, we were able to bring over 500 lbs of supplies. But, to say I saw desolation is an understatement. Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about my experience:

“[T]here was a collective sense of sadness and anxiety in the air. People are desperately looking for normalcy in a situation that is anything but normal.
I travelled to the island to visit family and deliver supplies to hard-hit areas. These were mainly delivered to Naranjito, a municipality in the mountainous center of the island. The drive there was full of surprises that could easily be dismissed by someone not familiar with the island. For example, Puerto Ricans are used to seeing people sell delicious fruit or handmade hammocks on the side of the roads. But all I saw were washboards and oil for gas-operated power generators.
Once in Naranjito, we arrived to Sector Bernard, a remote mountaintop community where we were greeted with smiles and open arms. We visited approximately 15 families, half of which were residing with a neighbor because they lost everything in their own homes. Anywhere you looked, every other house was missing a roof, or a room, or both.
We heard story after story of María’s wrath: a couple having to use their bodies as shields to unsuccessfully prevent their door from collapsing, screams from children fearful for their lives and huddled in a bathroom, neighbors linking arms to help someone stuck underneath a storm shutter. There were at least three cars María dragged around the mountaintop and destroyed.”

Photo courtesy of Tostfilms

I also wrote about my feelings after I left on my Facebook account, before I had the guts to start blogging. In a nutshell, the Puerto Rico I went back to was not the place I know.

However, as I mentioned in my first blog post, light emerges from the darkest of situations. Prior to my trip, I met some fellow Puerto Ricans living in Baltimore who were also mobilizing in response to the storm. In a series of most fortunate events, we began an organization called Puerto Rico Stands and have since been diligently working. Among the different projects we have taken on is working with community leaders in Sector Maná, a remote community in the mountainous municipality of Barranquitas.


This past January, we hosted our first event, Alegría para Maná, which focused on bringing joy and mental health services to over 200 community members still without power and running water. The event was held the day before Three Kings Day, a Latin American holiday celebrating the Epiphany. Naturally, we made sure the Three Kings were there to bring gifts to the children in the community! Among the many partners we worked with was Crear Con Salud, a non-profit organization focusing on mental health education. The event was a complete success, and it was so rewarding to see so many children smiling.

It is also worth noting that during this second trip, things felt different. The luscious, green landscape Puerto Rico is known for had slowly returned, and you could feel Puerto Ricans’ resilience throughout the holiday season. Although I wouldn’t say things are back to normal by any stretch of the imagination, our spirit still shines through.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still so much work to be done: my parents just got their power back this past Wednesday, 161 days after the storm. In some areas of Sector Maná, there is still no power or running water, and over 20 families lost their homes. Throughout the island, many continue to suffer the long-term mental and public health effects of the storm and its aftermath.

But, I have no shadow of a doubt, we will get through this. That’s just the way we do it in Puerto Rico.

*If you would like to help in our efforts in Sector Maná, visit PR Stands for more updates!

Escritos en Facebook sobre María

Cuando aún no tenía las hagallas para empezar un blog, escribí varias veces sobre mis sentimientos después del huracán María en mi Facebook. Aquí hay algunos de esos escritos, para quien los quiera leer.

Y María added 13 new photos.
October 15, 2017 ·

Estoy a unas cortas horas de montarme en un avión, después de pasar 10 días en mi islita, mi terruño, mi corazón… tratando de aportar un pequeño granito de arena y de aliviarle a unos pocos sus días y sus noches calurosas, aunque sea por solo unos días… Jamás pensé que me iba a doler tanto tener que regresar a mi vida cotidiana. Jamás pensé tener que iba a llegar con cuatro maletas llenas de cositas que tomamos por dadas para repartir entre familia, amigos y desconocidos necesitados, mientras regreso con solo una llena de ropa sucia (y con la mitad limpia porque mami me la quiso lavar a mano). Jamás pensé que me iba a sentir tan culpable por montarme en un avión.

Pero tampoco pensé que esta tormenta me daría la oportunidad de fortalecer relaciones que ya tenía, y de crear nuevas amistades que te llenan el corazón de sonrisas. Nunca imaginé ver tantas sonrisas en medio de tanta necesidad, y de sentir el calor humano del puertorriqueño de maneras tan indescriptibles. Ayudar se siente bien, pero ayudar a los suyos es otra cosa. Gracias a quienes me prestaron su cama, su bañera, pero más que todo, su compañía. Gracias a quienes compartieron un rato conmigo para darnos unos palos juntos, y hablar y llorar y darnos abrazos de los ricos. Y a quienes les pude traer cositas – ya sea para uso personal, para sus abuelos, suegros, ahijados, primos, familiares, vecinos – espero que la estufita sirva, que el abaniquito dé un poco de fresco, que la linterna alumbre lo suficiente, que las baterías duren.

El alma se siente completamente destrozada cuando tienes que partir en contra de tu voluntad. Por mí, me quedó aquí, bañándome a cubito en casa o yendo a casa de alguien con agua fría… me quedo acostándome en un cuarto sin abanico y dejando que me coman viva los mosquitos. Me quedo cogiendo sol en un Puerto Rico desconocido, sin la sombra de los árboles, ni la brisa entre sus ramas. Hay tanto más que quisiera hacer, tantos besos y abrazos más que me faltan por repartir… Se les quiere y sepan que tan pronto las responsabilidades de la vida diaria me lo permitan, estoy de vuelta. Porque, no importa lo que digan, esto nos dió bien duro a todos… y va pa’ largo.

Y María
November 16, 2017 ·

Hoy me levanté con muchas ganas de llorar. De llorar porque, aunque han pasado casi 60 días desde que un huracán destrozó a mi patria, peor aún son los casi 60 días de caos creados por la ineptitud de un gobierno que ha terminado de joder lo que María comenzó.

Me bebo las lágrimas, porque cada día que pasa, siento más dolor, porque cuando la gente a quien quiero me habla y escribe, puedo palpar la tristeza amarga y el coraje profundo escondidos en sus palabras… Son una tristeza y un coraje que yo no puedo reparar, por más que trate.

Lloro de la rabia de no poder darle un abrazo a las personas que significan tanto para mí – de abrazarlos y apretarlos hasta que nos duela y nos cansemos y nos bebamos las lágrimas juntos. De dejarles saber cuánto los amo y cuánto deseo poder estar ahí todos los días para que se desahoguen.

Lloro porque no puedo quitarme este sentimiento de culpa de tener luz y agua y todo lo “normal” desde lejos. De poder cargar el celular sin problemas, de prender el televisor cuando llego a casa, de echar la ropa a lavar, de seguir con la vida “cotidiana”… que no es tan cotidiana ya, porque cada día me levanto para ver qué más puedo hacer hoy para ayudar desde tan fucking lejos.

Se me salen las lágrimas solas del coraje que me da el no poder resolver este desmadre. Cómo quisiera poder arreglar todo, de un cantazo. Botar a todos esos políticos de mierda que lo único que hacen es empeorar las cosas y quitarle la esperanza, la empatía y el deseo de echar pa’lante al pueblo. Porque ellos son los que se han encargado de hacerle sentir a la gente que no hay luz al final del puto túnel.

Lloro porque me duele el pecho de aguantar todo esto por dentro. De querer ser fuerte para los demás. De tener que responder de la misma forma cada vez que me preguntan “how’s Puerto Rico?” o “how was your trip?” De sentirme culpable por sentirme así, pues quién soy yo para quejarme? Pero esto también nos afecta a los que estamos lejos. El estrés y la maldita ansiedad nos están consumiendo.

Así que hoy me voy a dar el lujo de llorar y sacármelo de adentro, porque mañana tengo que seguir. Esto no lo van a arreglar por nosotros, y hay mucho que hacer.

Y María
December 4, 2017

Day 75 today post-María. Seventy-five.

Seventy-five days where millions of people still have to light a candle or purchase batteries to light up their flashlights, because they still don’t have power. When you don’t have power, you can’t wash your clothes, keep food refrigerated, cook if you have an electric stovetop, use the microwave, sit on the couch to catch up on news, rely on traffic lights, store temperature-sensitive meds, or turn on the air conditioner when it’s over 90 degrees outside.

Seventy-five days where thousands lack reliable water. If you live in the mountains, and you get your water from the water company, you need power for pumps to push water up the mountain. So, if there is no power, there is no water. You can’t take a shower when it’s hot outside, you can’t flush your toilets, you can’t hand wash your clothes.

Seventy-five days where people literally feel like time stopped. You don’t know what day it is, because it’s the same crap over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day – reliving the same story, but as each day passes, people around you become more frustrated and less empathetic. Driving takes three times longer than usual, and the constant buzzing of gas-powered generators is enough to drive anyone insane.

And I’m not even going to go into the mental health issues, because it’s too depressing. Suicide rates have skyrocketed, and the island wreaks of anxiety and depression. There seems to be no getting out of this dark rabbit hole.

Think of it this way: imagine the state of Rhode Island (a population of ~1.1 million) still didn’t have power or water, and couldn’t drive to adjacent states. People would be losing their SHIT. The difference is that, instead of 1.1 million, there are 3.4 million people suffering the consequences of corruption and poor leadership – both in the island and here.

So, if you can find it in you, reach out to your reps. This has to change. And, if you are looking for a more tangible way to help, donate money or supplies. You can start by visiting Puerto Rico Rising-Maryland for ideas on how to assist.

Y a los que están en la isla, les mando un abrazo. Acá, seguimos trabajando por ustedes.

Y María

December 18, 2017 ·

I just got an email regarding six souls lost in Vieques due to the lack of power, gas and doctors in the island. This sickens my heart.

Please, don’t forget to help people in Puerto Rico. This is inhumane. Call. Write. Donate. Volunteer.

Y María
December 20, 2017 ·

On my way home, exactly three months after María. I woke up wanting to write, but am finding myself without the right words… so I’ll just say this:

Three months and counting. Hundreds of thousands are still without power. Or water.

It’s easy to feel like you are drowning, but try to focus on doing good. As I recently told a dear friend, I choose to believe things will work out in the end. It won’t ever be the same, but I hope it will be better.

In the meantime, keep going. And keep doing.

Y María added 29 photos and 3 videos. 
January 6 ·

Ayer fue uno de los días más lindos que he tenido después del 20 de septiembre. Por medio de Puerto Rico Stands, pudimos llevar a cabo un evento increíble para la comunidad del Sector Maná en Barranquitas. Un evento lleno de amor, alegría y sonrisas genuinas.

Gracias a todos quienes lo hicieron posible: a Crearconsalud por auspiciar el almuerzo y dar talleres tan necesitados de salud mental; a los miembros de #ElFamilión por su liderazgo y coordinación de tantas partes del evento; a Anna, Adalberto y Danny por ayudar en el evento; a mis colegas de PR Stands; y en especial a Sarita, por ser mi mano derecha y mi motivación para lograr que esto fuese más que una idea.

El huracán llegó y nos cambió, pero no para mal, sino para bien. Mañana me regreso al frío con una sonrisa de oreja a oreja y el pecho hinchao.

Y si quieres seguir ayudando, seguimos recaudando donaciones. Me avisan!

Y María

February 20 at 8:46am ·

Breaking my FB detox to remind you that today marks five months since María hit Puerto Rico… Yes, my family has been 154 days without power (new light posts just started being installed two days ago). So, yes, there is still a lot to be done.

Check out Puerto Rico Stands for ways to help.

Y María

February 28 at 8:13pm ·

Llegó la luz a Cambute! 🙌🏼😭

161 days… 23 weeks… 5 months… However you wanna count it, my family finally has power! Elation doesn’t even begin to describe it!