About 300,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island since Hurricane Maria brought its devastation a year ago, but “boricuas” of all ages have stayed to be part of the recovery, whether out of desire to be close to their patria, optimism for a better future, or lack of other options.
The Puerto Rican experience post-Maria is not a one-size-fits-all. Whether people feel like the island is getting back up or not depends a lot on their economic class and which area they live in. Some see progress; others, not so much. But there’s a general sense of PTSD and frustration over the still-bleak conditions in many areas.
“Puerto Rico is not prepared for another hurricane. We need a lot of repairs from the damage of the past hurricane. What they’ve done is just put a band-aid on a cut. It’s not been healed yet,” said Edgardo Corporan, an engineering student at the University of Puerto Rico living in the coastal city of Mayagüez.
In the center of the island, especially in the rural barrios, there’s a very long way to go.
“Many people still live with FEMA awnings as a roof,” Angel Santiago, a 55-year-old who lives in Isla Verde, said.
“When the rain comes, the bad weather, it's as if they had no home, as if they had no roof.”
The island’s electrical system still remains tenuous. Although power is fully restored, the system can easily falter because the damage caused by the hurricane was only temporarily fixed, instead of rebuilt.
A recent power outage in the metropolitan area had Idamis Rosado, 23, reliving the months she passed without electricity.
“We all have PTSD… I was working and I was like “Omg, not again, not again!””
For Puerto Ricans living on the island, both the state and the federal government are to blame.
“I think it's a disgrace we have a president who uses the Twitter platform to diminish the effect of Maria and its deaths” Gabriel Ramos, 22, said. “He is a president who not only does not recognize us as human beings, does not recognize us as American citizens, and for Puerto Rico to recover we need them to recognize us. People died here because the federal authorities, the agencies and the government of Puerto Rico did not know how to deal with this emergency.”
In recent weeks, hundreds of corpses in a state of decomposition found in wagons near the Institute of Forensic Sciences, as well as millions of water bottles left sitting in Ceiba, never distributed, have stoked locals’ anger toward the central government.
“That, without a doubt, is a sign of ineptitude and that the government of Puerto Rico did not take as a priority the mental, physical health of their people,” Angel Carrasquillo, 22, said.
Concerned about how potential future catastrophes will be handled, residents are looking to the diaspora to flex their new political muscle: As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can vote for U.S. president only if they live on the mainland.
“I sincerely hope that every Puerto Rican that moved to the United States is gonna vote this November for midterm elections, because we need to stop that monster [Trump] no matter what we do,” Myri Nieves, 33, said.