Whittier College students came together to create awarness of the devestation in Puerto Rico 

Séamus Woods


The one year anniversary of the Hurricane Maria passed last Thursday, on Sept. 20, and the Whittier College community held a vigil to commemorate those who were lost and the destruction that occurred. Considering such damage, Whittier Scholars Program Coordinator and Head of Poets Por Puerto Rico Joanna Diaz noted the importance of maintaining the public’s awareness. “We wanted to make sure that people continue to think about Puerto Rico.” Diaz said. “The island is still suffering.” 

Just one month ago, the official death toll was increased from just 64 to a whopping 2,975, while additional reports have suggested an even more lethal number. One such study, conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that the count could be as high as over 8,000 people. 

This clear level of catastrophe has still not been accepted by many of those accountable for the recovery effort — most notably, President Donald Trump. In a recent radio interview with Geraldo Rivera, President Trump aired his grievances with all things related to the island largely affected. When asked about the death toll, President Trump said “Wait a minute, you went from 16 people to 64. We did a great job, and then you went from 64 to 3,000. How did that happen? And they couldn’t explain it.” President Trump also tried to shift blame towards several factors from the leadership on the island, including mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz, to the weak state of the electrical system before the storm. 

To many on campus with roots from Puerto Rico, the attacks thrown by President Trump have hit hard. “It was so angering. To see someone who has the ear of the nation and the world disrespect and disregard the lives of human beings,” said Diaz when she first heard the Presidents’ comments. “When so many people are suffering, this is what you choose to say? This is what you choose to use your platform for?”

In addition to the vigil, attendees were also introduced to some Puerto Rican culture, with food and music at Whittier College. Despite being faced with such bleakness, Diaz stated that it is more important now than ever to keep hold of what defines Puerto Ricans. “In those moments when we couldn’t reach our family . . .  that is what got us through it,” Diaz said. “Coming together and dancing and music is so healing. The only reason why anyone survived is because of themselves and the community they built. [Puerto Ricans] are a powerful, powerful people.”

Those students who find themselves motivated to help can find several outlets of aid from the College and Poets for Puerto Rico. Along with multiple donation campaigns, the group hopes to organize and fund a May term study abroad trip to Puerto Rico to aid in the efforts to rebuild. This trip would ultimately be more than, as Diaz suggested “a poverty tour,” but a genuine and tangible effort to help a community which has been struck by such tragedy. This goal needs funding, however, which is why Poets for Puerto Rico will also be throwing a benefit concert in March, where proceeds will go to support the study abroad. 

For more information, contact Joanna Diaz at jdiaz1@whittier.edu.