Looking into the eye of Hurricane Maria

Camille Botello, Staff writer

Only hours before Hurricane Irma was predicted to make landfall in the Caribbean islands, assistant Spanish professor Tania Carrasquillo Hernandéz booked a flight into the eye of the storm.

A native of Puerto Rico, Carrasquillo experienced hurricanes in her youth. “I remember the sound of how powerful nature is. It’s a sound that I cannot describe to you,” she said about Hurricane Hugo, which battered the island in 1989. She recalled being scared as a child, peering out her window and witnessing palm trees being ripped from their roots and houses losing their roofs to the powerful wind gusts.

Carrasquillo’s mother, who lives in San Juan, had knee surgery just a few days prior to Irma crashing into the island on September 5. “I cannot leave my mom by herself through that,” she said.

On her way to be with her mother, Carrasquillo found that flights to Puerto Rico were discontinued, leaving her stranded at the Miami airport for two days with a group of people trying to fly home.

After Irma hit, Carrasquillo was finally able to fly into San Juan. The people on the plane clapped, laughed, sang, and cried upon landing. “It was a beautiful experience,” she said. Carrasquillo was relieved to find her mom unscathed by the blast, and immediately helped clearing debris from roadways and stocking up on groceries.

With only two weeks of rebuilding from Irma’s wake, Puerto Rico was even more devastated by her unforgiving sister, Hurricane María.

The distribution of water and supplies to islanders has been slow because of the lack of delivery personnel in Puerto Rico’s rural areas. The island is also projected to be out of electricity and running water for a few months.

“The help that [President Donald J. Trump] is providing to Puerto Rico is not enough. Especially when Puerto Rico is part of the United States,” Carrasquillo said.

What seems to be the inability to realize the urgency of the Caribbean’s situation could be due to the fact that, according to The New York Times, “only 54 percent of Americans know that people born in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, are U.S. citizens.”

Carrasquillo has run into this problem herself on the mainland.

When people ask her what currency the territory’s island dwellers use she finds it offensive; Puerto Ricans use the U.S. dollar because they are indeed part of the United States. “Maria has opened the door so we have to rethink: what is America?” she said, reiterating that Puerto Rican history is also United States history.

Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell will be presenting his series called Rain / Lluvia, which spotlights the political relationship between the United States and its Caribbean territory.

The exhibit will be open at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, in the Fine Arts Gallery. He will also be hosting a conversation about his art at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, in the Austin Reading Room and giving a speech at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, in Ice Auditorium.

Carrasquillo and professor Brian Winkenweder of the art department are taking a small group of students to both Puerto Rico and Cuba to study art this January.

Although the fates of the islands are unknown, the trip is still on their calendars. Carrasquillo said her first priority as a chaperone of this trip is to guarantee her students’ safety.

“I have been responsible in contacting people,”she said about the apartments students will stay in while abroad, but she’s also “not prepared to make any decisions at this point” regarding the future of the trip.

Some students in the class have even shown interest in creating a fund-raising opportunity for the Caribbean islands and victims of Mexico’s earthquakes, but the details about a potential event haven’t been finalized yet.

“We are a very strong island with a community that is very tight,” Carrasquillo said.

“It will be a great opportunity for Puerto Rico to rebuild the island for good.”