For many Puerto Ricans, Hurricane Maria was a life-altering and traumatizing experience they will never forget. This also applies to Puerto Ricans living in the mainland — Florida especially. According to a new study conducted by Cristalís Capielo (an assistant professor of counseling and counseling psychology at Arizona State University) that was published in The Counseling Psychologist, Hurricane Maria actually put Puerto Ricans living in Florida in an interesting predicament.
“Connection to the island may put [Florida] Puerto Ricans at both an advantage and a disadvantage in terms of their secondary trauma to the storm,” Capielo wrote in the study titled, “The Day no one spoke: Florida Puerto Rican’s reaction to Hurricane Maria.”
The study which Capielo claims is the first to explore the psychological reactions of Puerto Ricans (living on the mainland) with secondary exposure to Hurricane Maria, focuses mainly on Puerto Ricans living in Florida. If you’re wondering why Florida and not New York, it’s because Florida now holds the largest Puerto Rican community living on the mainland. Also, thousands of Puerto Ricans fled the island and looked for shelter in Florida after the hurricane.
The hurricane impacted Puerto Ricans in Florida greatly and for a number of reasons. Not only did it obviously cause trauma but it also gave Puerto Ricans on the mainland an opportunity to be the voice for Puerto Ricans on the island that were being ignored after the Hurricane. The Puerto Ricans on the mainland were able to voice their opinions on how the federal government really wasn’t doing enough in terms of Hurricane relief efforts. There was a resilience that was developed within the community following the storm. The study interviewed Puerto Ricans focus groups in Florida and found that Hurricane Maria not only strengthened their cultural pride — their Puerto Rican pride — but motivated them to want to help Puerto Ricans on the island.
This is what Capielo meant when she concluded the study claiming that the hurricane gave Puerto Ricans on the mainland a sense of purpose. It not only devastated Puerto Ricans on the island, but it clearly devastated Puerto Ricans here as well who regardless of whether or not they had family on the island, still felt this sense of connection to those on the island. It was this Puerto Rican pride, this sense of humanity, and this idea that all Puerto Ricans are essentially family, that inspired so many here to help whether it meant donating, speaking up about the lack of relief efforts, or going to the island to volunteer.
Natascha Otero-Santiago, founder of Parranda Puerto Rico, an organization dedicated to uniting the Puerto Rican diaspora on the mainland, told NBC News that before Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans who remained on the island believed themselves to be different and better than the Puerto Ricans living on the mainland. But the Hurricane triggered a sense of unity. It proves that at the end of the day, whether we’re from the mainland or not, as Latinos when we see our people suffering we’re quick to have one another’s backs and that’s really what matters.