Opinion: Not a state yet still our responsibility

Veronica Winham, Assistant Editor

After a recent day-long power outage on Maui, it is hard to imagine going six to eight days without electricity. But on the island of Puerto Rico, people will be without power for the next six to eight months.

It is hard to comprehend the severity of a natural disaster such as a Category 4 hurricane while living on an island as isolated and generally pristine as Maui. It becomes even harder still when the people in government dismiss something that has destroyed lives and is continuing to ruin them.

What happened to Puerto Rico is not something to dismiss.

Just because the storm did not hit Hawaii, or the United States mainland, does not mean we should not care. I believe that people need to become more conscious of the world around them so that they will become motivated to take action, because so far our efforts to help the residents of Puerto Rico have not been enough.

If we do not speak out for the people in Puerto Rico, who will help us in a similar situation? Why is it that we can turn our backs on people when they need our help the most, simply because the hurricane did not directly affect us?

But we shouldn’t only help because we may need something from them later on. We need to help because it is the right thing to do.

People try to justify placing their concerns about Hurricane Harvey in Texas over Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico by saying that at least Texas is a state. Yes, Texas is a state; however, Puerto Rico is a protectorate, which means that they have delegates in the House of Representatives, pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, and are protected by America’s military. They deserve as much governmental aid as any state.

According to Section 302 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, people born in Puerto Rico have the same American citizenship as people born in the States. The people in Puerto Rico are citizens and humans just like we are, and the island should receive the same amount of attention as a disaster of similar caliber on the mainland.

The devastation might be hard to believe when it happens so far away from home, but it is still an issue people need to talk about in order to instigate change. Look at photos. Read articles. Help yourself learn more about Hurricane Irma and Maria, and then in turn you can begin to help these citizens rebuild their lives.

Buildings are destroyed. Gas lines are hours long. Lives and belongings were lost. Photographs included in an article by the New York Times entitled “A Day in the Life of Battered Puerto Rico” shows the intense destruction and suffering. While photos aren’t the same as seeing it in person, it is a start in understanding the severity of the storm.

An especially heartbreaking article by CNN covers the island a month after the storm. Writer Leyla Santiago wrote, “I didn’t recognize what I saw. Trees were down, debris was scattered everywhere. For a few minutes, I couldn’t even find a landmark to orient myself at all to the town I called home.” Santiago’s description of returning to her former home and feeling helpless is just one story of many.

When our president threatens to withdraw troops from Puerto Rico or handles valuable resources carelessly, this reflects poorly on our country, and sets a bad example to those watching. Paper towels might not be valuable to some, but they are precious to those living in devastation.

President Trump went on to insult the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, saying she has not done enough to help Puerto Rico despite her many public appearances in rebuilding homes and helping people in flooded areas.

Cruz has repeatedly criticized Trump’s lack of reaction to the Puerto Rican catastrophe, and responded to his remarks by saying, “I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles long.”

The people in Puerto Rico are learning to be resourceful with the limited amount of resources they do have left, but they should not be alone.

Seabury Hall as a community can do more than a coin drive, such as having a Winterim group go down and help rebuild, or by simply educating themselves and others about the true severity of the hurricanes. Knowing more about what people are going through in Puerto Rico will bring awareness to the cause and motivate more people to help the islanders in need.

It is our responsibility as US citizens, but more importantly our responsibility as global citizens, to help those in Puerto Rico who have lost everything.