Photo essay: Puerto Ricans write their untold stories the news didn’t cover

Peoples own words reveal they each experienced Hurricane Maria in different ways, with some upsides amid the calamity


For every life it affected, Hurricane Maria created a story. Most of those stories, however, remain untold. During the medias coverage of the disaster, we got so fixated on which houses broke and which trees fell that we sometimes overlooked those who lived in the houses and those who planted the trees. For the most part we forgot to actually ask those who lived through the storm what they had been through.

Six months after Hurricane Maria, I decided to go to Puerto Rico and ask people about their experiences. Instead of having their stories written about by an outsider, however, I wanted to give Puerto Ricans the opportunity to tell their stories for themselves. I gave them newspapers and asked them to write their own words over the ones that had been written about them.

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I used to believe that disasters were black and white, and that everyone experienced them the same way. I was wrong. In Puerto Rico I met dreamers who believed tragedy could drive positive change. I met people in different stages of anger, some still battling, some learning to let go. I met those who had recently gotten back on their feet, and some who had never fallen off. I came to understand that the only commonality was that Maria provoked something for everyone. Everyone was affected one way or another; each person felt something unique, and I was lucky enough that some shared those feelings with me.

Isha worked at the rental shop where we got our car. The hurricane happened the day she was supposed to start. She talked of her grandfather, who had lost electricity and now washed his clothes in the river. When I asked her to write one of her stories down, however, Isha instead of writing something personal wrote about Puerto Rico in general, about the changes that Maria brought. She said a sense of community formed among Puerto Ricans that hadnt previously existed. Suddenly her words changed from I to us and just like that she became a voice for a larger group.

Isha. Photograph: Ceylin Torgay

This was a common trend that I observed when asked to write a message to the world, no one spoke for themselves; they used the platform to speak for everyone that was affected, so much so that some even signed their letters Puerto Rico. I realized that in disasters of this magnitude, the self disappears within the formation of a unified group. This is about each other.

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Pablo: Its not easy having everything, then losing it all in a moment, without resources to survive and anything to pay with. Photograph: Ceylin Torgay

Pablo, the owner of a local music shop, helped me realize why this was happening. He said that after the hurricane hit it didnt matter if you were rich or poor, privileged or not; you were merely someone in the gas line, waiting to fill empty tanks like everyone else. There was nothing left to get ahead to. One day you had the security and material comfort accumulated over many years of work, and the next day, Pablo said, it was all gone.

Only steps from Pablos store I met Genesis, a young woman full of hope who saw it differently. Although many of her friends and neighbors had recently left the island to find jobs elsewhere, those who remained were taking the post-Maria world as an opportunity to restart. Having lost their old routine, they chose to create a new one filled with what they believed in. They started opening local shops (like the one she works in) that reflected their passions and dreams. And just like that a stronger and happier community started forming.

Monica. Photograph: Ceylin Torgay

Many Puerto Ricans told stories about the creative lengths people went to communicate during the crisis. Like the people of Ponce, who took old analog radio devices from a museum in order to communicate with the rest of the island. Or the small village in the heart of the island where all roads leading in and out were blocked by fallen trees; there, the villagers wrote messages in giant letters on the ground for passing planes.

While some were eager to share, others were not as ready. I met a man who carried the sadness of the hurricane in his eyes and the burden of the recovery on his shoulders. When I told him I was doing my project because I believed the world still didnt know what happened, he replied: Puerto Ricans dont even know what happened.

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Kevin. Photograph: Ceylin Torgay

There was a shaved ice vendor in Ponce. No matter how often I asked about his experiences of Maria, he would simply respond with various facts and anecdotes about the shaved ice business. Perhaps, to help ease the pain of yesterday, we sometimes give our all to the job in front of us today.

One of the last people I met was Lady Lee Andrews, a poet and the owner of a shop and space that houses artists. She told me of a poem she wrote during the power outage that followed Maria. The poem was called If You Ask. The title seemed to encapsulate what I had hoped to do by asking Puerto Ricans about their experiences.

Luis: we are doing everything that we can to be the people we were before this experience Photograph: Ceylin Torgay

If we dont ask, we will never know the pain people go through. And if we dont know, we can never understand whos hurting, what they need and how to help.

But there are those who want to share their experiences, those who want the world to know what they have been through. All we have to do is listen.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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