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Hampshire students, faculty rally for Puerto Rico

  • Maria Cartagena, program director for Hampshire College Community Partnerships for Social Change, speaks to about 200 students during a rally held at the college Monday in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Wilson Valentin-Escobar, Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies at Hampshire College, speaks during a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. "Non Satis Scire", or "to know is not enough", is the Hampshire College motto. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College Dean of Students Gloria Lopez speaks during a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College Dean of Students Gloria Lopez speaks during a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College Chief Diversity Officer Diana Sutton-Fernandez speaks during a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Wilson Valentin-Escobar, Associate Professor of Sociology and American Studies at Hampshire College, speaks during a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College Chief Diversity Officer Diana Sutton-Fernandez speaks prior to a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Poet and University of Massachusetts Amherst Professor of English Martin Espada speaks during a rally held at Hampshire College on Monday, October 2, 2017, to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College Associate Professor of Computer Science Jaime Davila speaks during a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hampshire College Community Partnerships for Social Change Program Director Maria Cartagena speaks during a rally held at the college on Monday, October 2, 2017, in Amherst to address the federal response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



@BeraDunau
Thursday, October 05, 2017

AMHERST — Monday saw a rally on Hampshire College campus in support of disaster relief for Puerto Rico, which featured speakers from the Hampshire community and beyond, many of whom shared harrowing stories about how the fallout from Hurricane Maria has personally affected their families.

Speakers also condemned federal government policy toward Puerto Rico in the wake of the disaster, and President Donald Trump in particular.

“This is an intentional genocide,” said Wilson Valentín-Escobar, a Hampshire College professor and one of the rally’s organizers and speakers.

“Nero fiddles while Puerto Rico burns,” said Martín Espada, a poet and an English professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, referring to the president.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. Since then, many of the island’s citizens have not had adequate access to food, water, electricity or shelter.

The Hampshire event was billed as a walkout, although it appears that no Hampshire classes were in progress at the time of the rally. Drawing some 200 people, it was held in support of Puerto Rico, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands, other islands in the Carribean, and Mexico, which experienced multiple earthquakes last month.

Hampshire College spokesman John Courtmanche said the event, organized by faculty and staff late last week, had the support of the school’s administration.

“It’s really a humanitarian crisis that’s impacting 3.4 million U.S. citizens,” said Diana Sutton-Fernández, the college’s chief diversity officer, prior to the event, of the situation in Puerto Rico.

Both of her parents live in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, where she grew up, and she said supplies had still not been delivered there.

Jones Act

Valentín-Escobar criticized the Jones Act, which mandates that any ship going between U.S. ports must be a U.S. ship crewed by a mostly American crew. The Jones Act was lifted for a 10-day period for Puerto Rico on Sept. 28, but this was clearly not a satisfactory course of action for Valentín-Escobar.

“It tells me that my value, and the value of my family in Puerto Rico, is only good for 10 days,” he said.

The act was temporarily waived for Florida and Texas in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Permanently repealing it was one of the demands of the rally.

In his remarks, Espada criticized the actions of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board, which he alleged had ruined Puerto Rico prior to the hurricane by controlling its economy for the benefit of “vulture hedge funds.”

“Colonialism is a hurricane! Racism is a hurricane! Economic exploitation is a hurricane! Donald Trump is a hurricane!” Espada said.

Speaking after the event Espada, who grew up in Brooklyn, said Trump’s remark about Puerto Rican leaders wanting everything to be done for them and not being able to get their workers to help comes from racist stereotypes about Puerto Ricans that sprang up among New Yorkers of Trump’s generation — namely that all Puerto Ricans were on welfare and looking for a handout.

“That was a stereotype I also grew up with that impacted me directly,” Espada, 60, said. “When he said those words … I knew exactly where they came from.”

‘Exhausting’

Over the weekend a number of Hampshire students volunteered at Nueva Esperanza, a Holyoke-based community organization, preparing aid packages to be sent to Puerto Rico.

Nueva Esperanza board president Maria Cartagena, who works as Hampshire’s Community Partnerships for Social Change program coordinator, thanked the students for their work.

Cartagena also said she still does not know the whereabouts of three of her great-aunts, whom she described as “the matriarchs of our family.”

“We still today have not heard anything from them,” she said, choking up.

Some of the most wrenching words came from Irisdelia García, a senior at Amherst College with family in Puerto Rico.

“I’m reminded every single day of how resilient my people are,” she said. “And how strong they are.”

Nevertheless, she noted how the current situation had taken a toll on her.

“To be Puerto Rican and a college student is exhausting,” she said, saying that it seems like everybody has forgotten about the effects of the hurricane.

“I have cried every single day for my family. For my island,” said García, choking up.

Cartagena said she expects an influx of families from Puerto Rico into Holyoke, and she said students interested in volunteering should come see Nueva Esperanza.

“All hands need to be on deck,” she said.