By: Angie Galván-Rodríguez
“Mama, can we go back to Puerto Rico for our next family vacation?”, my twelve-year-old daughter asked me days before the school year began. I thought to myself, someone was already counting the days to our next vacation before school even started. “Yes, I think we can work that out” and I grinned with content. The conversation ended, school started and Puerto Rico was penciled in my calendar as a focused intention for a family trip in 2018.
Weeks later, on September 20th 2017, the island of Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, the strongest hurricane the island has faced since Hurricane Felipe in September 13th, 1928. There had been many more hurricanes in between but Maria came with intense magnitude and transnational trauma that gives way in these current times via social media real-time coverage of the good and the bad. I couldn’t detach from the news casts or social media live posts of people on the island before they lost total power and communication .
I wept and my heart grew with melancholy as I watched the island that saw me bloom into late childhood, before I came to Chicago, be destroyed by a natural phenomenon. My mind transported me back to my childhood memories playing in the hills of Colinas de Cacao in Carolina, the streets of Bayamón, Saturday afternoons flying chiringas in El Morro in Old San Juan, fun filled trips to El Yunque rainforest, and the beautiful scenery that would hypnotize my young eyes as I looked out the car window during family road trips through the island to enjoy Fiestas patronales. Those beautiful memories began fading away and were overshadowed by reliving the terrifying memories of Hurricane Hugo I experienced as a child. I knew firsthand what people were feeling on the island. A feeling of despair and fear I don’t wish upon anyone. As the hurricane magnified through the island, I felt helpless and reacted by feeling numb and overwhelmed with sadness, a defense mechanism that I’m still trying to overcome.
After a day or two I was emotionally exhausted of watching horrific videos of floods and dangerous zinc plates dancing in category 4 winds, I contemplated fully unplugging after making a monetary donation towards hurricane relief funds. I attempted to detach to move forward with my week but my heart still felt for the island and the feeling of subtle despair remained. I couldn’t manage to shake it off.
Among the various hurricane relief fundraising events in Chicago, I came across AfriCaribe’s Bombazo Para Puerto Rico!!! , a fundraising event by Africaribe in collaboration with the Puerto Rican Agenda’s Hurricane Relief fund. At that moment, my heart and soul new this is where I would find some relief for my emotional turmoil.
AfriCaribe was founded by Evaristo “Tito” Rodriguez back in 2000, after years of being a key community member of preserving and teaching AfroBoricua dance genres to Chicago youth. Thanks to Tito’s community work, I myself found my re-connection and appreciation of AfroCaribbean dance at the age of twelve when I took Bomba y Plena dance classes with him. Back then, young Tito taught classes at “El Centro Cultural Ruiz Belvis” when it was located on Milwaukee avenue in Wicker Park. Taking his Bomba classes and eventually attending AfriCaribe’s Bombazos as a teenager and then into adulthood, has served as a way to continue embracing that part of my identity that is grounded on Puerto Rican Heritage as a child as well as my Afro-Dominican roots. AfriCaribe has always been fully embracing and inclusive of all that embodies my multifaceted AfroLatinidad and sense of “Hija del Caribe”.
On Saturday 23rd, days after the Hurricane devastated the island, I attended the Bombazo with my two children. They too had to be part of this healing. Along many others, we sat on the Batey-styled Casita de Don Pedro garden in Humboldt Park.
We listened to the drums “repicar” echoes of hope and the singing voices ring with strength. We watched people step into the dance floor to dance Bomba and pay homage to the island and as well as a Puerto Rican art form that has transcended decades and has remained resilient among its people. A bit rusty from what I once mastered in my youth, I stepped into the dance floor and I allowed the music take over.
That night, music and dance filled the air and served as a vehicle of healing to help us embrace the love and the power of humanity. It is what those in attendance needed, it is what I needed. It it is one of the many tools of resilience Puerto Rico needs in this difficult journey ahead.
As we exited the Bombazo, with heart full of hope that strength in solidarity will help those affected by the storm, I no longer felt numb with sadness. And although I may not be able to keep my promise to Leilani that we will visit Puerto Rico in the months to come, we will make it there when the time is right. In the meantime, I will share with Leilani stories of resilience from the island and the process of overcoming life-changing circumstances so that she can see it as an example of the strength among people she shares a common heritage with. Most importantly, I will share with her the acts of kindness and humanity that shine through in catastrophes such as Hurricane Maria, so she sees the value of giving, unity, love and faith.