Set against a 59-meter-high Puerto Rican flag made of steel on Paseo Boricua in Humboldt Park, local elected officials and community leaders called for action on Tuesday after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico that landed on the weekend – shortly after Hurricane Maria’s fifth anniversary.

According to the co-chair, in 2017 the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago led aid to the island, landed a plane with essential supplies in Puerto Rico, opened a welcome center for displaced families, and donated $ 600,000 in microgrants to more than 50 Puerto Rican cities. Jessie Fuentes.

“The Puerto Rican program is ready to go again,” Fuentes said in the scorching late-morning sun to a crowd of community members, some of whom were Puerto Rican or family-born, as they cheered and clapped while holding a small Puerto Rican flag.

“Many of us will not be able to remove the image of the Utuado Bridge, which was just built after Hurricane Maria was severed from its roots by a landslide,” added Fuentes. “The people of Puerto Rico need our support, our solidarity. But more importantly, they need money. And I can’t stress it enough. “

The call came because many criticized the lack of media coverage of the natural disaster that had left many on the island without electricity and running water.

“Visibility matters. (Monday) we learned more about Queen Elizabeth’s funeral than we all would like to know, ”said Fuentes. “We need to fully understand what is happening in Puerto Rico, we need to create this visibility so that we can call for reconstruction and need resources.”

Former Congressman Luis Gutierrez said that when his plane left Puerto Rico on Saturday, the skies were clear and the sun was shining. Less than 12 hours later, a tropical storm that hit the island turned into Hurricane Fiona at the last minute.

“We need to understand that global warming is real. It affects the world. And we are seeing the impact of global warming in Puerto Rico, ”said Gutierrez.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado, 26th, spoke to the unity Puerto Rican people demonstrate when it comes to disaster.

“Even with our deep internal political differences when it comes to times like this, we meet for the greater good,” said Maldonado. “So aside from political differences, we are here to do the right thing for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.”

Many speakers referred to LUMA, a private power distribution company in Puerto Rico, expressing disbelief at what they termed the inability to build a resilient electricity grid for the island. They also called on the US government to investigate the company.

“Yes, we should look at what is happening with the privatization of our energy system. But we should also look at why nearly a billion dollars is idle in the US Treasury and not shipped to the Puerto Rican people, ”said Gutierrez, referring to aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. .

In Spanish, Gutierrez also called on local and state authorities to express solidarity with Puerto Rico, as they did when Hurricane Maria struck.

“There is nothing closer to my heart than the people of Puerto Rico than the island where my wife Soraida was born, where my grandparents and all my predecessors were born: my father and mother. I have this island in my heart, he said, placing a hand on his chest. “I am asking all of you who are proud to be Puerto Rican – as you should – donate and contribute during this time of need.”

Governor JB Pritzker issued a statement of solidarity with Puerto Rican people on the island and in Chicago on Monday.

“We must all do more to recognize our duty to the people of Puerto Rico; not only because they are tragic, but because too often Puerto Ricans are not allowed to speak for themselves, ‘the statement reads. “We have to realize that their unfair place in this nation will push them aside. We stand with you. “

“Illinois has a large and dynamic Puerto Rican community, and I know many of them today worry about family and friends hundreds of miles away. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. “

Pritzker also said the state will offer all necessary assistance to hurricane victims, noting the recent admission of asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Illinois from the southern US border.

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“Illinois is not concerned with diverting those in need, and we will continue to host these travelers and all Puerto Rican climate refugees seeking a safe landing site with all the resources available,” he said.

At a press conference, Aileen Velazquez, Chicago’s purchasing director, expressed regret on behalf of Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her associates over those affected by Fiona’s Category 3.

“The city has a strong, long-lasting relationship with Puerto Rican communities and we are committed to working together,” she said.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez, 33rd and Chicago Democrats, Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas, and state MP Delia Ramirez, who is running for the new 3rd Congress District, spoke about the repetition of disasters on the island and what they called the lack of response to Puerto Rican demands.

“One of my mentors here in this community always said that history does not repeat itself, but historical problems need to be resolved,” said Pacione-Zayas. “It is unfortunate that five years later, practically until now, we are here, talking about the same things, making the same demands. It was once said that if you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result, this is the definition of madness. This is what we are experiencing now. “

Pacione-Zayas said Hurricane Fiona is not the only disaster currently experiencing the island that she called the modern US colony.

“The people of Puerto Rico have never been able to self-determine. All their structures must be run by the federal government, “she said. “For more than two decades, we have been experiencing a fiscal crisis that has deprived us of all capacity to properly plan and effectively implement a strategy to resolve what we know is real and that climate change is real.”

The state senator also mentioned the displacement of thousands of people after Hurricane Maria.

“This is a humanitarian crisis” – Pacione-Zayas. “And it is a parody that we must continue to organize our dollars, our people, our messages to spread this information and do what is rightly entitled to the people of Puerto Rico, and that is to preserve their humanity and dignity. “

Rodriguez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, remembers protesting against the lack of access to water when she was 6 years old. Rodriguez and Pacione-Zayas said people are used to the lack of electricity and access to clean water on the island.

“I have a message for everyone from the people of Puerto Rico, from my family, from my neighbors: they are exhausted. Feels like Groundhog Day, Rodriguez said.

She added that Puerto Ricans help each other by feeding their neighbors sancocho or beef stew. “They’re there for each other,” she said. “And I think one of the most important things we can do right now is support them when they do it because they know exactly what they are doing.”

Sol Cordero, who has lived in Humboldt Park from an early age, has a sister and nieces who live on the island. They are safe, but communication was inconsistent due to the lack of electricity, she told Tribune.

“Everyone is well. But they don’t have light. They don’t have water. And they’re just trying to stay united, ”said Cordero. “They all live together in the same neighborhood or in the same city. That is why they all try to stay together and help each other. “

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She said that during Hurricane Maria, she was unable to contact her sister for the first few days.

“I think this one was a bit worse because we couldn’t hear it from them for a few days,” said Cordero. “So as soon as I got a call from her, I started crying. And it makes me feel emotional now because it’s coming back. “

The National Museum of Puerto Rican Art and Culture and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center will also coordinate fundraising activities under the Puerto Rican agenda.

“We cannot duplicate our efforts. We must all be on the same page about this. That is why we intend to take care of the most urgent needs, ”said Billy Ocasio, director of the museum.

For more information on donations, visit the Puerto Rican Agenda website at puertoricanchicago.org

adperez@chicagotribune.com

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