FAILURE WITH PUERTO RICO By Thelma Reyna
With Poem from New Book by Pasadena CA Indie Publisher
In the wake of historic consecutive hurricanes slamming our nation’s Gulf Coast and the Caribbean—Irma, Jose, Maria—and their unprecedented destruction, our collective anguish has turned to rebuilding and rescue efforts that are expected to last for years. Much has hinged on the U.S. president’s responses to the disasters: his mobilization of federal resources and oversight of FEMA, as well as commiserating with the suffering of the people.
Sadly, the current office holder’s report card on handling disasters falls short. His own rave self-reviews aside, the man’s tardy outreach to console the stricken people and his lack of authentic compassion in his demeaning tweets and visits to the storm areas have reinforced the public image of him as self-congratulatory and out of touch with real people’s suffering. Nowhere can this be seen more starkly than in his response to the nation receiving the least of his attention and the brunt of his disparagement: Puerto Rico.
Today, 41 days after PR was struck by Irma, conditions on the island are only slightly less dire as on day one: the death toll has risen; potable water is still unavailable for all; people struggle with insufficient food, power, and communications; patients in hospitals continue to die. Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest town, San Juan, appeared regularly on TV for weeks, weeping in frustration, begging aid from anyone in the world, criticizing our federal response to their life-and-death struggle, and generally sounding like a broken record: We need drinking water, food, and medicine! People are dying.
But as the world now knows, Mayor Cruz’s reward for caring about Puerto Ricans’ survival was surrealistic: The American president publicly called Cruz a bad leader, depicting the disaster victims as lazy and wanting to “have everything done for them,” which was far from factual. He did not visit P.R. as readily as he did Texas and Florida, both large red states with huge electoral votes. Instead, P.R. had to wait 13 days before their nation’s president went to “the island in the big ocean very far away,” as he referred to it while he golfed and relaxed on his resort, tweeted slanders at Cruz, and Puerto Ricans perished.
My new book about life in the United States of America since the election of this president includes the poem below about Puerto Rico’s fate thus far in the hands of the man who—when he finally, reluctantly made it to P.R.—scolded island officials for putting the federal budget “out of whack” because of funds channeled to assist them; implied that the deaths of 16 Puerto Ricans (the death toll at that time) was insignificant, unlike the “thousands” who died in Katrina, “a real catastrophe”; and all but ghosted Mayor Cruz while he praised himself endlessly and praised his FEMA team hyperbolically. He topped off that disastrous visit by throwing paper towel rolls at anxious recipients of aid, instead of taking that opportunity to meet them face-to-face, shake their hands, embrace them, or console them. He “toured” the island for less than half an hour, then departed quickly. He failed in attempting to be human.
Yet, in his callous charade, he continuously gave himself an “A+” for his work and required, as has become typical of him with large groups, that officials in the room praise him lavishly in round-robin fashion, much like “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Un. In the days since this fiasco, “45,” as some refer to him, threatened to pull all FEMA assistance and complained that the U.S. cannot continue providing aid and military assistance to the island for much longer. So, while Texas is favored with thousands more boots on the ground providing relief, though their situation is not as dire as is Puerto Rico’s, 45 continues his inhumane marginalization and cruelty toward our fellow Americans in P.R.
Here is a look at the heroic P.R. mayor, from my new book of sociopolitical commentary in poetry and prose about the era of the man who would be king. The book is due for release later this year or early next.
By Thelma Reyna
“When it bothers someone that you’re asking for drinking water,
medicine for the sick and food for the hungry, that person has much
deeper problems than what can be discussed in an interview.”
–Carmen Yulín Cruz
He called her “nasty woman,” so she wore “NASTY” like a medal on her T-shirt on TV.
He called her a bad leader, so she focuses like hell’s laser on saving her people’s lives despite him.
He thinks he can tweet her into silence, degrade her into turnabout.
She’s a Latina after all, poor, homeless, with a heart that feels every cut the broken branches make on her people’s hands when they clear roads.
She feels every parched breath pushed like knives into old people’s throats in a nursing home when generators sighed and died.
She feels brittle bones of people she helps pull from waters toxic and putrid.
She feels men’s pain when they cart sisters and mothers and fathers from splintered homes sodden and deadly.
She feels the abyss of grief when she sees toddlers and children muddied and still.
She feels the rumbles and stabbings of hunger and thirst of people stranded alone.
Mayor Carmen wears glasses, rubber waders thick and heavy to her hips, wears her outrage and pleas on her face and lips like Melania wears de la Renta with heels.
Mayor Carmen knows no vanity, like him and her.
Mayor Carmen knows no rest, like him and her in their resort when he lambasted her.
Mayor Carmen knows death and fear, desperation and tribulation, isolation and abandonment every day that breaks.
We don’t have time for her political noise, Trump’s team says.*
Mayor Carmen knows he doesn’t care.
It’s not politics, she said to him.
We need water, she said on TV for the thousandth time with the death toll 39.
But for him it always is,
and they’ll have water when he gets around to it.
THELMA T. REYNA, Ph.D. Thelma’s books have won 8 national literary awards. She has written 4 books and, as Poet Laureate in Altadena, CA, has edited 2 anthologies showcasing the poems of about 100 local and regional poets. The title of Dr. Reyna’s new book is:
Thelma Reyna is an editor with her writing consultancy, The Writing Pros; and Chief Editor at her indie publishing venture in Pasadena, CA, Golden Foothills Press. Dr. Reyna holds a Ph.D. from UCLA.Visit her website at www.GoldenFoothillsPress.com