Isla del Encanto: Stories of Puerto Rican Community and Resilience

14 May 2024 Isla del Encanto: Stories of Puerto Rican Community and Resilience

Image credit: Sydney Kim

A joyful and thought-provoking collection of stories about the resilience and rich sense of community with which the people of Puerto Rico overcome natural disasters, unreliable electrical power and a difficult political history. Music from Blue Dot Sessions.

First Aired: May 13, 2024


[ACT 1]
COMMISSIONER SANTOS: When I got out of my house the first time and we drove a little bit around, it was like a warzone. [Fade in serious music slowly] It was completely devastated. [Bring serious music to audible level]

MAYOR ORTIZ: Literally our town is destroyed. Every single way, the infrastructure, and the houses, the electrical system, the streets…

LIEN: In 2017, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
You just heard Lillian Mateo-Santos and Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz. Here are Alma Frontera, Carlos Santiago, and Jesús Hernandez.

[ACT 2]
ALMA: Nothing really compares this… there’s no way for me to really describe how Maria just decimated the island. And when you’re really used to living in, you know the cliche paradise where it is all green, it’s all foresty…

CARLOS: You see all this green? When Hurricane Maria hit, it was… it was sad. It was… there wasn’t a leaf on a tree. You just see the base of the tree.

JESUS: Cellular towers collapsed. No communications. No power systems. No water.

[music fades from sad background and cuts off for higher energy part]

LIEN: Hi! My name is Lien.

HAYLEA: I’m Haylea.

FAITH VICTORIA: I’m Faith Victoria.

CAROLINE: And I’m Caroline.

LIEN: We’re freshman at MIT. During our first semester here, we took a class where we worked on a proposal for improving electrical resilience in Puerto Rico, a US territory in the Caribbean.

HAYLEA: And while working on that, we realized just how unstable Puerto Rico’s electrical grid actually is.

LIEN: For 4 months, we spent hourrrss “frantically researching” solar panels,

HAYLEA: Microgrids


CAROLINE: Batteries

LIEN: Climate Patterns

HAYLEA: Geography

FAITH VICTORIA: Federal grants

HAYLEA: pause We REALLY wanted to help.

LIEN: But when our proposal was finished, we didn’t feel that we were done with our research. We thought it was important to see and experience the place we had studied. So, in the spring, we went to Puerto Rico.

[plane sound effects]

[ACT 3]
PILOT: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to San Juan, Puerto Rico! Where the local time is 6:36….

FAITH VICTORIA: After landing, we walked around Old San Juan. Around the city, we heard music from the street performers [fade in street music] and people encouraged us to join them in dancing and singing! [merengue brought up] And as cars passed by, reggaeton blasted from their open windows [reggaeton from car passing by]. There was music everywhere. Standing out on the streets and seeing it all unfold, we knew this place was special, and it was clear that the people loved it too. As we explored, we began asking people how they would describe Puerto Rico– using only three words.

[ACT 4]
VARIOUS PEOPLE: Three words…. That’s actually quite tough, three words. Uh, beautiful? ⋅
Magical, powerful ⋅ Rico ⋅ Puerto Rico mi patria ⋅ Hospitalario ⋅ Community ⋅ Spiritual ⋅ Unity ⋅ Sazón.. sazón is like, flavor ⋅ Mi corazon ⋅ Proud ⋅ Humble ⋅ Que la gente es.. amor ⋅ The first thing that comes to mind is sandungueo. Which really it's one of those African words in our vocabulary.. Sandungueo means to dance. To like, party, so.. Sandungueo.

[bump up music, then fade to transition music]
[transition music]

HAYLEA: The next day, we woke up bright and early to visit the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau or PREB- a government body that enforces energy policy on the island.

[ACT 5]
COMMISSIONER MATEO SANTOS: Good morning everybody, welcome to the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau. My name is Lillian Mateo Santos. I’m one of the 5, uh, commissioners of the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau. I prepared this short powerpoint to walk you through the change in the legal framework and landscape of our energy sector.

HAYLEA: With all the research we’d done, we had a lot of questions for her. But as she was talking about the electrical situation, one thing really stuck out to me.

[ACT 6]
COMMISSIONER MATEO SANTOS: For some of you, it may be unheard of, but there was people in Puerto Rico who didn’t have power for 8 months, but I got power… uh… the week of Thanksgiving, so it was two- two and a half months, approximately. So, for me it was something very traumatic to a certain extent because I have a special needs daughter, and there is a lot of, uh, bed-changing and bathing and all things involved. But I consider me… I consider myself a fortunate person because other people were struggling incredibly after the hurricane.

HAYLEA: And while we still had a lot of questions about the grid, and about the programs PREB had in progress–I kind of just wanted to be like, let’s go back to her life story.

[ACT 7]
COMMISSIONER MATEO SANTOS: For people who lost family members, uh, that changed their lives forever. And it was not a learning experience, it was something real, and that shouldn’t happen again. In my case, it gave me some assurance that you can do things you thought you couldn’t and that there are many things in life that you can live without for some time.

[transition music]

LIEN: After thanking Commissioner Mateo-Santos, we left to visit the Foundation for Puerto Rico, a nonprofit organization. When we entered the building, the staff welcomed us and then led us to a presentation room.

[ACT 8]
ALMA: Hi! Bienvenidos, my name is Alma Frontera and I’m the Vice President of Operations and Programs here at Foundation.

LIEN: Two weeks before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Hurricane Irma hit the neighboring islands in the Caribbean. So Alma’s story began not with Maria, but with Irma.

[ACT 9]
ALMA: We are very giving people, so we all came together; we emptied our warehouses, and we were sending everything to our neighboring islands, and we were receiving a lot of refugees from our neighboring islands so even just our hotels and rooms were now full.

LIEN: And just as Puerto Ricans were pouring resources into their neighboring islands, Hurricane Maria hit their own island two weeks later. Maria was already a devastating storm, and the lack of supplies made the impact much worse. But the generosity and sense of community that the Puerto Rican people displayed during Irma did not stop after Maria hit them. In fact, during relief efforts, that community resilience grew.

[ACT 10]
ALMA: Um, we would talk to the neighborhoods to understand who’s neighbor with who, and you’ll find you know neighbors saying, the lady that lives across our street, like, she has dementia, she’s locked in there, but there’s an alcoholic person that lives with her so don’t leave the food with him because he’ll sell it just leave the water and then leave the food with the other neighbor who cooks for her.

[TRACK 10]
LIEN: As someone who was never close to my neighbors, it was strange to hear that these people not only knew their neighbors, but knew them so well that they had systems to take care of each other during the hurricane relief efforts. And these sorts of stories were not a one time thing. It is just who they are.

[transition music]

FAITH VICTORIA: And later that night, we heard a similar sentiment from one of the workers at the hotel.

[ACT 11]
MARÍA: Mi nombre es María, trabajo aquí de banquete, vivo en Rio Grande.
RITA: My name is Maria, I work here as a banquet server, I live in Rio Grande.

MARÍA: Regularmente somos muy comunicativos y verdad siempre tratamos de ser cordiales con todo el mundo
RITA: We are usually good at communicating effectively with one another, and we always try to be friendly with everybody around us;

MARÍA: Pero dentro de la comunidad hubo más unión después del evento de Maria
RITA: But after María, there was even more unity within our community.

MARÍA: Y entonces pues en ese momento tu conociste a toda la comunidad
RITA: And so in that moment, you got to know everyone within your community well;

MARÍA: Porque cada uno se necesitaba y cada uno se ayudaba uno al otro.
RITA: Because every one of us needed support from one another, and every one of us provided the help that each of us needed.

[transition music]

[TRACK 11]
FAITH VICTORIA: As an unexpected stop, one of our trip leaders suggested we visit the Boys and Girls Club in Las Margaritas because of a project she had worked on there. On our way there, she stood up on the bus and explained the project’s history.

[ACT 12]
MABEL: Mabel Ramirez… and I am with MIT Lincoln Labs.
MABEL: We are going to get a tour of a solar power system to enable water for the Boys and Girls Club that was actually installed after Hurricane Maria. Several of us from MIT got together to bring technology and the community helped in the installation as well. So it was completely community engagement and all the engineers that came together.
MABEL: The idea was to allow the Boys and Girls Club to serve as a shelter and a community to provide food and water and have the community come there immediately after Maria.

[TRACK 12]
FAITH VICTORIA: Once we arrived, we walked through the building and up to the roof to see the full scope of the project– dozens of thin solar panels. We got to talk to Mabel about the project, how they’d installed everything in only a week; and it was really impressive.

FAITH VICTORIA: On our way back down, we passed classrooms with kids, running around, coloring, playing games. And as we walked around, we began to see exactly what Mabel’s project was helping to support. She had said that this Boys and Girls Club was used as a community center during recovery from Hurricane Maria, but that wasn’t its original purpose.

[ACT 13]
ISSIAR: Pues, mi nombre es Issiar Sore Rodriguez.
ROONEY: My name is Issiar Sore Rodriguez.
ISSIAR: Soy el post-secundario de Boys and Girls Club de Las Margaritas.
ROONEY: I run the post-secondary education of the boys and girls club in Las Margaritas.
ISSIAR: Básicamente el post-secundario trabaja en lo que es el área académica de los estudiantes.
ROONEY: Basically post-secondary is an academic area where we get students to study a professional job.
ISSIAR: Para que se pueden caminar a esa área profesional, que pueden tanto de trabajar y, como, estudiar eso que la apasionan en la vida.
I walk with them to reach this professional stage; where they can not only work, but also study what they are passionate about in life.

[TRACK 13]
FAITH VICTORIA: We learned that many Puerto Ricans are below the poverty line, and this cycle of generational poverty is only exacerbated by educational disruptions. Historically, Puerto Rico has dealt with repeated long-term school closures, and when students are in school, they face disruptions due to electrical outages. The Boys and Girls Club is a safe haven for those students, who often don’t have much support.

[ACT 14]
ISSIAR: A veces la gente dicen que los estudiantes están perdidos, los niños son- están perdidos, que la vida está perdido.
ROONEY: Sometimes people say that the students are a lost cause, that the kids are a lost cause; that their life, it’s a lost cause.
ISSIAR: Pero estos niños me dan vida a mí, me dan vida, y uno se siente en este momento confiado en que hay un futuro por delante, que estos niños van a dejar por Puerto Rico y el mundo, que nos van a dejar de hablar así.
ROONEY: But these kids give life to me. And I feel very confident there’s a future where these kids are going to prove them wrong.

[TRACK 14]
FAITH VICTORIA: Mabel’s project was a response to Hurricane Maria, but now it has taken on an added importance– giving these kids an opportunity to thrive.

[transition music]

[TRACK 15]
CAROLINE: Later in the week, we visited another community organization– a nonprofit called Casa Pueblo, located in the mountain municipality of Adjuntas. We had researched them last semester, and they’d captured our attention because after Hurricane Maria they were the only place for miles that still had power, thanks to their off-grid solar-powered system.

CAROLINE: We heard over and over that no one was prepared for Maria, but Casa Pueblo was. When we arrived there, co-founder Alexis Massol Gonzales began speaking to us. We learned there was something way before Maria that motivated them to become electrically independent.

[ACT 15]
ALEXIS: En 1898, estados unidos invadió Puerto Rico
DANIEL: In 1898, the United States invaded Puerto Rico
ALEXIS: y se apoderó militar, políticamente, económicamente, hasta el dia de hoy
DANIEL: And they took over this country militarily, politically, economically. This remains true today.

[TRACK 16]
CAROLINE: Alexis explained that, since Puerto Rico is a colonized island, this affects how Puerto Ricans view the world.

[ACT 16]
ALEXIS: “El colonizado, no tiene futuro. El futuro lo decide la metrópolis.
DANIEL: The colonized person, doesn’t have a future; because the future is determined by the colonizers;
ALEXIS: Y el colonizado- tampoco disfruta el pasado; Porque fue borrado.
DANIEL: And the colonized don’t enjoy their past; Because it has been erased.

[TRACK 17]
CAROLINE: But that doesn’t mean they’ve lost hope for their future.

[ACT 17]
ALEXIS: Queremos motivar a la gente
DANIEL: We wanted to motivate the people;
ALEXIS: Porque el colonialismo hace de los puertorriqueños y las puertorriqueñas que seamos pesimistas.
DANIEL: Because colonialism makes Puerto Ricans pessimistic;
ALEXIS: Porque nosotros nos han negado un mejor país.
DANIEL: Because they have denied us a better country;
ALEXIS: Y entonces decidimos que de abajo parriba vamos a ir construyendo un pais alternativo.
DANIEL: So then we decided that, from the bottom to the top, we would build an alternative country.

[TRACK 18]
CAROLINE: And so they did. As its very first project, Casa Pueblo stopped a destructive US mining operation.

LIEN: And then, they turned that area into a protected forest- that they now manage.

HAYLEA: They organized protests in Washington, DC to fight against a project for a natural gas pipeline in Puerto Rico.

FAITH VICTORIA: They run a school where they teach music and art, and engage kids in the natural world through open-air classrooms in the forest they manage.

LIEN: They also plan to power all of Adjuntas, the municipality where they are based, with their independent electrical systems.

[fade in ending music, raise up briefly and then fade under Caroline]

[TRACK 19]
CAROLINE: Growing up as a Jamaican American, I really related to the colonized mindset Alexis described, and hearing his story inspired me. In his words, I heard my family and their hopes for Jamaica’s future mirrored in Casa Pueblo’s mission. And despite Puerto Rico’s complicated history with the US, Alexis portrayed no hatred. Instead he emphasized striving for a future where we can come together as equals and better the world around us. Even more than that, his unwavering love for his people and his island was palpable– and I saw that same love mirrored in so many of the people we met.

CAROLINE: We visited Puerto Rico with the history of Hurricane Maria on our minds– expecting to learn more about the electrical issues Puerto Ricans face. Instead, we met people whose history with disadvantage went far beyond Maria. And we met people who didn’t let any of that dampen their spirit, or their hope.

CAROLINE: Puerto Rican’s stories didn’t start or end with Maria. And while they’ve been told throughout history how their story should go, now they’re writing their own.

[raise ending music to play in the clear for a few seconds, then fade under credits]

KAHLEN: This show was produced by the Spring 2024 MIT Terrascope Radio Class: Rita Braun, Haylea Brock, Faith Victoria Ni [knee], Nerissa Wong, Daniel Sanango [san-on-go], Rooney Salas [sal-as], Caroline Brown, Kahlen Wheaton, and Lien [lean] Nyguyen [wing]. The Terrascope Radio Class is a part of MIT Terrascope, a learning community for first-year undergraduate students. The class was developed in collaboration with MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program.
Thank you Terrascope faculty David McGee and community coordinator Michelle Contos and well as radio instructor Ari Epstein [ep – stine] and Undergraduate Teaching Fellow Xiner Luo [low].
Music from Blue Dot Sessions.
Thank you for listening!

[raise ending music to play in the clear, fade off at the end]

Music Credits for PRX:
Sad music-
● Title: Arlan Vale
● Artist: Blue Dot Sessions
● Album: Cauldron
● Year: 2017
● Length: 45 seconds

Transition Music-
● Title: Selftop Speech
● Artist: Blue Dot Sessions
● Album: Thimble Rider
● Year: 2024
● Length: 30 seconds

The Friends We Made Along the Way Music-
● Title: Georgii
● Artist: Blue Dot Sessions
● Album: Fornax
● Year: 2021
● Length: 2:15 minutes