A note from Michelle Bettancourt:
“On February 3, 2017 I decided to leave behind everything I knew and move to Bethesda, Maryland. At the time it was mostly because of my boyfriend, but underneath I was really looking for better opportunities that I didn’t have back home. I still remember that one way flight out of San Juan, PR. As I stared down at the beautiful crystal clear water, I remember crying and thinking “I’ll come back someday”. People have asked me what it felt like to move to a different country at that age, to be honest I never considered it a different country as PR has been part of the US for over 100 years. Did you know that? Because not many people do. When I think about it, I really had no idea what to expect when I made the decision to move. I wasn’t moving to Miami, where everyone speaks Spanish. I was moving to a place I had only visited once before. How will it be now that I need to speak a different language on a daily basis? Will people stare at me if they hear me speaking Espanol? Moving here was eye opening. I learned how little people knew about Puerto Rico and the people that live there. Back home I felt a part of something, here I constantly look over my shoulder whenever I speak in public. When will the day come that someone will say “go back to your own country”. Little do they know, it’s the same as theirs.
Growing up I never doubted that PR was part of the US but that quickly changed in September 2017. To be more specific, on September 20, 2017. You could say that was one of the worst days of my life. It’s one of those days you’ll never forget. On September 19, 2017 I went to sleep with tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness, desperation and uncertainty. The uncertainty of not knowing what will happen to the beautiful Island I call home. But most of all, the uncertainty of not knowing how my family will deal with what’s about to happen. The beautiful Island I call home was about to be ravaged by a category 5 hurricane and nothing was standing in its way. The morning of September 20, 2017 my body headed over to work but my heart was back in San Juan, PR. I remember texting with my family early in the morning while things were still “ok”. But just a couple of hours later, it was like people went missing, you could not get ahold of anyone, not even through a landline. I sat at my desk watching the live stream of the news as tears ran down my cheeks while I watched my island being torn to shreds. Hours later the entire island was under a complete blackout. There was no power or water and little did we know, for some people, it would not come back for another year. It took me over a week to finally be able to hear my parents voice, and over a month to be able to talk to my grandparents. I never knew how much I would miss listening to my family’s voice, until the possibility of talking on the phone with them was taken away from me. You ask yourself, it’s 2017, how long can it take to get the power back, send help to the people that need it?
Watching from the sidelines was even harder than I could have imagined. I felt so powerless. I thought about flying home to bring my family some basic essential supplies, but no one was flying in or out. Things got so bad that my brother and I had to coordinate to get my grandparents out of the island while things got back to normal. I remember turning on the news every morning and being completely shocked by the little coverage that the news on the mainland was showing. It seemed like no one seemed to care. You could say that we were not prepared for a category 5 hurricane to hit, but the US wasn’t either. It took weeks and months to send over the necessary help to Puerto Rico. If you knew that a category 5 hurricane was on its way, why wouldn’t you send supplies days ahead? What makes us different? Is it that we speak a different language? Is it that we’re not a state? Maybe we’ll just never know.”