Members of the Puerto Rican diaspora protested on Jan. 23, 2020, against the government led by Wanda Vazquez. (Marielis Acevedo Irizarry /El Diario)

Read the original story by Edwin Martínez in Spanish at El Diario
Translated and condensed by Carlos Rodríguez Martorell

New York is home to over 700,000 Puerto Ricans, and many more have migrated to the Big Apple after a series of natural disasters, including Hurricane María and the recent earthquakes that shook the island. Though the city offers vital assistance programs, many people affected by the disasters don’t know how to access them, prompting a proposal to create a dedicated office to provide guidance to the Boricua population. 

Councilman Ritchie Torres introduced a bill Jan. 23 seeking to green-light the Office of Puerto Rico-New York City Affairs. The office, which would require a still undetermined million-dollar budget investment, would be tasked with lending displaced families a hand on basic paperwork, obtaining access to municipal programs, getting important documents from the island’s government agencies and applying for assistance during their transition to living in New York City.  

“An estimated 130,000 Puerto Ricans fled after Hurricane María, equivalent to 4 percent of the island’s population. Although thousands of families have come to New York looking for a better future, they do not know where to go for help. People from other places often turn to their consulates, but Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and there is no such place in the city,” said the Bronx councilman, adding that the office would be called PRNYC.

“The idea is for Puerto Ricans arriving in New York to be able to connect with services through this great office, as well as find out ways to be referred to humanitarian aid programs and obtain documents they are missing. That is the least we can do for a place with which we have a special relation and that is in a state of humanitarian crisis,” Torres added.

Víctor Martínez, the founder of Diaspora for Puerto Rico, an organization created to help over 2,000 families who left the island after Hurricane María and sought refuge in New York, warned of a “new wave of migration,” to the state, spurred by the ongoing crises back home. “Thousands of people have lost their homes, others are sleeping outdoors out of fear, and they do not know where to find help or how to get their documents when they get here. That is why it is important for this office to become a place where we offer guidance,” said the activist.

Valerie Rivera, who moved to New York after Hurricane María and is currently living in a shelter, described how difficult it was for her to adapt to the city without the help of a support office. “My mother and I fought very hard to be able to get assistance, and even to obtain identification documents. Having a place to go to do this type of paperwork will be of great help to those seeking to start a new life here, in the place we call our home,” she said.

[Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans in New York marched to protest the latest corruption scandals in the island. Below are excerpts from a story by El Diario’s Marielis Acevedo-Irizarry]

Members of the Puerto Rican diaspora in New York expressed their solidarity with the march held in Puerto Rico on Jan. 23, in which thousands of Puerto Ricans demanded the resignation of Gov. Wanda Vázquez for her poor management of supplies donated for the victims of Hurricane María. Even though the 20-odd crowd was smaller than the ones seen during earlier protests this summer, the group gathered in Union Square to condemn what they describe as corruption within the Puerto Rican government, citing the recent discovery of warehouses full of donations.

One demonstrator, identified as Amalia Olivera, said she joined the protest “because my people are dying on the island due to the atrocities [the government] is doing to them. My family and my culture are there. The suffering of my people who are in the streets keeps me up at night.”

Gianina Santiago, a resident of Ponce, came to the city for a few days to escape the stress caused by the earthquakes.

“I am here because of the government’s corruption and their mismanagement of emergency supplies,” Santiago said.

Ana Portnoy, spokesperson for New York Boricua Resistance, the group that organized the protest “in solidarity with the massive protests in Puerto Rico, and also to demonstrate against the criminal negligence of the central government in Puerto Rico and the federal [government.] We want people to know that several of the agencies responsible for the abandonment that Puerto Ricans are enduring are here in the United States.”

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