The tragedy of Puerto Rico
By Richard C. Harwood
The island of Puerto Rico has become a quagmire that reflects the senseless condition of our mainland politics. How have we come to so compromise the dignity of the people who live on this small island and desperately seek our help? We must do more.
The scenes from the island are heartbreaking. Weeks after the storm, people remain isolated within small communities and villages. Their homes are wrecked. There is an urgent need for blue tarps to stop the rain from continually falling into homes, the roofs torn off. People’s mental health is becoming more and more of dire concern.
Meanwhile, President Donald J. Trump vacillates between celebrating the U.S. government’s self-described heroic acts in the aftermath of the hurricane and mercilessly condemning local efforts and impugning the spirit of the Puerto Rican people.
It seems, at times, that we have forgotten that Puerto Ricans are Americans. They pay taxes. They fly our flag. They fight and die in our wars. They have contributed to our rich history and heritage.
I fear that because they are off the mainland — and dare I say not Caucasian — that we choose at times not to feel compelled to act. We lack a collective sense of urgency. We fail to rush to their aid. Perhaps we even see them as “the other.”
Much like we did with those who live in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, it can sometimes seem that we are willing to allow Puerto Rico to linger in despair and for its people to find their own way, on their own.
But those who make Puerto Rico home are part of our home. They are U.S. citizens. They are part and parcel of our common humanity.
They need our help.
We Americans are builders by nature. It is part of our DNA, our history, who we are. It is time to help Puerto Rico build anew. Simply because the island was in financial trouble prior to the hurricane does not mean that the people there are in less need. Or that they are hurting less. Or that they are less worthy of our assistance.
They need our attention, assistance and love.
I pray that Puerto Rico will become a symbol of who we are and who we can become. I pray that we are capable of reaching out across divides, restoring our belief that we can get things done together, and renewing our can-do spirit. I pray that we honor their dignity.
Richard C. Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit that teaches, coaches and inspires people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities collaborate.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.