On the State of Puerto Rico
Written by Joyska Nuñez-Medina
“Look, that’s the elementary school I went to.”
The two story building looked hunched in on itself; cramped in between two buildings, withering from lack of attention and the creeping dominance of nature. The rusted metal gates in front of the school gave it a dismal aura.
“What happened to it?”
“Que paso con la escuela, tio?”
Multiple voices overlap with the radio playing a danceable tune. “Hello?”
The car hits a pothole as we make our way down the city road crowded by parked cars on both sides. “They closed it down ‘cause it was old.”
Puerto Rico is every bit as beautiful as you see in pictures and tourism commercials; glorious sunsets, astounding natural settings, and an overall exciting culture. But Puerto Rico is also a cramped island in ruin.
You could drive down any road in the city or countryside and see two or three closed down buildings left to rot where they stand. The places that get the most attention are tourist locations. Everywhere else, the bare minimum is done to fix a problem, if it’s fixed at all. As my mom explained: a pothole will be filled but the road itself wouldn’t be fixed.
For example, during my last trip to Puerto Rico in December I went to la Poza del Obispo in Arecibo where there was an unmaintained, but beautiful mural painted on a barrier wall. To the far right of the intact wall is a piece that fell over, broken into pieces and crumbing. Whether torn down and left there intentionally or not, the broken down section seems out of place near such a beautiful cove.
The exchange at the beginning of this blog is another example. I’m a big proponent of the preservation of historic sites and structures. Driving about Puerto Rico with my family, I was constantly heartbroken and asking why. Why were so many churches, schools, and factories left to rot? The fact is that there are several historic preservation efforts, but most of them are in Old San Juan. Maybe the want to reuse and preserve these structures exists, but the money to do so is not.
Knowing that the island’s infrastructure is kept together with gum, string, and duct tape, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is no surprise at all. In the poorer regions, it was bound to happen. This is not to belittle the effects of the impact at all. This blog post is to shine a light on how things got so bad to the people who have never truly experienced Puerto Rico in its non-tourist reality. It is also an opportunity to raise the question of how we, as a community of cultural heritage purveyors, can help bolster historic preservation and conservation efforts in communities where these efforts are not common. There is so much opportunity for historic preservation all over the United States that is often overlooked because the funds are unavailable and structures are torn down. But nothing will be able to be done in Puerto Rico if it is not provided the basic help it needs to pull these United States citizens up from the rubble. ✻
Photos courtesy of Islands of Puerto Rico and Joyska Nuñez-Medina.