Distinguished guests and celebrities—including tennis star Serena Williams and her tech mogul husband Alexis Ohanian, Puerto Rican singer-actress Jeimy Osorio and The Real co-host Adrienne Bailon—came together in Miami last week to shine the spotlight on Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane recovery needs.
Held on Dec. 7 in Eden Roc Miami Beach hotel’s ballroom, the event was singer Ricky Martin and actress Eva Longoria’s second annual “Global Gift Gala,” with 100% of the proceeds going to benefit Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
After taking the stage, Martin began his formal remarks by announcing that 92% of the island of Puerto Rico has water. The audience’s applause was abruptly shortened when he added, “There’s only one problem—the water’s not drinkable.” The longtime Puerto Rican entertainer told the crowd:
“I wish I could be more light about this, but I got to be raw. I got to be honest. Nothing but injustice. We have been forgotten, and I’m really angry about it. And I’m going to keep talking. And I’m going to be really loud.”
Martin has led and joined the chorus of a growing group of global humanitarians who, with amplified voices, have had to walk a delicate tightrope. They are graciously making appeals for donations and support for Puerto Rico, acknowledging progress and generosity, while at the same time advocating for the urgent and immediate need for more aid. The disparaging reality is that Americans in Puerto Rico are unnecessarily suffering and dying; casualties are severely underreported (The New York Times recently reported the death toll might be as high as 1,052).
Everyday people from around the world have answered the calls to action for donations of food and supplies for Puerto Rico and millions of dollars have been raised. How is it possible, then, that over two months after Hurricane Maria hit and three weeks before Christmas and the start of a new year the majority of Americans in Puerto Rico are still living without drinking water, electricity, and adequate access to other daily essentials needed for survival, such as healthcare?
In 2016, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico (practically everyone living there, as Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory) paid $3.6 billion in U.S. federal taxes. The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico have consistently served in the military and have defended America in wars at disproportionately higher rates than their population size since 1917.
How is it possible that the large majority of U.S. citizens living in Florida and Texas, who were also impacted by catastrophic hurricanes, have drinking water and electricity, but the large majority of U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico do not?
These are simple questions being asked, yet the answers are complicated, with political, moral, and racial undertones. One could give a simple answer like, “There is a lack of infrastructure in Puerto Rico as compared to Florida and Texas.” However, the second question would then become, “Why?” One could answer the second question by saying, “Because U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico do not have the right to vote for the U.S. president,” and then the second question still remains “Why?” If U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico can pay U.S. federal taxes, serve in the U.S. military, and defend the nation for the benefit of all, why don’t they have the right to vote for the president of the United States?
With steady advocacy and action, change is imminent for the Island of Enchantment and its residents. While the pace of the relief progress and rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico is not matching the overwhelming need, the voices of the people, and their champions like Ricky Martin, remain strong, loud, and unwavering.