Paper towels: Really? That’s what the president of the United States offers as ‘help’ to Puerto Ricans whose homes, whose whole island, was essentially destroyed by Hurricane Maria. That’s precisely what he threw, by the roll, to crowds in San Juan on his October 3rd visit to the island.
The 3.5 million people there – American citizens because this country saw the island as a good defense post and ‘adopted’ it in 1898 under terms of the Treaty of Paris — was devastated by Maria, leaving most of the main island, and its smaller related neighbors, with no electricity, no water, no properly functioning services of any kind.
In my youth, in my early 20’s, as a new resident of New York City, I developed an intense dislike of Puerto Ricans because I saw them as freeloaders seeking to suck the greatest possible amount of milk and honey from the ‘American dream’ and ship it back to PR.
Sometimes it’s hard, particularly when you’re young, to separate the people from the territory where they call home. It’s especially hard to make that distinction when you regularly hear how Puerto Ricans come to New York City, go on welfare (public assistance) and then, some months later, take the bulk of their hardly-earned, taxpayer-funded ‘loot’ back to their island paradise.
Well, Puerto Rico is hardly a paradise now. But it is home to some 3.4 million American citizens facing a serious crisis that will, in all likelihood, continue ceaselessly well into 2018. Imagine trying to survive with little or no drinkable water, no electricity, severe food shortages, and scarce medical services. (Hospitals depend heavily on electricity to accomplish their life saving missions.)
On my sole visit to Puerto Rico, in the late 1960’s, I met many hard-working, peace-loving citizens. I’ve met and worked many like them in the years since then. No longer an innocent youth, I have come to have more than a little sympathy for members of an island community entitled to pay taxes to Washington but not allowed to fully participate as American citizens – they have no voting rights for national officials (congressmen, senators or the president) so long as they remain on the island. But Puerto Ricans living on the mainland do have full voting rights. (Go figure!)
When President Trump told Puerto Rico aid in the face of their disaster was slow in coming “because we have to take care of Americans first,” he was not only wrong, he was insensitive. In other words, he was acting fully in character.