On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria broke into Puerto Rico, causing blackouts with winds of up to 155 mph. It was the biggest hurricane that had hit the country in 85 years, destroying a large portion of resources, communities, and human lives along with it.
For all the upheaval that Maria caused within the Caribbean islands, it did not gain much notoriety in the American media. A combination of factors including the current administration, domestic shootings, and a general lack of awareness, ultimately left many in the islands without the adequate support they needed to recover from the hurricane’s damages.
Its presence was something akin to a nightmare, especially for many Haverford students who find their origins in the countries affected. In addition to the responsibility of keeping up with their academic studies, they were also faced with being unable to communicate with friends and family. Deciding whether or not to return to their neighborhoods for college break periods, especially with their communities and relatives struggling to thrive, presented another issue.
Raquel Aguayo ‘19 has spent the last couple of years photographing the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, collecting images and accounts of residents from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. For her exhibition, she has incorporated these photos, videos, and narratives with the sounds of her homeland’s environment, displaying its culture and pride during Maria’s moments.
In a way, the exhibit’s location reflects what some believe to be the country’s attitude toward the hurricane; the exhibit itself is tucked away in a corner, hidden from the general public, similar to how many have moved on from thinking about Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico and the rest of the islands, neatly tucking it away. However, the recorded two-hour narratives speak louder than the walls in which they are contained. Interviews detail the “chaos of communication” that resulted from a combination of the Puerto Rican government’s inability to provide solutions, America’s subpar handling of the crisis, and ambivalent support on Haverford’s campus during periods of emotional turmoil and uncertainty.
It is also important to note that, despite the title, Aguayo declares that her exhibit is also “post-Irma—it’s the earthquakes in Mexico, the typhoons and monsoons in Southeast Asia, the earthquakes in Indonesia, the volcanic eruptions and wildfires that happened in the blink of an eye but left long-lasting scars.” The two slideshows presenting photos and videos seem to be Puerto Rico’s representation of the damage inflicted, the people dislocated and coming to terms with the rebuilding process.
With these elements in mind, Aguayo’s Post-Maria seeks to reconcile and redefine Caribbean identity in the face of struggle. Particularly, it focuses on how the “aftermath of disaster” can alter spaces and personal accounts of one’s culture. She focuses on the concepts “PR Strong” and “VI Strong” as themes that show solidarity not only with the environments affected but also in the context of national and global identity. What excuse, then, do we have for choosing to focus on one tragedy and not another? How do we build resilience for each other for events that are becoming much more common? Post-Maria opens the conversation to these questions and more.
Written by Matthew Ridley ’19. Edited by Andrew Nguyen ’19.
Photos by Patrick Montero.