Op-Ed: An Open Letter to the Puerto Rican Diaspora

Puerto Rico Political Map with capital San Juan, a United States territory in the northeastern Caribbean, with important cities, rivers and lakes. English labeling and scaling. Illustration.
Manuel Burgos

Boricuas: whether you are native-born, first, second or third generation, take note of what’s going on in the island of your roots. 

Hotter than usual temperatures, coupled with inadequate and defective energy generation, have hit a tipping point: the island is not generating enough power to meet demand. The power authority has been conducting rolling outages, cutting power in different parts of the island from morning to evening for hours at a time, on a daily basis. This will continue for some time.

Yes, billions in disaster relief were allocated after Hurricane Maria, but were only recently released by the Biden administration and will take months to years for the island to improve the power grid, which can still be wiped out again with just one storm.

It gets worse. Parts of the island struggle with water shut-offs and for some, the shut-offs have been happening on a near-daily basis. On rainy days, water is shut off because of turbidity that takes hours to clear, and on sunny days, water is shut off due to voltage fluctuations at the filtration plant. Rain or shine, you can count on losing water regularly in parts of Puerto Rico.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough imagine both at once: when sections of the island lost power, many also lose water, a curiosity given that water distribution and filtration plants are supposed to have generators to operate their water pumps. 

Autumn in Puerto Rico is brutally hot and as I type this, there are Boricuas sitting in extreme heat without even a fan or running water.

If any place in the United States had rolling power outages coupled with regular water shut-offs in blistering tropical heat, you’d see it blasted on all major TV and print media outlets, and probably as a lead story.  That is the point I am making; you likely didn’t know about the above issues and if you did, that you didn’t know just how serious these problems are.

Let’s go further. Boricuas, did you know that Puerto Rico is currently outpacing the US mainland in COVID vaccination rates and maintains a very low—and still dropping—COVID positivity rate? Did you know that over 99% of Puerto Ricans 65 and older are fully vaccinated? Read for yourself by clicking here. Think about what you, your family, your friends, all of America, have endured for over a year and a half. Wouldn’t this be worthy of prime media coverage, to give the rest of the country hope and even a model of how to get through a pandemic? 

Think of 18 months of maps and charts from both left and right-leaning media outlets and ask yourself—how many included Puerto Rico (and the other US territories for that matter)? For those that do include Puerto Rico, how long did it take them to finally include the island on their maps and charts? I remember when COVID stats and tracking were first published and not one major media outlet—TV or print or web—included Puerto Rico’s stats. Some still do not, as though 3.1 million Americans do not exist.

So I turn to you, Puerto Ricans of the diaspora, all 5.8 million of you. 

Puerto Rico needs your help to get media outlets to do their job and give fair, balanced, and necessary coverage of the island’s power and water issues. Puerto Rico needs your help to get the media to showcase our island’s handling of COVID to provide leadership and hope to other states struggling through the pandemic. Puerto Rico needs your help sharing these issues with other Boricuas of the diaspora, to keep us united and tethered to our homeland. Most of all, Puerto Rico needs you to do the hard work of following the island’s current events on your own. 

I encourage and challenge the diaspora to use social media to call out major media outlets for their lack of coverage of what’s happening in Puerto Rico right now. Use social media hashtags, email, letters to the editor, calls to the news desks, comment sections on articles, and any other mechanisms that you can think of to spread the word. 

The message to the media should be simple: “Puerto Rico matters. We exist. We are Americans. We deserve fair and balanced coverage. Do your job.”

I want to end with this: Chances are that as you read this, power and water has been shut off somewhere on the island. 

Much thanks to PoliticsNY for allowing me to directly address the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Manny Burgos is a proud Puerto Rican and CEO of By the Numbers Consulting Services Corp., a leading provider of outreach, compliance, and data gathering services based in Brooklyn, New York. He splits his time between Puerto Rico and New York.

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