As Puerto Ricans flee from the island, I want to enter

By Jennifer Padilla | Published by Jan. 29, 2018

Maria aftermath in Cabo Rojo, PR. Photos by Jennifer Padilla

Maria aftermath in Cabo Rojo, PR. Photos by Jennifer Padilla

Despite the desperate islanders’ attempts to not only escape the poverty in which hurricane Maria has left them in, but also the economic crisis that was already present in Puerto Rico, I—on the contrary— want to move back to the commonwealth.

According to Pew Research Center, the Puerto Rican population has doubled in the state of Florida since 2000; from 479,000 to about 1 million today, due to the growing economic crisis. More than 168,000 have own to Florida since the hurricane, according to The New York Times.

My father, Carlos Padilla— who has lived on the island his entire life—was able to finally communicate with me seven weeks after the hurricane.

“It was catastrophic,” he said. “Maria destroyed everything that it touched.”

My father—whom I think of as a mentally, emotionally, and physically strong person– seemed to be defeated by something for the first time in his life.

Although he did not lose any important materialistic possessions, his anguish was due to Maria’s ravage to his dear island.

“But I would never leave Puerto Rico,” he added, “even if all I had was the clothes on my back.”

View from the boardwalk in Aguadilla, PR. Photos by Jennifer Padilla.

View from the boardwalk in Aguadilla, PR. Photos by Jennifer Padilla.

Puerto Rico’s population is about 3.5 million people and only about 1 million of them are employed, according to CNN Money.

By searching through job sites for the kind of work offered in communication in Puerto Rico, I concluded that most of them require a degree and uent verbal and written knowledge of the English language.

However, the middle-class salary in Puerto Rico is way lower than in other parts of the country. The typical family on the island earns about $22,477 a year, compared to $53,657 on the mainland.

In 2014, Puerto Rico ranked No. 9 in overall crime compared to 131 other countries, including the U.S., which ranked No. 45, according to Nation Master.

In the Caribbean, hurricane season is June 1 to Nov. 30. Hurricanes, such as Maria, can cause setbacks to those who already fall victims of Puerto Rico’s economic crisis.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.2 percent of Puerto Rico’s population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 33.4 percent on the mainland.

Despite Puerto Rico’s growing economic crisis, it was ranked in the World Happiness Report at No.15 this year, according to CBS News. It is the happiest island in the seven Caribbean territories.

According to Huffington Post, because warmer weather facilitates physical activity, simply spending time outdoors has been associated with lower stress levels and increased well-being.

The vigor of hurricane Maria shook my family and friends’ well-being. However, I believe the emotional, mental, and physical strength of my father comes from living through the economic crisis for over 50 years, as well as enduring natural phenomenons and routine power and water outages.

A good friend from the island who communicated with me after finding the signal in a nearby neighborhood, joked that he’s “Fine and can probably survive an atomic bomb.”

No tribulation is unsurpassable with the survival skills carried by my family and friends in Puerto Rico.

The possibility of there being better beaches and views elsewhere is unimaginable to my father, who has traveled to Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Florida.

Combate Beach in Cabo Rojo, PR before hurricane Maria. Photos by Jennifer Padilla

Combate Beach in Cabo Rojo, PR before hurricane Maria. Photos by Jennifer Padilla

My friends often share pictures on social media of the familiar landscapes they have grown up and still live in, appreciating its beauty as if it was new.

I cherish the memories of growing up in the southwestern coastline of Puerto Rico, which bring reflections of weekends on the beach and clear, unpolluted skies accentuating stars in abundance.

The wooden house that saw me grow up— containing walls with my name written in preschool manuscript dated in the early 90s— luckily survived the hurricane.

Considering all the reasons driving Puerto Ricans across the Atlantic into the mainland, I believe the amount of people abandoning the commonwealth is a step backward; with the departure of young professionals needed for the future of Puerto Rico, its success could be stagnant.

Instead, we should acquire an education on the mainland and invest time in gaining work experience and skills that can be used to optimize the chance of a career on the island; as well as raise the percentage of people that possess a higher education.

With the crime rates in Puerto Rico, if all the noble habitants continue to depart, how will things get better? If we want Puerto Rico to improve, we have to stay put and make the difference that it needs.

For that reason, I wish to someday contribute my grain of sand towards bettering the 3,515 square miles of Caribbean paradise, adopting the same patriotic feelings as my father, while looking up at the sky in splendor to be home.

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