In Florida, Puerto Ricans fight for their futures after Hurricane Maria

World Today

In Florida, Puerto Ricans fight for their futures after Hurricane Maria

Four months after Hurricane Maria swept over Puerto Rico, infrastructure on the U.S. territory remains crippled.  Forty percent of residents are still without power, and many have no access to clean water. Facing these difficult circumstances, hundreds of thousands have decided to move to Florida, the closest U.S. mainland state.

CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports.

Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, more than 300,000 islanders have come to the state of Florida. And many Puerto Rican businesses are following.

Wanda Gracia is the manager of Novus, a retail shoe company popular on the island. She relocated to Florida, and works at one of two stores that recently opened.

“We are open to our people and to their needs,” she explained.

Nine of her ten employees are also from the island, most of them students. Wanda said that she receives about five resumes a day from Puerto Rican job seekers.

It’s not an easy change for all these hurricane victims. For Wanda, the hardest part is being away from her loved ones.

“My family is in Puerto Rico. My husband and daughter have come to visit, but I’ve had no other choice but get used to being without them,” she said.

Iham Manuel Diaz also misses the island lifestyle, but also his friends and his school. He transferred from a private Puerto Rican university that also has campuses in Florida.

“I had to fight for my future,” Diaz said. “My university shut down, classes were cancelled and that has always been my priority, my education.”

Not only did he lose his education on the island, but he also lost his employment. The supermarket where he used to work lost its roof.

Florida was already home to more than one million Puerto Ricans before Hurricane Maria, and these recent arrivals are further changing the economic and political landscape of the state. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and have the right to vote.

“The population of Puerto Ricans living here in Florida are now capable of swinging the vote one way or the other,” voter registration advocate Phyllis Lehman said. “Up to you to make a decision.”

Both major political parties are trying to woo these new voters. Democrats are hoping to link the Republican Party to President Trump, tapping into the community’s anger over the administration’s handling of the recovery after Hurricane Maria. But it won’t be as simple as it seems. Puerto Ricans’ main concerns are the economy and job security.

They are not that different from the rest of the American electorate.

“We came here to work,” according to Diaz. “We are contributing in any way we can.”