This chronicle was written in support of the 24weeks.us initiative that focuses on the fundraise to support Mexico and Puerto Rico during 24 weeks, in the recovery and reconstruction of the communities that were devastated from natural phenomena in these countries.
Mexico suffered the destruction of several communities in the States of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Morelos, Puebla and Mexico City after having been shaken by several earthquakes; while the Puerto Rico Island was barreled by Hurricane María and is also in state of emergency.
By: Tara Rodríguez Besosa
Founder/Captain: El Departamento de la Comida
San Juan, Puerto Rico; October 2nd, 2017
Two candles help me see my own handwriting. I arrived this afternoon to Puerto Rico, after three cancelled flights, a week stuck in NYC, and many things to talk about.
Since there is a curfew, nothing seems open after 9pm. Most people are in their homes after dusk, like the old days when the sun and stars were our guides. It is very quiet, even during the day the silence is only disrupted by the sound of some cars and generators and people talking to each other.
Today the airport had electricity, many people returning home for the first time since Marìa. There was no clapping as we usually do when we land, but a sense of relief and uncertainty combined. What will it look like from above? Is there chaos? Will I be sad?
I left the island a couple weeks ago to attend the America’s Latino Eco Festival in Denver, this being my second year participating. There I briefly presented «Testimonio» on food efforts in Puerto Rico, as part of a gathering of environmentalists, educators, healers, and communities. We all shared a connection to our land, conservation of culture and ecosystems, also battling borders, colonizations, environmental crimes. The director, Irene, is a Puerto Rican woman dedicated to expanding the connections between indigenous cultures, Latino communities, and sustainability efforts than are an intrinsic part of understanding our sometimes separated connection to nature. We were celebrating a recent achievement towards efforts in Puerto Rico through a pilot program with the US Forest Service, product of almost a year in the making, sparking from the meeting of two kindred spirits wanting wellbeing for their island Borinquén.
On my way back home I stopped in NYC to meet with a group of poc/latinx/queer/activist cooks and farmers for an exchange potluck to form stronger ties to each others’ projects. That is when the hurricane hit back home and neighboring islands and México was shaken. The agenda became confusing, emotions were mixed, and I was a mess. It also added and immediate urgency for these solidarity exchanges that had not been planned for. When the feelings of impotence, anxiety, and feeling out of place got to me, i thought : » why am I not there?» I thought about my chosen family, my collaborators, my farmer colleagues back home, and how I wanted to face the storm with them, head on. For the first time I identified my feelings with those from the diaspora and it was clear to me that everyone who wasn’t in Puerto Rico felt far. Not being able to get back for another week made me feel exiled, not in control of my body, privileged to be in a place with water, food, internet and electricity. This is when I got a phone call. It was Irene from Denver. She had received the news, was feeling similar and knew not to waste any time. We spoke on the phone and she told me she started a Resiliency Fund, one for our brothers and sisters in México as well as Puerto Rico. She wanted these donations to go directly towards food, farmers and forests, understanding the long term implications of these actions. And that is what happened.
While in NYC I reached out to others and the response was incredible. Farmer’s markets are coordinating fresh food donations as short term support, seed companies around the world and farmers are shipping seeds and tools. Cooks and food enthusiasts are organizing fundraising events, educators and environmentalists are offering their knowledge for medium and long term efforts of rebuilding a national sustainable agricultural plan for the island. I have received hundreds of emails from around the world from people wanting to help, looking for efforts that go beyond «emergency relief». «No hay bien que por mal no venga» is a phrase I keep thinking of when I think about the cross pollination of support in a real, decentralized, and genuine manner.
I will write weekly a little bit about what’s going on, there is so much happening that even sitting down to write and remember it all can be difficult. Our own restaurant space was under water for days, then looted, now inoperable. It has been a great personal loss, seeing our «baby» flood, but El Departamento de la Comida has always been part of a movement, not just a kitchen. Our focus in the next few months will be to concentrate on getting our food back on people’s tables, and hoping we get invited to eat some.
I would like to end this first «Crónica» with a quote sent to me from Ora of Harvest and Revel in Brooklyn, written by Octavia Butler in her book Parable of the Talents: «Shape chaos… act. Alter the speed or direction of change. Vary the scope of change. Recombine the seeds of change. Transmute the impact of change. Seize change. Use it. Adapt. And grow.»
Puerto Rico will do just that.
Tara Rodríguez Besosa