Oct 13, 2022 - World

Black Puerto Ricans' post-hurricane struggle

A woman in Loiza, Puerto Rico, walks out of a large white home to a flooded street as a man walks through.

Residents wade through flood waters in Loíza, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 22, 2017, after Hurricane Maria made landfall. Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images.

Black Puerto Rican communities have been among the hardest hit by hurricanes Fiona and Maria, but advocates say they often struggle most to get aid,

The big picture: Gentrification and discriminatory housing policies have driven many Black Puerto Ricans from urban to rural coastal areas, which struggle with erosion, are prone to flooding and are hardest hit by hurricanes, experts say.

  • This is compounded by historical racism and subpar responses by authorities after past disasters.

Zoom in: The municipality of Loíza, where about 37% of residents identify as Black, experienced widespread flooding and destruction as many in the island were still rebuilding from Hurricane Maria five years ago.

  • It was initially excluded from the Puerto Rican governor's list of areas that needed emergency relief but was later added.
  • Residents prepared for the disaster by opening up a community kitchen, but parts of Loíza remain in disarray, according to local reports.

After Hurricane Maria, many Loíza residents struggled to get federal aid because they lacked documentation of home ownership, a widespread problem that especially affects historically Black communities because of the way land or homes are passed down, the Pulitzer Center reported.

  • The community saw a 21% reduction in population after 2017's Hurricane Maria and was especially vulnerable to damage due to historical marginalization, underinvestment and poverty, a report last month by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found.

What they're saying: Jenifer De Jesús, the community and leadership initiative director at Taller Salud, a Loíza-based nonprofit, lauded the community's effort to plan ahead for Hurricane Fiona but said residents continued to struggle.

  • "Those are areas (that are) more affected by the climate and also you have more concentration of Black people and also you have lots of concentrations of poverty there also surviving with gentrification," De Jesús said.

Despite the island’s African roots — including a long history of slavery — only about 11% of Puerto Ricans identify as Black for historical reasons and because doing so still carries a stigma.

  • Over 60% identify as white.
  • Hilda Lloréns, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rhode Island, says identifying as Black in Puerto Rico carries a stigma. "Within families, people know they're Black, but outside the family, that's not something they might be telling to outsiders,” Lloréns tells Axios.

State of play: Puerto Ricans across the island are struggling to figure out how — or whether — to rebuild after Fiona, Axios Latino's Marina Franco reports.

  • Over 26,000 Puerto Rican residents remain without power after last month's hurricane.
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