The ABCs of Boricua Resilience

Jun 6, 2018
11:34 AM

In the wake of a recent Harvard study estimating that 4,645 lives were lost to Hurricane Maria, 70 times more than the official (government) count of 64, Boricuas continue to do the difficult task of mourning loved ones and protecting the people/island that remain on the island of Puerto Rico.

During times like these, it can be difficult to find out who to help or where to spend your time. Like many others in the diaspora, I am always searching for ways to help my family and la isla. These days, that search has extended beyond myself and into a mapping project in which I map, and in some cases translates, sustainable recovery work on the Island. But not just any work, I look for organizations that centers Boricua self-community and self-determination, work that unravels violent colonial infrastructures, and work that improves the material conditions for Black, Brown, LGBTQ+GNC and other marginalized Boricuas on the island. Additionally, since my family members live in the small city of San Lorenzo as well as in the large city of Bayamón, my search includes work being done from rural to urban spaces, and everywhere in between. Mirroring the deepening relationship between islanders and the diaspora, this list also included organizations based in the contiguous United States who are often in Puerto Rico.

This is why I wrote this—as an offering to those who want to know how to help and as a “gracias” to those already putting in work to transform the colonial conditions of Borinkén.

It is an archive highlighting some —but certainly not all— people, groups, and organizations committed to the daily, short-term, and long-term recovery and health of the people of the island of Puerto Rico. It is a starting place. We know these orgs are not static and will change. I witness the difficulties, layers and contradictions of fighting for a decolonized Puerto Rico in this particular political moment in the U.S., a nation founded on anti-Black, settler-colonialism. This is a place to start. For now, here is a list of what people are doing that might help us continuously figuring out where we can go.

Below you’ll find an alphabetical list featuring some of the organizations making a significant impact within range of sociocultural, political, economic and environmental issues. These people and orgs are working alongside Puerto Ricans, some of them working with those most impacted by this colonial disaster.

Please support these organizations by volunteering your time and donating to help continue their work by clicking on the links provided.

Comment below with the name and link of your favorite Boricua-led organization.

A is for AgitArte.

Under founder and artistic director Jorge Díaz Ortiz, Agitarte serves the Boricua community (and beyond) as an org of working class artists and cultural organizers who initiate and lead community-based educational and arts programs, along with projects that agitate in the struggles for liberation.

They’re currently working on a 170-foot-long visual art piece about Puerto Rico and the need to #endthedebt and #decolonize Puerto Rico. The Scroll will be premiered at the Agitarte exhibit in Loisaida at the Clemente on June 29. @whenwefightwewin

B is for Organización Boricua.

Boricua has done grassroots agroecology and food sovereignty work for nearly 30 years. They’re one of the first and major drivers of agroecology in Puerto Rico. Today, they continue fighting for a sustainable agricultural policy and creating networks and brigadas of support for farmers across the island.

C is for Coco De Oro.

Coco De Oro is a 20-years-old grassroots organization with the mission to grow creative and critical leaders on the island. To do this, local activist Edgardo Larregui partners with local people and organizations in the states to create innovative Post-Maria recovery initiatives. These initiatives include movie nights and the Rebuild Comerío Project, a community-based collaboration between Defend PR (see below), Coco De Oro and community members of underserved town of Comerío. Donations still needed!

C is also for the Colectiva Feminista en Construcción.

A feminist political project bringing together feminists from across different genders, races, classes and sexuality to fight against capitalism and the patriarchy.

D is for Defend PR.

Defend PR, founded by four friends (Christian Martir, Adrian “ Viajero” Roman, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi and Michael Shawn Cordero), is a multimedia project designed to document and celebrate Puerto Rican creativity, resilience, and resistance. Defend PR actively supports a  range of sustainable and just recovery  projects, including a participatory planning initiative between Coco De Oro, Defend PR, La Maraña and local community members in underserved barrios.

If you’re in New York, you can catch Defend PR’s exhibit at the Caribbean Cultural Center and African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI). The exhibit is free and runs until June 9.

E is for Efecto Sombrilla/El Departamento de la Comida.

Efecto Sombrilla/El Departamento de la Comida, founded by Tara Rodriguez Besosa, is committed to connecting gaps in PR’s local chain of foods by integrating social networks and food education to strengthen  the islands agro-ecological movement and food systems. Tara participating in the 2018 Allied Media Conference in Detroit, MI as a co-coordinator of the Ferment track: Feeding Emergent Resistance Movements, Envisioning Nourishing Traditions and as a speaker and panelist.

F is for the Festival de La Palabra (FDLP).

FDLP is an annual, global literary festival held in San Juan and founded by Black Boricua author, poet, and activist Mayra Santos-Febres.In the wake of Hurricane Maria, organizers and volunteers from the FDLP have been engaged in relief activities, supporting some of the most isolated communities and youth through the arts. FDLP is based in Loíza, Puerto Rico, a historically Afrxdescendiente area of the island. The impact of the hurricane on people of African descent on the island has been especially devastating. In partnership with Palabras PR, a radical hurricane recovery project emerging from seven DiaspoRican and Latinx scholars in Michigan and Maryland, FDLP continues to address mental health issues, education needs, as well as cultural organizing on the island.

Projects include  “No Estás Solo,” an initiative focused on alleviating depression, suicide, and PTSD through art, books, theater, and writing workshops (talleres) and “Recuperación Escolar,” a relief fund for schools in need of supplies.

H is for Hurricane Stories/Cuentos de Huracán.

Cuentos de Huracán (Hurricane Stories) is a new short story collection written in the precarious months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and edited by Mayra Santos-Febres. Born from a need to express and document post-storm survival, this collection offers a diverse stories of Hurricane Maria and what it means to persist. Some of the 20 tales talk about death and devastation, while others center on resilience and continuing to fight.

J is for Jornada: Se Acabaron las Promesas.

Recently invited on stage by artist Residente, Jocelyn Velázquez of la Jornada galvanized the crowd, reminding them that “the fight against the Fiscal Control Board is a fight for life.” La Jornada is one group leading the lucha against the U.S.-imposed fiscal control board, a fight that began with a protest against the first PROMESA Conference in 2017 and has continued with the coordination of the National  May 1 strike and march against the Junta and government’s austerity policies. This peaceful action which was met with police violence, and many were unjustly arrested.

L is for La Respuesta Media.

La Respuesta Media is a collective that speaks to the growing numbers of Diasporic Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. In their own words: La Respuesta is The Response to this growing presence and ongoing impact, showcasing the critical, provocative, and inspiring work by, for, and about Boricuas living in The Diaspora and Puerto Rico.

M is for Mutuo, Centros de Apoyo Mutuo.

Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (CAMS), sometimes referred to as DIY Disaster Relief, are autonomous, Boricua-run networks of mutual caregiving, rebuilding, and hurricane relief. These centros are a response to disaster capitalism, a term describing the vulteristic nature of opportunistic organizations making profit off of communities in recovery from a disaster. You can find CAM’s en  Caguas, Rio Piedras, La Perla, Mayagüez, Utuado, Lares, Naranjito, adn Yabucoa.

N is for #NoMásPromesas.

P is for PR on the Map.

PR on the Map is a grassroots media project organized by scholar, organizer, and former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Rosa Clemente. PR on the Map offers an nuanced, raw, and intergenerational alternative to mainstream coverage of Puerto Rico. In addition to Rosa, the PR on the Map crew includes Daniel Hernandez, Kat Lazo, Raquel Reichard, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, Mateo Zapata, Stephanie Martin-Llanes, and Yanira Castro.

Q is for the Queer Kitchen Brigade.

The Queer Kitchen Brigade (QKB) also known as the Cuir Kitchen Brigade, is a New York-based organization that supports Queer and Trans Black and Indigenous People of Color food sovereignty movements. QKB works in solidairty with the sustainable agroecology movement in Puerto Rico through advocacy, volunteering, and cooking meals together.

R is for the Rebuild Comerío Project.

The ongoing Rebuild Comerío Project is a collaboration between two aforementioned orgs, Coco De Oro and Defend PR, as well as La Maraña. La Maraña is a “women-led participatory design and planning  non-profit” founded by Sofia Unanue and Cynthia Burgos. Participatory design removed the obstacle of technocratic “expert only” model of design and incorporates community knowledge to create a sustainable built environment.

The project has expanded to include small scale agricultural projects and parks. The model used by La Maraña is now being adapted and implemented in other areas of Puerto Rico.

S is for the Solidarity Collective—Detroit + PR.

Teresa Basilio, Sofía Gallisá, Adela Nieves, and Ariadna Godreau organized this network gathering at the 2017 Allied Media Conference to create space for participants from Puerto Rico, longtime residents and organizers in Detroit, and Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora to talk about the ways PR and the D are similar and important ways they diverge.

T is for Taller Salud.

Taller Salud is a trusted, feminist, and community-centered non-profit serving the underserved, historically afrodescendiente town of Loíza, Puerto Rico. They work towards increasing the health, wellness of girls, young people, and adults in Puerto Rico, with a focus on public health and a cultura de paz.

U is for Uprose.

The Brooklyn-based Uprose is a Latinx community organization led by Executive Director Elizabeth Yeampierre, focused on promoting sustainability and resilience in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. Since hurricane Maria, Uprose has expanded their mission to include working towards a #JustRecovery in Puerto Rico.

Uprose has started multiple environmental-justice initiatives including the #OurPowerPRnyc, a diasporic organizing program guided by the Jemez Principles of Democratic Organizing.

V is for Varones, The Gran Varones.

Founded by  Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca, the GVs storytelling project has created space for hundreds of Latinx and Afro-Latinx Gay, Queer, Trans and Bixexual men and bois to connect with each other and share their stories of survival and joy. As a queer Boricua who grew up listening to Willie Colón and believing that queer Latinx deserve to maintain our connections to familia and culture, should they want it, the GV’s makes me cry of joy/heartbreak on the reg.

Louie is just now wrapping up a partnership with Waves Ahead, where he completed construction work to help rebuild homes for LGBTQ Boricuas.

W is for Waves Ahead.

An organization focused on rebuilding and recovery for LGBTQ/GnC people in Puerto Rico and the group behind the #ReconstruyeQ movement and hashtag.

Z is for zzzzzz.

Time to rest and dream of un Puerto Rico libre. ¡Hasta la próxima!


Angélica De Jesús is Xicana+Boricua. She recently graduated in 2018 with a Master of Public Policy degree from the Ford School of Public Policy. She tweets from @prima_de_afuera.