Sometimes we miss seeing history happening right before our eyes because we are living it.This is why it is important to reflect upon what LULAC Puerto Rico has achieved in its visit to Washington, DC this week. First, they leave with the Senate voting 85-8 in favor of a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill which includes nearly $1-billion for Puerto Rico to address immediate nutrition and health needs. This achievement deserves loud and proud congratulations to our LULAC brothers and sisters from the island. However, late Friday, after most members left for the Memorial Day holiday, one Republican Congressman from Texas, Chip Roy blocked what would have been passage by unanimous consent of the aid bill in the House of Representatives. LULAC members must rally to flood our Congressional Representatives with calls and emails to make sure they vote to approve the aid bill Tuesday as their first order of business.
As importantly, the accomplishments of more than 130 elected and community leaders from the island territory and the United States offer us an opportunity to learn some valuable lessons that will help LULAC in confronting the challenges ahead in the months to come including the 2020 Census and the Presidential Election.
LULAC Puerto Rico came ready to make its case before members of Congress to be sure that every U.S. Representative and every Senator could understand and truly appreciate more clearly and closely the plight of 3.1 million people nearly two years after the worst natural disaster ever to strike their island home. Delegates passionately expressed to them that no American citizen should have to endure the suffering they have experienced after Hurricane Maria because of the misperception that somehow they are different, not entitled or worthy of their birthright. As important as their passion was the professionalism with which they presented their argument, choosing to dialogue rather than debate and discussing instead of demonstrating. Their power was in their calm and certain determination that Puerto Rico would not leave Washington empty handed. Indeed, they did not.
Some observers may question is it really a victory when you get only a fraction of what Puerto Rico needs to rebuild? Delegation leaders say unequivocally yes! Taking home $600 million for nutrition assistance and $300 million to help with housing is a gigantic step forward for a people who were first thrown rolls of paper towels with which to help themselves and told they should be thankful so few died. Now we know the full scale of the devastation with many communities still without power or clean, safe water, hospital staffs depleted and schools in shambles. Not to mention the untold number who lost their lives, not just during the hurricane itself, but in the months that followed as they waited for help that never came. No, they didn’t deserve that treatment. No human being does, much less a citizen of the most powerful and bountiful nation on earth. The initial $900 million jump starts vital community work and puts FEMA back into action for the people of Puerto Rico and that is worth every dollar!
For us within LULAC, the visit by this delegation of our brothers and sisters from Puerto Rico has given us an opportunity to get to know them better — truly know them. Being together from early morning to late at night, during the most hectic time of a packed schedule rushing to meet with politicians to moments caught by ourselves to rest and share a meal, all of it has allowed us to hear, see and touch their spirit, their soul. There is a joy that is boundless in the Puerto Rican culture. Even when they’re angry or sad, they sing, they dance, they celebrate. It is as if they fight the fear and the hurt with the one thing only they can control, their ability to be hopeful even amid the bleakest of circumstances.
In this way, all of us in LULAC can learn from them because they have inspired us to believe that no matter the odds, no matter how unlikely critics might say our chances are, only we can determine our victories. Like families that only seem to get together at weddings and funerals, our LULAC family often only sees everyone together at our national convention. This trip has changed that. We thank LULAC Puerto Rico for this important lesson of never giving up and thinking we can’t win so why try? Or even if we do try, no one will listen. This week they have proven we can do it!
There are two final blessings this week has yielded for LULAC Puerto Rico and for all of us. First, solidarity in action is unstoppable. Whatever differences or views they may have had before traveling to Washington, when they stepped off the plane at Reagan National, they spoke as one, worked as one and moved as one. And what a sight they have been in the halls of Congress and at the White House. In appearance, conduct and spirit, LULAC Puerto Rico shone bright and we salute the delegation’s unity.
The last thing we’ll say here is that if there’s one takeaway from this historic visit LULAC Puerto Rico has made is this: THEY WILL BE BACK! This is but the first step in what may be ahead, a long and difficult journey. However, we can be more optimistic than ever that the island of Puerto Rico will be rebuilt, homes will be reconstructed, lives will come together again and families reunited once more. How do we know that? Easy. Just look into the eyes of any LULAC Puerto Rico man or woman and you will understand. Their faith is fiercely strong and the spirit is soaring as they go home, knowing we will be together again very soon.
Hasta La Victoria!
LULAC National President