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Local Puerto Ricans Rally In Hartford For Disaster Relief

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
This woman is one of 14 people holding a Puerto Rican flag while listening to community organizers call for disaster relief on the steps of the Capitol in Hartford.

The Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda held a “Rally And Lobby Day for Puerto Rican Families” Wednesday in Hartford. The event was put on at the Capitol to get support for a disaster relief bill proposed in the House of Representatives.

The bill asks for $2.5 million in state funding to help evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Joe Rodriguez, a member of the National Puerto Rican Agenda who also works for Senator Richard Blumenthal, said that Connecticut’s chapter was formed two years to mobilize Puerto Ricans in Connecticut to combat the territory’s national debt crisis. Organizers didn’t know that on top of that, they’d have to deal with Hurricane Maria.

“The support that the families are receiving—it’s because of non-profits across Connecticut and volunteers,” Rodriguez said. “It’s because our own community is stepping up to support our brothers and sisters. It’s not because of state and federal aid.”

Before the rally, he led an effort to lobby local legislators in support of the bill—that included a quick crash course to teach some of the people who hadn’t done it before.

“Within one hour’s time, we had roughly 15 advocates secure 11 co-sponsors so we need more legislators to co-sponsor. We need to ensure that the bill is heard in appropriations and ensure that the bill gets out of appropriations with the allocation that we’re seeking which is $2.5 million.”

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Members of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda handed out fliers and forms to people interested in lobbying lawmakers on disaster relief.

New Haven State Representative Juan Candelaria proposed the bill.

“It’s the humanitarian thing to do,” Candelaria said. “Plus, these funds will ensure that we provide adequate services to the evacuees from the island.”

Back in November, the Federal Emergency Management Agency placed at least seven evacuee families from Puerto Rico at Hartford’s Red Roof Inn Plus. Eventually, nearly 40 families would be placed there. But Merely Torres-Garcia, her husband, and two kids represented one of the families in the first wave.

Torres-Garcia lived in Fajardo on the shores of eastern Puerto Rico and never expected to take a role in public life. But she spoke on the steps of the Capitol in support of the families still living at the hotel who could be homeless by the end of March.

“Never,” Torres-Garcia said. “This is the first time. But, I need to do it. I only have been here for three months. And I’m trying to demonstrate to people that we didn’t come here for the United States to do everything for us. We came here to fight.”

Now, she’s got her kids enrolled in school and learning English. She’s got an apartment and has moved away from the hotel. And she’s an advocate.

“We need the United States to help Puerto Rican people,” Torres-Garcia said. “We are a part of the United States. We are United States citizens. We need help over there.”

If the bill passes, the state funding could be used to help evacuees make rent, schools take in evacuees, and nonprofit relief centers provide support.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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