Puerto Rico’s main hope right now is the giant Puerto Rican diaspora

One of Puerto Rico’s top advocates.
One of Puerto Rico’s top advocates.
Image: AP Photo/Michael Noble Jr.
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More than a week after hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, many in the island remain cut off from the world, with no access to electricity or cell phone signal.

But in the US mainland, the massive Puerto Rican diaspora has plenty of connections, and it is actively exploiting them to aid its battered countrymen and women. Singer Jennifer López, a.k.a. J.Lo, is donating $1 million toward relief efforts, and is asking her many fans to pitch in as well. She’s also pairing with her ex husband, salsa star Mark Antony, Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, and other artists in a fundraising campaign called “Somos una Voz,” which means “we are one voice” in Spanish.

Puerto-Rico-born Congress members, regardless of which US state their represent, are making a case for their island with the Trump administration. Less famous and powerful members of the tribe are helping with both donations and advocacy.

These days, there are more people of Puerto-Rican origin living in the US than in Puerto Rico itself—5.4 million compared to 3.4 million, according to figures from the Pew Research Center. These continental Puerto Ricans represent their island’s best hope to mobilize Americans to join in the recovery efforts.

Unlike Texas and Florida, which were also wrecked by recent hurricanes, Puerto Rico does not have a vote in Congress because it’s a territory, not a state. Many Americans are not even aware its residents are US citizens.

With phone services down and official lines flooded, it has been up to individual Puerto Ricans in the US to track their incommunicado family members. Leani García, a 28-year-old media editor who lives in New York, spent what she called “the longest week of my life” trying to find out how her grandparents had fared. She scoured social media for clues and networked with others on similar quests for tips.

She finally got word via J. Lo, who had remotely organized a search team to look for her own relatives in Patilla, where García’s grandparents live. A video of them thanking López posted on the celebrity’s Instagram account confirms they were well.

“Just seeing their faces on that video was good for the soul,” said García.

Others haven’t been as lucky, she points out. Many Puerto Ricans in the US still don’t know what happened to their families. The news they do have speaks of heart-breaking devastation—and need.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis,” she adds. “We really need to pull together and help our fellow citizens. It’s unconscionable what is going on.”