Since he learned of the secret chat Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Roselló and his buddies used to share privileged government information and crack sexist and homophobic jokes, Alexis Santos couldn’t sleep. Last week, the PennState professor cancelled meetings and bought a last-minute ticket to San Juan to join his fellow Puerto Ricans in the massive protests against Roselló in person.
On Monday, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans—including people who flew in for the occasion—marched throughout the island in what observers say was an unprecedented showing. “There are Puerto Ricans all over the United States and we can apply some pressure on the island’s leaders,” said Santos, who picked up a Puerto Rican flag t-shirt at the airport before diving into the protests.
The island has a long history of crisis that has chased residents out. A decade-long recession drove hundreds of thousands out of the island between 2000 and 2015. That exodus, in turn, slashed consumer spending and taxes, which led to the government’s bankruptcy declaration in May 2017.
Then came Hurricane Maria in September, which forced many more Puerto Ricans to leave. The government’s inept response left the island without power for months and contributed to thousands of deaths, fueling frustration and outrage both locally and beyond. After the storm, the diaspora stepped in to fill in the holes left by the government’s inaction.
One traveler caught fellow passengers carrying protest signs. “Visiting my own home. I left because of Maria. I’m coming back so you quit.”
“We had to be here,” a Fort Lauderdale resident who traveled to Puerto Rico to participate in the protests told El Nuevo Herald last week. “They have stolen everything.”
Other returning Puerto Ricans include pop singer Ricky Martin. “I want to feel the power of the people. Please from every corner of the island, come and protests with us,” he tweeted ahead of Monday’s march. Rapper Bad Bunny abandoned his European tour to fly back home for the walkouts. Both marched on Monday.
Some of the travelers were warmly welcomed. A local journalist tweeted an account from one of the recent arrivals. “When you land in Puerto Rico and the flight attendant says, “I hope you go to the march tomorrow… Ricky quit!”