Members of the Puerto Rican Agenda – Cristina Pacione-Zayas, Co-Chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda, Fernando Grillo, Chair of the Board of Directors for Aspira, Inc. of Illinois and Juan Calederón, Chief Operations Officer of The Puerto Rican Cultural Center – traveled to Puerto Rico with a Chicago delegation including, Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to meet with the mayors of San Juan, Comerío, and Loíza on March 23rd and 24th, 2018. They will deliver 5,200 lbs of supplies collected by the Puerto Rican Agenda and $43k in cash to San Juan, Comerío y Loiza. Solar lamps and panels will be distrib- uted to community groups in the towns of Moca and Huma- cao, as well as critical medical supplies to the HIMA San Pablo Hospital in Cupey, which services several towns across the island. The Agenda will present $4,000 each to schools in Comerío and Loíza as a youth-to-youth fund- raising initiative with Chicago-based children sending funds to the children of Puerto Rico. This visit builds upon the Agenda’s continued mobilization of resources through its 3 R’s Campaign: “Rescue, Relief, and Rebuild” resulting in $250,000 distributed in micro-grants to 30 towns. The Chicago Community Trust recognized the Agenda’s effective strategy and recently awarded $100,000 for the purpose of distributing micro-grants on the island, supporting evacuee resettlement in Chicago, and advocating for policy change related to the Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago was the first organization of the Puerto Rican diaspora to land an airplane filled with cargo on the island, and to have that same plane return with 300 people stranded at the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport in Puerto Rico. Six months later, the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria are still felt in Puerto Rico. Many towns continue to experience challenges with limited electricity and drinkable water. Through the “Rescue, Relief, and Rebuild Campaign”, the Puerto Rican Agenda will adopt two of the poorest towns on the island and of the most devastated towns post-hurricanes – Comerío and Loíza – to concentrate efforts on rebuilding initiatives directed by Puerto Ricans on the island.

Assessing the impact of hurricanes on Puerto Rico’s forests

Assessing the impact of hurricanes on Puerto Rico’s forests

Building on methods they used to assess the impact of hurricanes such as Katrina, Gustav, and Rita on forests and tree mortality, scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have produced a rapid mapping of the disturbance intensity across Puerto Rico’s forests with the help of Google Earth Engine.

Battered by two intensely powerful storms with sustained wind gusts of more than 150 miles per hour last year – first by Hurricane Irma and then by Hurricane Maria – Puerto Rico suffered widespread and catastrophic damage to its urban infrastructure. Using satellite images combined with image processing techniques, a team led by Jeffrey Chambers, an expert in forest biogeography, found extensive ecological damage as well.

The researchers assessed the damage by looking at changes in the surface reflectance of both visible and invisible light. While the human eye can discern colors in the visible spectrum, by also measuring the spectral response of the surface in reflective infrared light a far more precise picture is provided of impacts to forest vegetation.

“We look for a change in the spectral signature from before and after the storm,” said Chambers, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Area as well as an associate professor of geography at UC Berkeley. “When the sunlight bounces off green vegetation it looks one way, and when it’s bouncing off vegetation where the leaves are all stripped off or  have toppled it’s very different. We find dramatic changes in the spectral signature of the forests associated with damage, tree mortality, uprooted trees, stripped leaves, and canopies.”

A preprint of their study, “Hurricane Maria Impacts on Puerto Rican Forests,” has been published online. “Mapping disturbance impacts and publishing results can take years,” said Yanlei Feng, a UC Berkeley graduate student in geography who is the study’s first author. “This new approach employing the Google Earth Engine platform enables the delivery of data products that are more timely; for use in hazard assessments, for example.”

The researchers estimate that 23 to 31 million trees may have been killed or severely damaged by Hurricane Maria but note that field investigations are required to attain more accurate estimates. A similar analysis they conducted after Hurricane Katrina estimated that 320 million trees died or were severely damaged in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Why study tropical forests?

Forests cover about 54 percent of Puerto Rico, and they are the only tropical forests in the United States outside of Hawaii. However, unlike Hawaii, which has few native tree species, Puerto Rico’s forests are much more diverse, with hundreds of species.

Berkeley Lab has been studying Puerto Rico’s forests for several years as part of the Department of Energy’s Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics (NGEE-Tropics) initiative, a multi-institutional project launched in 2015 and led by Berkeley Lab. “One of our goals is to demonstrate that  are important to the U.S.,” Chambers said.

Studying and understanding forest disturbances is important for many reasons, including natural resource management, watershed protection and impacts on soil erosion, and examining the direct effects of tree-falls on the energy distribution grid. Tropical forests are especially important because, even though they cover only 7 percent of the Earth’s surface, they contain the largest vegetation carbon stocks, and are also important carbon sinks.

As part of NGEE-Tropics, Berkeley Lab has been studying the forests in Puerto Rico as a pilot study site to help improve modeling of the Earth system. “Fluxes of water, energy, carbon, and the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients are all highest in the tropics,” Chambers said. “So if you want to build an accurate Earth system model, you’ve got to get the tropics right.”

Advanced image processing

The Berkeley Lab researchers looked at images from Landsat 8, a satellite that takes detailed images of the entire Earth every 16 days, comparing images from before and after the hurricanes and eliminating effects due to clouds and shadows.

Data is collected by Landsat 8 as images of 30-square meter pixels. The researchers quantified the spectral signature of each forested pixel before and after the storms to determine the change in the fraction of the surface that is considered non-photosynthetic vegetation. They found that the damage was not evenly spread across the island’s forests.

“The intensity of the spectral shift varied a lot across the island,” Chambers said. “Now we want to better understand why some forests were more vulnerable than others, and what factors controlled the differences in how forests were impacted. Was it the species, was it the slope, was it the aspect – whether you’re on the windward or lee side as the storm is rotating counterclockwise? The soil type and rooting depth are also important factors.”

For example, cypress and tupelo trees in Louisiana weathered Hurricane Katrina just fine. “The oak trees right next door all went down,” Chambers said. “Cypress trees have buttressing and rooting structures which confer resistance to wind.”

Carbon source or carbon sink?

Forests remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. When storms, fires, or other disturbances kill a great number of trees, the dead biomass is decomposed by fungi, insects, and the like, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When tree mortality is especially high, a  can go from being a carbon sink to a carbon source.

But Chambers points out that it can take decades for a tree to decompose and emit all its carbon. “All forests are disturbed every year at some background rate; carbon cycle changes occur if this background rate increases as storms become more frequent or intense,” he said. And Puerto Rico has experienced devastating hurricanes before, including the 1928 San Felipe Segundo hurricane, which was even stronger than Maria, as well as hurricanes Georges in 1998 and Hugo in 1989.

Another recent NGEE-Tropics study found Puerto Rico’s subtropical dry forests will remain resilient to hurricanes. However, if  frequency increases significantly, forests will not have enough time to regenerate. “If the return frequency of a disturbance increases, you can get long-term decline in total carbon storage,” Chambers said.

Explore further: The effect of hurricanes on Puerto Rico’s dry forests

More information: Yanlei Feng et al. Rapid remote sensing assessment of impacts from Hurricane Maria on forests of Puerto Rico, PeerJ (2018). DOI: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.26597v1

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Hurricane Maria Hit Women in Puerto Rico the Hardest. And They’re the Ones Building It Back.

Hurricane Maria Hit Women in Puerto Rico the Hardest. And They’re the Ones Building It Back.

Hurricane Maria Hit Women in Puerto Rico the Hardest. And They’re the Ones Building It Back.

By Justine Calma, Grist

11 March 18

fter Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, Adi Martínez-Román’s morning routine went something like this: Wake up at 5 a.m., secure a water cistern on her roof to prevent it from leaking, fill her generator with gasoline and turn it on to power her refrigerator, get ready for work, turn the generator off to conserve gas. (Her fridge would have enough juice to keep food cold through the afternoon.) Then she could finally head to her job providing others affected by the storm with legal services. After work came the hunt to get more gasoline to power the generator.

Martínez-Román considers herself lucky to have had a generator and a cistern. She was also fortunate that power was restored to her home by Thanksgiving, before much of the rest of the island. But even now she says the smell of gasoline triggers strong feelings about what she and other women have endured since the hurricane.

When superstorms make landfall, they often exacerbate existing inequities. Women typically pay a higher price during a storm and in its aftermath, with their lives and then with their labor. As Puerto Rico recovers from Hurricane Maria, women like Martínez-Román are doing double duty — leading community efforts to rebuild while managing households with fewer resources. As they do this, months without electricity to power modern conveniences like washing machines has led to bleeding hands and aching backs for women cleaning clothes by hand. Limited lighting at night makes public places feel less safe, and women say contractors brought in to repair the island’s infrastructure have sexually harassed them.

This week’s nor’easters dealt Puerto Rico a follow-up blow to Maria, as 30-foot swells — the largest waves the island has seen in more than a decade — led to a new round of evacuations on Monday. This comes after the Treasury Department delayed its latest disaster relief loan to the territory, which it’d already slashed in half.

In her role as the executive director of Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia in San Juan, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to low-income families, Martínez-Román has found that that the extra burden placed on women after the storm has translated into leadership.

“The reality is that when you go to communities, mostly it is women as leaders and as community organizers,” Martínez-Román says. This is even more evident In Puerto Rico’s rural areas, where older matriarchs have stayed behind as family members have migrated to city centers or other parts of the U.S. for jobs. Over 300,000 people have migrated to Florida alone since Hurricane Maria.

In the rural locale of Mariana, known for the island’s annual breadfruit festival, Christine Nieves started a community kitchen with the help of elders — all women. Six months after the storm, Mariana, like roughly 12 percent of the island, still does not have electricity. Nieves is ecstatic that her organization, Proyecto Apoyo Mutuo Mariana (Project for Mutual Aid Mariana), recently received a donation of eight solar-powered washing machines (another woman in Connecticut donated the money to purchase them). They will make a tremendous difference for the women who volunteer in the project’s kitchen and help with the other social services they now provide.

Even in rural areas like Mariana, most families have access to a washing machine. But Nieves and others say the power outages turned the clock back, forcing women to take on arduous domestic duties that modern conveniences had eased. Nieves recalls one grandmother apologizing for not being able to help with the meals because her hands were raw from scrubbing clothes. Now, she and others can use the machines in exchange for their time and labor.

Christiana Smyrilli, a civil engineering Phd student at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., recently conducted a study in Puerto Rico on how water and sanitation issues might affect women and men differently. She found that the impact was greater on women because of their household responsibilities. Due to the delayed response in getting clean water to affected residents, men often were responsible for carrying water home from natural water sources or water tanks. But the work of cooking and cleaning and managing limited water supplies fell on women. And the stress of rationing took an emotional toll.

“To me it seemed the women had the physical burden, as well as more mental and psychological burden,” Smyrilli says.

The additional domestic work can make it more difficult for women to recover economically. Spending more time on chores and childcare (due to closed schools), means women have less time open to seek outside employment.

And the stress facing Puerto Rico’s women post-hurricane went beyond home life. The process of getting the territory’s power back has been tortured, and the U.S. has had a series of missteps with companies it has contracted with to provide aid and repair the power grid. The territory has seen an influx of people coming in to rebuild — and despite good intentions, problems have arisen.

“All of a sudden we had tons and tons and tons of men in our communities with big trucks that were really loud,” Nieves recalls. “They were nice when you talked to them, but there was also this weird undertone of ‘Are we going to get some while we are in Puerto Rico?’”

Nieves says she and her friends have encountered instances of sexual harassment, such as male contractors asking how “easy” Puerto Rican women are.

Sexual misconduct, of course, isn’t limited to contractors. After a natural disaster, threats to women’s safety can come from others in the affected population, and even from the aid community. A recent investigation into senior staff with the humanitarian organization OxFam showed workers purchasing sex from women after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. OxFam and others in the aid community have denounced the actions.

Grist spoke with OxFam’s program coordinator in Puerto Rico, Martha Thompson, about what the organization is doing to ensure the same behavior doesn’t happen in Puerto Rico. Thompson says the group is increasing its transparency, and it’s working with Cambridge’s Christiana Smyrilli to better understand the burdens women have faced so far during the recovery.

“We want to make sure people in our team have gone through the sexual-harassment training,” Thompson says.

Thompson is particularly worried about how prolonged blackouts can make women and children more vulnerable to sexual assault and domestic violence. “If you don’t have public lighting anywhere, you don’t have lighting in houses,” she explains. “Of course sexual assault is going to go up.”

When women have been displaced, separated from loved ones, and are taking shelter in crowded spaces where tensions are high, the risk of sexual violence heightens. In addition, the breakdown of infrastructure in a storm’s wake makes it more difficult for women to report violence or seek help.

After women came forward with reports of sexual assault in evacuation shelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center partnered with several other U.S. organizations to set up a relief fund for victims. The fund is designed to help put safety nets back in place for survivors by providing aid to victims, repairing rape crisis centers, and helping their affected staff get back to work.

With last year’s unprecedented hurricane season, the fund — which had about $30,000 — was nearly depleted between Harvey, Irma, and Maria. “In the two to three months of those hurricanes, we spent more than had been spent in the entire history of the relief fund,” says Laura Palumbo, the center’s communications director.

After Hurricane Harvey, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center had to quickly raise money in order to provide just $5,000 each to its partners in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And with the threat of a higher frequency of stronger storms in the future, thanks to climate change, a critical source of relief for women in disaster zones is being stretched far beyond its means.

“We would have never expected that after hearing from so many individuals and programs in Texas in critical need that we would then instantaneously have Hurricane Maria,” Palumbo says. “We’re now faced with this unfortunate situation of being at square one with raising funds for future disasters.

“That’s always a difficult position because you never know when a disaster will strike.”

Original article on

ABC7 SPECIAL The Ñ Beat with Puerto Rican Hurricane Relief/Artist Richard Santiago

ABC7 SPECIAL The Ñ Beat with Puerto Rican Hurricane Relief/Artist Richard Santiago

The Ñ Beat is an Emmy award-winning half-hour show that turns the spotlight on Chicago’s vibrant Latino community! ABC7 Chicago brings you another episode of The Ñ Beat Saturday, March 24th at 6PM. Six months after Hurricane Maria roared through Puerto Rico, you’ll find out how Chicago has rallied to support that island’s storm-weary survivors.. including a talented artist and his family. Also, meet another Puerto Rican artist whose love for her Chicago neighborhood inspired her recent MCA exhibit. He gained fame on the reality cooking show, ‘Top Chef’.. now, you’ll meet the Mexican chef who is marking a milestone with his first Chicago restaurant and see how a Brazilian native is getting her pupils ‘moving’..with her lively lessons straight from Rio’s Carnival!! ABC7’s Stacey Baca hosts the show from the Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s new child development center… or ‘Consuelo Lee Corretjer Centro Infantil’. Correspondents include Roz Varon, Tanja Babich, John Garcia, Michelle Gallardo, Rob Elgas and new to our Ñ Beat family, Mark Rivera!

Puerto Rican Hurricane Relief/Artist Richard Santiago


Refugees from Hurricane Maria made a new home in Chicago’s Humboldt Park.

Hurricane Maria stormed the shores of Puerto Rico last fall…. leaving a trail of destruction. It is the worst natural disaster in the history of that island and the recovery has been slow to happen. In the meantime, thousands of ‘survivors’ of the storm have fled. In fact, at least 2,500 have made their way to Chicago. The Puerto Rican Cultural Center is one of the key outposts for support as the evacuees look to start over. In fact, one former art professor in San Juan has made Chicago a ‘second home’ for his family largely, thanks to the PRCC. Richard Santiago is artist-in-residence for the PRCC’s new child development center..or Consuelo Lee Corretjer Centro Infantil. Richard has moved his entire family to the Windy City… and is bringing his artwork to the walls that will liven up the child care center for years to come!

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center
2546 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622

NEW Consuelo Lee Corretjer Day Care Center(Opening Soon)
1345 N. Rockwell
Chicago, IL

To connect with artist, Richard Santiago, on Facebook:

Puerto Rican People’s Parade 2018: Join the Celebration!

Puerto Rican People’s Parade 2018: Join the Celebration!


PRPeoples Parade Application 2018

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center will be celebrating a historical achievement – the
40th Annual Puerto Rican Peoples Parade (1978 – 2018) on Paseo Boricua, starting at
2:00pm on Division & Western, on Saturday June 14th , 2018.
This year the parade will honor its founders and will highlight the 3R’s PR campaign
“Rescue, Relief, Rebuild Puerto Rico” of the Puerto Rican Agenda. These founders
are being honored as the pioneers, whose vision and diligence, started a space in
this community forty years ago to promote our culture and celebrate our resilience
in the face of the discrimination and marginalization which had caused the second
major Puerto Rican rebellion, taken place in June of 1977 – responding to the cold
blooded murder of two young Puerto Ricans by Chicago’s police. From its inception,
the founders assured that the Parade would showcase Puerto Rican art, music and
culture without the adulterated depiction, which many traditional ethnic parades
undergo as a result of commercialization. Forty years later we will celebrate, in a
carnival-like environment, and frame this Puerto Rican cultural experience within
the language of social criticism and the discourse of possibilities.
This year’s Parade will additionally highlight the work the Puerto Rican Agenda has
undertaken in response to the humanitarian and the exacerbated economic crisis
that Puerto Rico faced as a result of Hurricane María. The Puerto Rican Agenda of
Chicago was the first organization of the Puerto Rican Diaspora to land an airplane
with cargo on the island, and to have that same plane return with 300 people
stranded at the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport. Since the passing of Hurricane María, the
Puerto Rican Agenda has raised over $400,000 and directed funds for aid and micro-
grants totaling $250,000 to 30 municipalities in Puerto Rico.
During the weekend of March 23 rd , 24 th and 25 th members of the Puerto Rican
Agenda traveled to Puerto Rico with a Chicago delegation, including Congressman
Luis V. Gutierrez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and met with the mayors of San Juan,
Comerío and Loíza. 5,200 pounds of supplies, collected by the Puerto Rican Agenda
and the Puerto Rico Relief fund of South Central Wisconsin, was distributed. The
Agenda presented $4,000 each to schools in Comerío and Loíza, as a youth to youth
fund raising initiative.
There are many ways one can be part of the efforts to make the 40 th Puerto Rican
Parade a community success, including the following:
 Join the Parade festivities on Saturday, June 14 th
 Buy an ad in La Voz de Paseo Boricua Parade Special Edition Insert
 Donate to the Puerto Rican Relief Fund at
 Donate to the Parade vía
See you there!
For more information, please contact Leony Calderón