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Puerto Rican artist Sofia Maldonado on her homeland's humanitarian crisis

Sofia Maldonado painted a mural, “Promesa,” on an exterior wall at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
Sofia Maldonado painted a mural, “Promesa,” on an exterior wall at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
Museum of Latin American Art

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Sofia Maldonado is an artist whose outdoor mural, “Promesa,” is currently in "Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago" — the Pacific Standard Time exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.

Maldonado is a native of Puerto Rico and she was creating her mural in Long Beach as Hurricane Maria made its way to her homeland.

She was due to return to Puerto Rico on the day the storm hit. She instead made her way to her brother’s home in New York, where they’ve been trying to keep up with events on the island in the devastating wake of the hurricane.

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Maldonado says her parents are safe, but communication has been sparse due to limited cellphone reception. Her studio in the Miramar neighborhood of San Juan did not suffer much damage. There are yet to be reports about damages to cultural institutions on the island.

When The Frame's John Horn spoke with Maldonado by phone, she talked about how she and others in the Puerto Rican diaspora are helping with relief efforts.


On the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico:

We already had the Irma hurricane that hit us. There were people already with no light and water. And then, a week later, Maria came and it was a hurricane that gained velocity very fast. When it hit, I know the island shut down. It was not until two days after that some people started to get their cellphones and we were able to see how bad it hit the island. There were areas that were totally flooded. Mostly all the trees are gone. If you had a wooden house, forget about it. That's also gone.

On limited communication on the island:

My parents are okay. They reached [me] after almost four days. I didn't have communication with them, but luckily they live in old San Juan and I was able to reach out through different neighbors. It's a very united community. It's not easy to communicate. You have to wait until your loved ones call you. I have a lot of friends that haven't been able to contact their parents or family yet. Basically, they have to wait until they have a signal or they have access to a landline or a neighbor.

How the Jones Act affects aid:

Puerto Rico has The Jones Act, imposed by the United States after the first world war. We can only receive ships that are U.S.-based. So if France or like Germany wants to help us, they can't really bring supplies. If that act will be removed from our constitution that would be great because we can definitely get help from different countries. I think this also puts another thing on the table: the difficulties that we have as a territory and not only with the crisis — the debt crisis — but now we have a humanitarian crisis. [Editor's note: The Trump Administration has waived The Jones Act.]

When she thinks she will return:

It's going to be maybe until mid-October. I remain here in New York. Most of the Puerto Ricans in the diaspora, we've been helping as much as we can. While I'm here, I'm trying to help out with different initiatives, keeping the viral media and the viral information of Puerto Rico going both ways. From donations that you can do, to different texts I get from neighbors. If there's a bank open or restaurant open or if there's a gas station open, I go both ways with the communication for the people that are on the island and for the people that are outside of the island and can help.

To hear John Horn's full interview with Sofia Maldonado, click on the player above.


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