OPED: From Puerto Rico to York, and voting

Patricia Zapata
CASA in Action
Audience member Patricia Zapata, currently of York City, shares her story of leaving Puerto Rico just three months ago during a debate between U.S. House Rep. Scott Perry, of District 4, and Democratic 10th Congressional District candidates George Scott, Shavonia Corbin-Johnson and Alan Howe at CASA in York City, Saturday, May 12, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It was September of last year when the imminent happened. I was with my two young children in our town of Lajas, located in the southern coast of Puerto Rico, when powerful winds ripped off my home’s roof. Hurricane Maria was finally here, knocking out power across the entire island of 3.4 million people and unleashing a catastrophic flash flooding.

As a Category 4 with 155-mph winds, Hurricane Maria became the worst natural disaster on record in Puerto Rico and one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history — claiming even more lives than Hurricane Katrina.

By far, this has been the most frightening experience in my life, devastating my family and community.

Our infrastructure was completely gone. We had no schools, no churches, no roads, no hospitals. There was no water and power in Lajas for almost three months. As a whole, Hurricane Maria killed nearly 3,000 people and caused $100 billion in damage. Power was only restored to the entire island about a year after the storm hit.

The government response to this tragedy was demoralizing.

According to U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), more than half of the workforce — 54 percent — that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent to Puerto Rico lacked proper training.  FEMA could not even anticipate the massive requirements to deliver electricity, telecommunications and fuel sector utilities with air and sea movement to Puerto Rico.

In fact, most of the deaths blamed on Maria in Puerto Rico, according to researchers, resulted not from the physical impact of the hurricane, but due to shortcomings in preparedness and response from the federal government under the Trump administration.

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Facing this chaos, I knew one thing: I had to do whatever I could to survive while protecting my children and parents. That meant leaving my beloved Puerto Rico.

I arrived to York in February 2018 looking for a job and an affordable home to bring my family. Although I have a master's in strategic management, I was prepared to do anything to make ends meet and start rebuilding my life.

Once I found a home, the first thing I did was obtain a driver’s license in Pennsylvania and register to vote in my new community. As I see it, I came to Pennsylvania with my family to work and provide quality of life to my loved ones, which meant taking responsibility of learning who were my elected officials and learning which candidates cared for my community to obtain my vote.

After surviving Hurricane Maria, environmental issues became one of my core concerns. As this Nov. 6 election comes near, I will vote for candidates who understand that a fair and an equitable society is achieved when individuals know of our climate responsibility.  Climate change is real. It’s happening and we must be ready to confront it while doing whatever we can to care for our planet.

We must work together to uplift marginalized communities who are victims of climate change and make people aware of our collective right by voting for candidates who care for the environment and the future of all communities.

— With nearly 100,000+ lifetime members, CASA in Action is the largest electoral organization fighting for immigrant rights in the mid-Atlantic region. For more information, please visit Follow us @CASAinAction