The Heart of Puerto Rico

Decolonization through Mutual Aid
in Maria's Aftermath

In the wake of two catastrophic hurricanes – the shock, the disaster, the darkness – there is dignity.

Conversations about decolonization and sovereignty for Puerto Rico had been happening long before the hurricanes. Knowing the island was already at a vulnerable position in its 120-year-old colonial relationship to the United States, Puerto Ricans responded to the storms with a call for change.

Communities across the island organized to build solidarity with one another and protect themselves from the risks of disaster capitalism, a process in which outsiders profit off Puerto Rico’s severely damaged and vulnerable infrastructure.

In the heart of Puerto Rico – the valley of Caguas – one group transformed an abandoned building into a community center, which they named El Centro de Apoyo Mutuo, The Center for Mutual Aid. Their mission was simple: to feed their community and heal the trauma and shock that the hurricanes left.

But what resulted was more complex.

A movement sparked across the island, with many grassroots organizations exemplifying similar efforts. Their collective actions have emphasized the need to liberate Puerto Rico once and for all.

The Centro de Apoyo Mutuo (Center for Mutual Aid) in Caguas, Puerto Rico, was launched as a response to meet basic community needs after the lack of government aid post-hurricane Maria. Socky (bottom left) is one of the volunteer chefs at the center. Oceanna (bottom right), also a volunteer, is one of the many Puerto Ricans from the diaspora who've returned to the island to reconnect with their homeland after the storms.
Two sides to every story: Stephanie, a bartender and visual artist, looks out past the shoreline of La Perla (pictured left) where another mutual-aid center hosts a community kitchen twice a week. “The hurricane didn’t destroy or create anything," Stephanie says, "It just highlighted what needed to be done.” Next to her, a sign reads, “Fiscal Control Board: Made in Wall Street. Only the people can save the people.”
The Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in La, Perla, Puerto Rico, is named after former leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, Pedro Albizu Campos. Children at the center are seen modeling historic revolutionaries, such as Che Guevara (bottom photo) and Albizu Campos (above). The center's commitment to independence for Puerto Rico is rooted in creating a sovereign future for the next generation.

Daniel Orsini Velez and Oceanna Burke embrace while volunteering at the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in Caguas, Puerto Rico. The black Puerto Rican flag, seen on Daniel’s shirt, has become a symbol on the island for pro-independence. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States for 120 years.