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On September 20, 2017, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving millions of Puerto Ricans—U.S. citizens—in the dark, the people of the island were in dire straits. In the face of this disaster, instead of words of compassion and recovery assistance, the former commander in chief threw rolls of paper towels. This inspired Carmen V. Cruz to reach out to colleagues, organizations, friends, and communities to organize a nonviolent response to the blatant disrespect and unequal treatment of Puerto Rican American Citizens.

During the Puerto Rican Heritage Month celebration of November 19, 2017, a caravan of demonstrators, dressed in white, symbolizing peace, hope, and faith, marched as the “Silent Procession NYC4PR.” New Yorkers joined in along the route from East Harlem to Trump Tower. We expressed our collective outrage in a manner that proved silence is much louder than words that continue to fall on deaf ears. Our peaceful, non-vocal message boomed through the City’s streets:

Puerto Ricans demand equal aid and resources offered to all citizens of the United States.

Four banners displayed the issues facing the Island: Memoriam For Lives Lost, USA Citizens, Surviving Trauma, and Rebuilding Puerto Rico. Marchers stood silently in front of Trump Towers displaying our banners. In 2021, the destination was changed to Grand Army Plaza at 59th St. & 5th Ave., N.Y.

As September 23, 2018 commemorated El Grito de Lares, an historic insurrection by Puerto Ricans that garnered increased autonomy from Spain, we held the second procession amid U.S. denials of a death count that reached into the thousands. We added two banners, Exempt PR – Jones Act and Cancel The Debt, which is also the name of the organization that was invited to permanently march with the Procession in 2019. In 2018, six posters that mirrored grievances were carried during the May 1, 2018 National Demonstration held in Puerto Rico.

Six additional posters were added in 2019 for the purpose of putting a face on the destruction of all of the natural disasters the island has endured. In solidarity with New York, the town of Mayaguez and the island of Vieques simultaneously held their own silent procession in 2018 and 2019.

The Procession has also adopted Immaculate Heart of Maria Nursing Home in Ponce, which receives financial assistance and shipments of essentials for its senior residents.

It is important to mention that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the crisis mounted, due to a sequence of earthquakes that began on December 28, 2019, and Tropical Storm Isaias causing power outages, flooding, and small landslides across Puerto Rico on July 30, 2020. The death toll continues to rise, due to lack of health services. Poor mental health outcomes have escalated to an unimaginable degree, especially with the added stress of the pandemic, and calls to the island’s suicide hotline have, sometimes, exceeded 1,600 a day, according to the government mental health agency. Schools have closed. Blue tarps still replace real roofs on homes, and the island’s debt continues in debate. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people have migrated from the island.

The natural disasters have added a cost of $160 million in infrastructure damage. Total cost of the recovery plan is estimated to be $139 billion. Natural events uncovered and deepened a broad range of already existing problems that were at a boiling point. President Trump, with his disdain and ridicule, was the face of the institutional incompetence of a government administration that was castrated by corruption so extreme that the administration was incapable of responding appropriately to the situation. Trump’s offenses were not the worst of it. There was also irresponsible management by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Congress, and the rest of the U.S. federal agencies that have used blackmail as a norm in their treatment of Puerto Rico. For these agencies, four thousand lives are a mere statistic.

Fortunately, there has been an encouraging response to this chapter in the island’s history. It has been the response of a people and its diverse sectors. The overwhelming courage and anger we saw during 15 days in July 2019 were a reflection of the tensions, abuses, and frustrations that are the undercurrent of the collapse and the end of a colonial economic and political system that is yet to be buried. Today, as it has rarely happened before in the island’s history, it is evident that we must maintain a collective response and mobilization in all areas. In recent decades, this has been the most effective way to demonstrate our rights and to get a response to Puerto Rico’s needs.

Dressed in white as a symbol of peace, hope, and faith, the mission of the Silent Procession NYC4PR is to maintain and raise awareness of the critical issues and struggles for survival facing Puerto Rico, but most important, convey that New York City marches in solidarity with Puerto Rico.

The Silent Procession NYC4PR is not affiliated with any political, private, nonprofit or religious organization.