“It’s about awareness [...] it’s about making people aware of what’s going on and to show how resilient people can be; at the end of the day, we are showing the resilience of the Puerto Rican people,” says Tinabeth Piña, as she reflects on the half-hour special that will premiere on CUNY TV to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on September 20th.
The special, which is divided into five segments and three shorter interludes, is hosted by Piña, who pitched the idea upon learning of the many different CUNY initiatives that had been launched in wake of Hurricane Maria. Filming took place in Puerto Rico during the summer months, with some interviews being conducted in New York City. Hosting segments, however, were intentionally shot on the island. “I felt it was important to host it from there [Puerto Rico] rather than hosting it here in New York just because it would give it more of an authentic feel.”
The opening segment, for example, follows a cohort of students who received training in New York City before traveling with the CUNY Service Corps, in partnership with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Effort, to help repair homes damaged by the storm.
A similar service trip taken by a group of sixteen Macaulay Honors College students is the focus of another segment. Working with the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, a local non-profit, the students focused on biodiversity while helping to clean beach debris and conduct community surveys, among other efforts.
“I think they realized that the trip was not about them,” observes Piña. “And what they learned there, they wanted to bring back and share here, so that more could be done.”
The trip was also a homecoming for several Puerto Rican students that had enrolled in CUNY institutions following the storm in order to continue their education. This, in turn, is the focus of a third segment. In late October, CUNY announced that college students in Puerto Rico would be eligible to pay in-state tuition for the 2017-18 academic year. An extension was later granted in June.
Filming the special took on added significance for Piña, who is half-Puerto Rican and still has family on the island. “Thankfully, they were in fine shape, their homes were alright,” she says. “But there are a lot of people who are not doing okay. And it made me even more motivated to make sure that this special got out there.”
The remaining two segments include a program led by students from Hostos Community College to help hurricane evacuees relocate to New York City, and a medical relief effort created by John Jay professor Jodie Roure called Doctors for Maria Relief (now known as Hurricane Maria Assistance & Relief Institutional Alliance Inc.).
In addition, there are three shorter segments interspersed throughout the half-hour special. That includes the CUNY Graduate Center’s Miranda Fellowship, which is “to be awarded to an incoming Ph.D. student to study Puerto Rican migration communities.” The second interstitial will cover the various Hurricane Maria-related conferences and summits organized by CUNY institutions, including a diaspora summit organized by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Centro) in San Juan this past June. The final short segment will introduce the Rebuild Puerto Rico initiative launched by Centro shortly after Hurricane Maria.
Overall, the CUNY TV special weaves together an array of CUNY-led initiatives from the perspective of students, scholars, local residents, and so on. Yet at the same time, it shows many of the challenges that lay ahead. “Without having to say anything,” explains Piña, “you’re seeing what is happening on the Island, and why CUNY had to do what it did to help the Island and continues to help the Island.”
Puerto Rico in Crisis: One Year Later airs Thursday, September 20th at 8pm. CUNY TV is broadcast on Ch. 75 (Spectrum and Cablevision/Optimum Brooklyn), Ch. 77 (RCN) and Ch. 30 (Verizon). It is also broadcast digitally on channel 25.3. The full special will be embedded below once it becomes available online.