September 20th, 2019 marked two years since Hurricane Maria brought destruction upon the island of Puerto Rico. Since then, the island has seen a mass exodus of residents to the mainland United States, failures in its power grids, failures in receiving relief funds, deaths numbered in the thousands, and a political scandal resulting in the resignation of a governor and his team of elected officials. Rebuilding Puerto Rico will be a long and difficult process that must include multiple stakeholders from various levels of policymaking and implementation processes from a wide range of civic sector actors including businesses, nonprofit organizations, and municipalities.
To mark the anniversary of Maria's impact, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies hosted their fourth annual Diaspora Summit which focused on the rebuilding efforts seen on the island and its diaspora in the two years since. A wide range of public figures, thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and social workers active in the Puerto Rican community were invited to act as panelists and moderators for the summit to speak on a spectrum of topics related to the troubles the island and the diaspora continue to face today. The summit lasted from the morning of September 20th, 2019 to the afternoon of the following day.
Located at Hunter College's Silberman School for Social Work in Harlem, New York, the summit was kicked off with a plenary conversation on the topic of Chatgate, the political scandal that surrounded then-Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló. Led by professor & author Yarimar Bonilla, the panel featured Oscar Serrano, editor-in-chief of Noticel, and Sandra D. Rodriguez Cotto, journalist and radio personality. From there, attendees were invited to a series of concurrent panels throughout the day with professionals discussing topics ranging from education, housing and community development, evacuees and local action, to the debt crisis in Puerto Rico and how to solve it. The day featured another plenary panel discussing the aftermath of Chatgate with professionals all well-versed in the situation who believe putting a motion of sustained economic development will be key moving forward for the island. Concluding the day was a reception dinner for all participants to enjoy while conversing and networking with one another.
"Participants and attendees are growing more and more connected with the diaspora solidarity movement," stated Carlos Vargas-Ramos, Centro's Director of Public Policy, Development, Media and External Relations. "They are engaged in efforts to advance the reconstruction of Puerto Rico and seek to defend their activities in concrete ways. They are targetting economic areas through community & corporate development and social entrepreneurship. This recent emphasis on transparency and stressing accountability of governing entities is beginning to develop and take shape as a result of the protest movement that removed Rosselló."
The second day of the summit started with a concurrent series of workshops centered around various projects and organizations such as the Cultural Ambassador Program and the National Puerto Rican Student Coalition. An action fair and library open house took place, where attendees were invited to spark conversations with several organizations. After a discussion on Solidarity with Puerto Rico & Engagement, participants were then allowed to choose between another series of four concurrent panels with topics on political empowerment, Puerto Rican youth, cultural activism, and the aftershocks of disaster. Vargas-Ramos and Centro's director Edwin Melendez concluded the summit with a summary discussion of the events of the conference, and what Puerto Ricans should remain hopeful for in the near future as we continue to rebuild the island and its diaspora.