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 spectrum 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 a series of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican conferences first starting off in New York City on September 20, 2019. The next summit occurred on October 12th, 2019 in New England in collaboration with Enlace de Familias, a grassroots non-profit organization that provides parenting programming and resources to help strengthen the community. A wide range of Puerto Rican public figures, thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and social workers active in the New England community were invited to act as panelists and moderators to the summit to speak on a spectrum of topics related to the troubles the island and the diaspora continue to face today.
Held at Holyoke Community College's (HCC) Kittredge Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the summit kicked off with welcoming remarks by Cristina Royal, President of HCC and the college's first female and queer person of color to hold the title. Following Royal was Betty Medina Lichtenstein, Executive Director of Enlace de Familias who had recently received recognition in the form of a street renamed after her for her years of serving the Puerto Rican community. A plenary conversation on the topic of Puerto Rico's Political and Financial Crises took place, led by communications strategist Gretchen Sierra-Zorita and featuring professor José Caraballo-Cueto, financial analyst Eduardo Conde, and professor Héctor R. Cordero-Guzman. From there, attendees were invited to a series of concurrent panels throughout the day with professionals discussing topics ranging from the action of youth, social entrepreneurship in the economy of Puerto Rico, and the state of health & the Medicaid financing cliff.
Commissioner of Higher Education in the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Carlos Santiago took to the stage as the keynote speaker to touch on the mobility and population growth of Puerto Ricans within the Island. Afterward, a second plenary conversation on the topic of Puerto Rico Solidarity and Engagement, participants were invited to another series of concurrent panels on the topics of the National Puerto Rican Student Coalition, models for local engagement and empowerment, and the stateside impact of Hurricane Maria evacuees. The summit officially closed with statements from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies' own director Edwin Melendez, who invited the audience to the next installment of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans conferences to be held in Washington D.C. on November 16, 2019.
To watch all panel discussions during the New England Diaspora Summit, click here.