For the Burdoy Luis family, life after Maria was wet. The hurricane did not destroy their home in Quebradillas, but living near the Guajataca dam was being at risk of the represa bursting open and flash flooding the region at any moment.
It was only 48 hours after the cyclone when 70,000 folks in Quebradillas and Isabela, including the Burdoy Luis family, were ordered to evacuate from their residences. The floodgates that controlled the flow of water into the Guajataca river were faulty and could stop working at any time.
But Viviana Burdoy Luis and her family had been out of their home since Maria. They had spent the storm with Viviana’s sister. The entrance to Quebrada Margarita, the valley where they lived, was inundated and inaccessible.
The three siblings all have big dreams they hope their Philadelphia education can help them achieve. Evelyn hopes to become a professional player. Carlos is passionate about agriculture; but “I’d rather become a veterinarian,” and he wonders if he could even do both. Ángel loves trap music, and aspires to be a famous musician.
The water levels eventually subsided, and the family came home two weeks later. However, the storm had radically altered the laws that governed the family’s reality. School was out of session, and Viviana’s three teenage children could not go back to class. Looking for groceries, gas, and other basic necessities was a daily war. Viviana spent 18 hours waiting at the gas station, to be told there was no fuel left. The surviving livestock that had survived the storm had perished from the stress. Every time it rained, the municipalities near the Guajataca dam were put on alert.
When the Burdoy Luis family stepped on a plane for the first time in November, they never went back to the island. Puerto Rico was home, and it “had everything we needed.” says Carlos, Viviana’s 15-year-old son. They miss their family deeply. “We are extremely close, and not a day goes by where I didn’t see my sister. Leaving my mother, under the living conditions after Maria, was terrible,” says Viviana.
But the Burdoy Luis family has also found the love and comfort of family in Philadelphia. It is through this support that they are making their new lives here. It was Viviana’s father-in-law who bought tickets for the family of five and brought them to the city, while her sister-in-law housed them for the first couple of months. Charito, Viviana’s cousin, who is involved in advocacy and activism in the city, enrolled her niece and nephews in after school programming to keep them busy. And whenever Viviana gets lonely, her Tía Rosita picks her up to spend the day.
Evelyn, Carlos, and Ángel, ages 13, 15, and 16, are happy to be back in school. “The first days in Philadelphia we didn’t know anyone. We were holed up in the house, and bored,” Carlos says as he laughs. But the three of them have made friends, and when it’s not too cold out, they like to spend the day outside at the park near their middle school.
None of them speak English, but the teenagers are picking it up slowly in school. Their teachers inject their classes with bits of Spanish so lessons are clearer. “We’re lucky because Maldonado, who teaches us math, is Puerto Rican. Same with Ms. Kelly and Ms. Rivera. They all make sure that we understand,” Carlos says. Even the school team’s basketball coach, who is Puerto Rican, has helped out, and invited the two brothers to play on the team. “Whenever we have an away game and come back to school, he always drives us back to the hotel so we don’t need to take a bunch of complicated bus routes,” says Ángel.
The Burdoy Luis family has found the love and comfort of family in Philadelphia. It is through this support that they are making their new lives here.
The three siblings all have big dreams they hope their Philadelphia education can help them achieve. Evelyn, loves basketball and hopes to become a professional player. Carlos is passionate about agriculture, and used to help his family with their land; but he’d rather become a veterinarian, and he wonders if he could even do both. Ángel loves trap music, and aspires to be a famous musician.
Viviana’s husband was working an “under the table” job that only paid $7 an hour when he first arrived in the city, but has since found stable and humane full-time employment. While he works, Viviana looks for more permanent housing. The family wants to be near Allegheny, where the children go to school, and have already seen a few potential residences—though they don’t yet have enough savings. However, she is optimistic that there are “options for them out there.”
Until now, the Burdoy Luis family has been staying in a FEMA-sponsored hotel on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, along with other displaced folks. “We are so grateful for the help we have received,” says Evelyn, especially so after recently hearing that their stay had been extended at the Windsor Suites until May.
However, the stability that the temporary housing provided to these displaced Philly Ricans is being threatened. The Burdoy Luises are amongst 21 boricua evacuee families that FEMA says were erroneously notified of the extension by their system. The evacuees found this out yesterday, and will be kicked out by Friday with only a few days notice. “We have nowhere to go, and I am feeling chaotic,” Viviana says. “We will end up on the streets.”
For now, their Philadelphia family and friends are stepping up to make sure this doesn’t happen. This morning, Puerto Rican activists and community organizers, along with evacuees and allies, are holding a press conference at FEMA in Center City to demand housing solutions for the folks in hotels in danger of eviction. Together, a chorus of voices are rallying behind the displaced, newly minted Philly Ricans. After all, the Burdoy Luis family, and all the other Puerto Rican evacuees, will never be alone in their new city.Photo via Cameron Hart