Lourdes Torres knows how to get help to those in trouble. That’s what she does as a dispatcher for Amherst College Campus Police—and that’s what she did after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.
Indeed, she acted with dispatch, immediately reaching out to La Causa, Amherst’s Latinx student organization, to put out a donation box in their José Martí Cultural Center. Then she collaborated with another Amherst staffer with ties to Puerto Rico: her good friend Bulaong Ramiz-Hall, director of the College’s Multicultural Resource Center, who prepped a more elaborate donations table and got word out to the College community.
Soon after that, Torres joined a 24-person email staff support group for those of Puerto Rican descent, jump-started by Eva Diaz, registration assistant/receptionist in the Office of the Registrar. The group was occupationally diverse—groundskeepers, professors, IT and HR staffers, prep cooks and more—with one overarching concern in common. Each yearned to hear from and assist loved ones on the island where, to quote the national anthem, un cielo siempre nítido/le sirve de dosel: “A constantly clear sky serves as its canopy.”
When that constantly clear sky turned inconstant, Torres panicked for her extended family, who are spread out from San Juan to Utuado to Corozal to Carolina: “There is no worse feeling than coming to work and sitting at Dispatch looking at a small TV, seeing live what was happening on your island, everything blowing everywhere. You have to wait until the storm dies down, wait for family members to contact you and say they’re okay. My hands felt tied, like I was desperate.”
Torres’ fears, of course, were echoed among a huge diaspora; there are more Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. mainland (5.1 million) than on the actual island (3.5 million). Ramiz-Hall, who has family in Ciales, Bayamon and beyond, explains the plight of her fellow compatriots at the College: “We wanted to not just feel hopelessness.”
To that end, on Sept. 26 and Sept. 28, the MRC set up its disaster relief donations table at Keefe Campus Center, focused on Puerto Rico, but also collecting for other locales reeling from recent natural disasters, from the Caribbean to Mexico to Texas.
As a “Made in Puerto Rico” Spotify playlist filled the air with the bright throb of salsa music, students streamed to the table with the Terras Irradient logo. There were several draws for sale: cupcakes topped with red, white and blue icing arranged to form the Puerto Rican flag, plus T-shirts, and pins that Ramiz-Hall had just bought to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which began days before the hurricane.