the heart of puerto rico: Decolonization through mutual aid in María’s aftermath

Roles: Producer, Writer, Editor

Published: August 3, 2018, as part of the project ‘Left in the Dark: Puerto Rico’s Fight for a Just Recovery’

View the full project here. 

In the wake of Hurricane María – the shock, the disaster, the darkness – there is dignity. Conversations about decolonization and sovereignty for Puerto Rico had already been happening long before the storms. Knowing the island was already at a vulnerable position in its colonial relationship to the United States, Puerto Ricans responded to the catastrophe with a call for change.

Communities organized to build solidarity with one another and protect themselves from the risks of disaster capitalism. In the heart of Puerto Rico – the valley of Caguas – one group transformed an abandoned building into a community center, which they named El Centro de Apoyo Mutuo, The Center for Mutual Aid.

Their mission was simple: to feed their community and heal the trauma and shock that the hurricanes left. But what resulted was more complex. Their efforts gradually sparked a movement across the island, with many other mutual aid centers emulating it. These centers provide a platform for Puerto Ricans to reclaim their autonomy, to redefine their own process of recovery, not just from the hurricanes, but from the long history of colonization. 

Their collective efforts have emphasized the need to liberate Puerto Rico once and for all.

Overlooking the valley of Caguas, a municipality known as, "the heart of Puerto Rico," at sunrise. Drone photography by Gabriella Parsons, December 2017.

Overlooking the valley of Caguas, a municipality known as, "the heart of Puerto Rico," at sunrise. Drone photography by Gabriella Parsons, December 2017.

The Center for Mutual Aid in Caguas, Puerto Rico, in December 2017, three months after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

The Center for Mutual Aid in Caguas, Puerto Rico, in December 2017, three months after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

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Food (comida)

Modeled after revolutionary movements like those of The Young Lords and The Black Panthers’ free food program, The Center for Mutual Aid serves breakfast and lunch to the community of Caguas on weekdays. This service does not cost money, and can instead be exchanged for people's volunteer time and resources.

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Health (salud)

Ear acupuncture is offered at the Center for Mutual Aid each week. Provided by certified acupuncturists who volunteer at the center, the service has helped community members relieve depression, anxiety and trauma that stemmed from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath.

A couple looks out on the coastline in La Perla, where a mutual aid center provides dinner for the community. Volunteers at the center are part of an activist group in Puerto Rico called  Jornada: Se acabaron las Promesas . The sign to the right translates as "Fiscal Control Board: made in Wall Street. Only the people save the people."

A couple looks out on the coastline in La Perla, where a mutual aid center provides dinner for the community. Volunteers at the center are part of an activist group in Puerto Rico called Jornada: Se acabaron las Promesas. The sign to the right translates as "Fiscal Control Board: made in Wall Street. Only the people save the people."

The view from el Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in La Perla, a barrio of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The view from el Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in La Perla, a barrio of San Juan, Puerto Rico.