Day 4: La Salud
The third community we visited on Tuesday was La Salud, arranged by Professor Marcel Castro-Sitiriche from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. This town began in the 1950s as a result of Operation Bootstrap, when the U.S. decided to industrialize Puerto Rico. Many farmers were pushed off their land and encouraged to move to the cities to work in the textile factories, but they were poor and there was no housing for them, so they squatted on land just outside the city to build their homes. As a result, many of them do not have titles to the land their families have been living on for the past 4-5 generations.
The local government has given some of them a chance to legalize their situation and own the land, but in many areas, it resists selling. The people suspect their are plans to eventually sell the land to large developers and gentrify the area... Following Hurricane Maria, most residents of La Salud were unable to get help from FEMA because they did not have the titles to their properties. However, La Salud has been able to get help from the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States and various chapters of Rotary International that have allowed it to repair some of the homes of the most vulnerable residents. Judging from the number of damaged homes we saw, however, their is still a lot of need for help.
This sculpture is located in “El Rumbón” that was built with the support of the mayor to be the location of an annual festival that encourages the residents that have left the island to return home. It represents the double M of the sculptor’s mother’s name, Milagros, and the M in Mayaguez.
Started 9 years ago, the festival is a huge community event with many traditional foods, feeding up to 500 people, and Rumba dancing. Unfortunately, since the community president retired from organizing it two years ago, no one else has taken up the reins. It is his hope that youth with compassion and ambition will commit themselves to saving the town. The collaboration they have with the UPRM is a part of the plan to involve more young people in community leadership and to revitalize the area from the bottom up, rather than the top down.