La Isla Del Encanto; Borikén
La Isla Del Encanto; Borikén, documents the physical damage to areas in my family’s villages, in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria. These places hold the memories of my youth and areas of the countryside I explored. In early December 2017, late February 2018, and late July 2018 I traveled to Puerto Rico to check in on my family, help with any repairs, and to see with my own eyes the way life has changed and has continued pushing forward. Over time I’ve developed a ritual of revisiting the areas and paths that are significant to me. The frames taken are remnants of memories that are etched in my mind that have physically disappeared on the island and moments shared in the company of loved ones the storm could not destroy. With the aid of the photographic medium as a tool, I’ve helped myself put to rest these physical landmarks my family made on the island. I’ve chosen to compose the scenes of destruction in angles most vividly remembered by myself. By capturing the identity of quiet landscapes, toppled homes, crippled forests, and plowed towns, that have seen its unique identity physically stripped away, is my way of coping. My memories on the island and stories I would hear about the way life was on the island will always stay with me, but my ability to retrace the paths I’d explored are forever lost, leaving me with frames of my heritage the storm couldn’t take away.
First published by the NY Times Lens on September 19, 2018.
My cousin, Eliam, cools off in a small pool of water after hiking down from our grandfather Horacio’s home, in the barrio of Dajaos. The barrio is named after the small fish that frequent the streams in the area. Villalba, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
My grandmother, Amparo, sits and reflects in her bedroom after finishing a call with my aunt Giacinia in Florida. During my time visiting after the storm, she would joke how I was leaving New York in 2017 and coming to Puerto Rico in 1950. She told this joke to lighten the spirits due to the lack of power and water in my relatives’ homes. Ponce, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
A mattress, blown onto power lines, as a result of the storm’s category-five winds, still hangs there three months after Maria made its way through the island. Ponce, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
My uncle Luis stands in his Puerto Rico Police Department uniform with the city of Ponce behind him. He has been a police officer on the island for just over 31 years. Over lunch, he spoke about his fear of a crime wave after the blackouts hit the island, last year after the storm. Ponce, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
View of the Cordillera Central, a few miles outside of the town of Lares. Lares is best known for the El Grito de Lares, the island’s first major social uprising, which took place on September 23, 1868. Lares, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
My father, center, and grandfather Horacio, left, kindle the fire in preparation for the lechón asado, seen by many as the island’s national dish, at my grandfather’s home in the barrio Dajaos. The pig was rotated for ten hours in total, with several relatives taking turns in the process. Villalba, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
My grandmother Amparo’s favorite palm tree now hangs in her living room. Villalba, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
My brother, Erik, lays under a mosquito net (“mosquitero”) at my grandmother Amparo and Carmelo’s home in the barrio La Yuca. After the storm, the use of these nets became even more prevalent with the rise in cases of dengue, a mosquito-borne disease. Ponce, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
A photograph of myself, alongside photographs of my aunt Giacinia and brother Erik, sits on a couch amongst broken wood and glass in my grandmother Amparo’s home. Villalba, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
Hurricane Maria married a house and tree in the barrio of Buyones, just outside the airport my family and I always flew into, from New York. The passengers would clap after every flight had landed and the smell of mango trees would seep into the airplane. Buyones, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
Ñingo Marrero, my grandfather Horacio’s cousin, stands for a portrait in the barrio of Dajao. After the storm, he and many others bathed in the waterfall and river behind the property until the water was restored to their homes. When I was a child, my grandfather would take us on hikes around the barrio and tell us tales about the chupacabra, which he claimed killed his roosters, and how it lived in these woods. Villalba, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
The residents of the barrio Buyones in Ponce converted an abandoned home into a holding pen for horses after Hurricane Maria decimated the area’s stables. Buyones, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
A wild dog nervously watches me as I walk to Carmelo’s home in the barrio La Yuca. Ponce, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
My grandfather, Angel-Luis, at his home in the barrio El Semil, in Villalba. Prior to having his water return back in late-March, my Grandfather had a teenager from the barrio help him install a hundred-foot hose to a water source at the bottom of the mountain. He would wait to receive word from his neighbors about water being released to the area and with the help of the hose he would fill his five buckets of water, which he would then use to cook, clean his clothes, and bathe. Villalba, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
A horse belonging to one of Carmelo’s close friends, Polón, dries in the noonday sun after a bath. Polón told me many of the island's horses were lost during the storm, and many more died afterward due to contaminated water. Ponce, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
My cousin Wilnnettelis Marie Alvarado Torres sits on the concrete bleachers of an abandoned elementary school, the same school my father attended as a child. She looks on as relatives play a pickup basketball game, at the small court of the school in the barrio Dajaos. Villalba, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
A branch with ripe plantains hangs outside a home in the barrio La Yuca. After the storm, the island's plantain supply all but vanished, and even after six months when this photo was taken, the island was still experiencing a shortage of the fruit that forms a central ingredient in many island dishes. When traveling with relatives around the neighborhood we encountered vendors charging around five dollars for four plantains, which under normal circumstances would be an absurd price. Ponce, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
My grandfather Horacio’s daily attire- his necklace, with a wooden cross, and a collared shirt - that he wears to perform the daily errands around the property, soaks up the colors of the early morning sunrise. Villalba, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
Garbage burns down the road from my Grandmother Amparo’s home in the barrio “La Yuca”. Residents from the area have resorted to burning debris from Hurricane Maria after waiting three months for their proper disposal. Ponce, Puerto Rico, December 2017.
Uncle Coco sits on his porch and takes in the smells and sounds of a passing rain-shower. He and other families in the barrio, Hacienda El Semil, had been living without power for six months, until it was restored in late March. Villalba, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
A view outside my relative Carmelo Morales’ home in the barrio, La Yuca, of Ponce. Much of the area’s vegetation and trees were lost after the storm. This loss brought a growing fear of mudslides that can occur at any moment due to the heavy rains that the island receives almost daily. Ponce, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
My grandfather, Horacio, takes a break from tending to the lechón asado (pork roast) and breathes in the cool mountain air. Villalba, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
My grandmother, Amparo, feeds her chickens and other livestock in the early morning before heading two villages over to check on my grandfather Angel-Luis’s wellbeing. My grandparents have been separated for over a decade but that hasn't stopped my grandmother from helping with my grandfather’s medical care. Ponce, Puerto Rico, February 2018.
The Pelleja River flows alongside the barrio Arenas in Utuado ten months after the storm, with much of the vegetation having grown back. Utuado, Puerto Rico, July 2018.
After a long hike in Jurutungo, Ponce, my cousins Wilber Jesus Alvarado Torres, right, and José Antonio Correa Alvarado, left, cliff-jumped and swam in the various pools of water along the river. Here they sit on stones after enjoying the cool waters. Ponce, Puerto Rico, July 2018.