“Turning Puerto Rico’s Lament into Hope” (Sunday Review, The New York Times) is a moving opinion piece by journalist and photographer Huáscar Robles, with a series of black-and-white photos by photojournalist and professor Joseph Rodríguez. Here are excerpts; see the full post and photos documenting a landscape marked by the ongoing economic changes in the island.
[. . .] The middle class has been hit hard. While thousands flock to the mainland in search of employment opportunities, some are reluctant to leave everything behind.
We have a special interest in the island. Mr. Rodríguez, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, has documented the lives of families in conflict in Harlem, Los Angeles and Mexico City, to name a few places, but never, before now, in Puerto Rico, the place of his ancestors.
I was raised in Puerto Rico and relocated to New York after economic troubles knocked on my door. I come from a middle-class family, and we wrestled with economic woes in the 1980s. I understood the ripple effects such circumstances have on families and wanted to return to Puerto Rico to bring the human side of the crisis to light.
We traveled to the island in March and encountered both resentment and resilience among the middle class. This contradiction is not uncommon in the island’s culture. In fact, the popular Rafael Hernández song from 1929, “Lamento Borincano” (“Puerto Rican Lament”), symbolizes this. It tells the story of a farmer who wakes up infused with optimism, singing on his way to the market, but returns demoralized, unable to sell his produce.
We met with many people who, like the man in the song, are trying to navigate the realities of the economy in Puerto Rico, those who are making sacrifices for their children’s future and who are trying to find ways to keep businesses open against many odds.
The island is now at a crossroads. Meanwhile, just as Hernández wrote in “Lamento Borincano,” many people are walking down the road with trepidation, but still singing.
Joseph Rodríguez is a photojournalist and a professor at New York University and the International Center of Photography. Huáscar Robles, a journalist and photographer, is the author of a book about Haiti after the earthquake.