A report by Colton Wooten for the Miami New Times.
Almost a year has passed since Hurricane Maria razed much of Puerto Rico with rivers of floods last September, but the storm’s implications remain vague. There is no definitive death census, for instance — estimates range between 1,100 and 4,600 victims — which raises profound questions of identity, belonging, and citizenship.
The associates at the Edelman public relations firm in Miami have organized a mixed-media installation, “Rebuilding With Love,” which will pay homage to the privation in Puerto Rico. Opening at Wynwood 28Thursday, August 9, the exhibit will display letters from hurricane survivors as well as photographs of collapsed towns through stages of renewal.
In June, eight months after the hurricane, five Edelman associates traveled to Puerto Rico for a week with the notion that they might rake away debris from the streets for a few days or paint some of the new houses that other philanthropists with large endowments had already dispatched workers to the island to build.
“When we started looking at it, we found out that a lot of companies were going down there and painting houses, or rebuilding or cleaning homes, but none of them were really spending time with the community,” said Edelman’s general manager, Carlos Correcha-Price. “As communicators, we felt that that was where we could make a difference — to find a way to use our talents to really provide an efficient channel for people to talk to one another.”
Correcha-Price, who says growing up in Colombia gave him “perspective on what is important and what is urgent in life,” spoke of arriving to a near-barren island. The natives who could afford airline tickets, who were not too sick to travel, had months ago made the exodus to Florida. Many who remained were the indigent and infirm, and clear communications among friends, families, neighbors, and communities seemed to have eroded.
But the Edelman team had an old typewriter that they carried with them from one home to the next, asking questions of the locals and taking notes: Who has been meaningful to your life? Who would you like to thank? To whom would you say, “I love you?”
“A lot of these families had never really taken the time to look each other in the eye and say, ‘Hey, look, I love you,’ or ‘Thank you so much for walking two miles to get drinking water for our family during this ordeal.’ And we wanted to provide an avenue for them to do that.”
The exhibit is a culmination of that work.
The Edelman firm has also partnered with Mentes Puertorriqueñas en Acción, a nongovernmental organization, to help young Puerto Ricans find jobs in Florida as well as on the island.