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When UO ethnic studies associate professor Alaí Reyes-Santos flipped on the late-night news on September 19, 2017, she saw something she'd been dreading since childhood: a category four hurricane was barreling toward Puerto Rico from the southeast.
"My mother always warned me that if a hurricane started in the southeast and curved up, it would wipe out the entire island," remembers Reyes-Santos, a native Puerto Rican who hails from a small town in the Cordillera Central mountain range.
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Reyes-Santos stared in horror at the screen, transfixed by the arc of Maria's storm graphics spiraling from sea to the country's southeastern shore.
"There was nothing I could do from thousands of miles away, I felt powerless," she recalled recently from her small office on the outskirts of the UO campus.
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However, Reyes-Santos proved to be anything but powerless. Responding to perhaps the worst natural disaster on record to hit the Caribbean island and its neighbors, she rallied local Puerto Ricans and others to provide crucial support.
An op-ed column from Eugene's Register-Guard is posted on the wall behind her desk. A headline stretches across the top of the page: "Why Oregon Should Care about Puerto Rico." The piece is dated September 28, 2017, a mere eight days after the storm hit. And the byline belongs to Reyes-Santos.
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Federal aid had sputtered to the devastated archipelago, and her piece ignited a flurry of contact from fellow Puerto Ricans in the Pacific Northwest.
The group quickly banded together to coordinate relief efforts. They collected supplies: nonperishable food, bottles of water, tarps, first aid kits, and mosquito repellant, and jammed them into a plane. They held fundraisers where Reyes-Santos teamed up with other researchers from across the state to educate crowds about the distinctly challenging circumstances faced by the pummeled region. They also worked with Oregon representative Diego Hernandez, an ethnic...
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