Alejandra Oliveras Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria 2017 Photograph by Victor Rivera

In recognition of the Decade of People of African Decent (2015-2014) Alejandra Oliveras shares with us her traumatic journey to Minneapolis, MN.

“It was evident we needed each other. Our lives had led us each to that moment in time, we just didn’t know it yet.

The true nature of the human heart is an absolute mystery, but when a life focuses all its energy in the complete healing of self, wondrous things begin to happen. As if by magic, things begin to fall into each other with ease, whereas before every single movement towards the completion of a goal was an excruciatingly slow crawl that would often make climbing the Everest in shorts and sandals seem like a leisurely stroll through the park.

“Cruzar el Niágara en bicicleta”, my grandmother would often say; “to cross the Niagara riding a bicycle” is the quintessential description of life’s hardest struggles, and it’s how difficult everything had been lately.

We’d been needing each other for some time, and that’s why after the hurricane nothing seemed to work out for me or my family no matter how hard we tried, and life for her had turned just… sour. The universe was quietly bringing us together without our knowing.

She didn’t even want to come pick us up at the airport. The only reason she “volunteered” was because her good friend asked her to, and she didn’t want to turn her good friend down.

Me, on the other hand, had just moved all the heavens above and all the earths below to get my family on a plane for a 6 or 7-hour one-way trip from Puerto Rico in the middle of winter to relocate to this friendly refrigerator called Minnesota. 

After having lost everything, we owned in the throes of Hurricane Maria’s 160+mph winds, I didn’t know what to expect.  We had no idea what was going to happen.

We didn’t even know who was going to pick us up at the airport when we got off that Sun Country flight. I only knew it was a volunteer.

That (reluctant) volunteer was me. Within a few days after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans began to pour into Minnesota.  My volunteer assignment?  Pick up a family of four and drop them off at a FEMA identified location.  Easy enough, count me in.

I had been oblivious to the trauma, confusion, fear associated with the hurricanes. Suddenly leaving your home, your family and friends…the very essence of who you are. That is until I saw Puerto Rican’s families exiting the Sun Country flight on a late, cold November Sunday night.

All dressed for a tropical island in the middle of the ocean of the Caribbean. Not for below zero temperatures.  Children, men, women, elders shivering.  Lost, exhausted, scared.  I cried. 

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