Oct 19, 2017 | news

Hurricane Bookstore Wrap-Up

As I said we’d do in my previous post, we’ve had the Hurricane Bookstore up for around a month, and now it’s time to take it down. In total, we raised $2,548, which we’ve donated in equal chunks of $850 to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, ShelterBox for Florida relief, and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Fund for hurricane relief and recovery in the Caribbean region In general.

My sincere, heartfelt thanks to everyone who donated their money—I hope you get an extra good feeling when you read your books.

And my thanks and respect to all of the small publishers and independent authors who contributed their work to the store. Even now, as I’m writing, my chest swells up a bit thinking of how the members of our community came together to immediately and unequivocally support our effort. I’ve been working in publishing in some form or another for more than ten years now, and regardless of whether I’ve been at Tor, O’Reilly, or Fireside, I’ve always thought of other publishers as colleagues rather than some adversarial ‘competition.’ Seeing how FIYAH, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Mothership Zeta, Apex, Arsenika, Angry Robot, Crossed Genres, and Nightscape all came together to do this thing, no questions asked, really made me realize that I’m right. Mad fucking love, corillo.

So what now?

I mean, the emergency is far from over, and even when things become safe again, recovery is going to take years—if not decades. We put up the Hurricane Bookstore before María hit Puerto Rico—when that monster storm slammed my home, everything kind of shifted in my head. Suddenly the Hurricane Bookstore felt completely inadequate compared to the incredible devastation that we all saw in the media, and that I saw when I went down to take care of my people the week after the hurricane hit. It’s something else down there, man. It’s like somebody laid a post-apocalyptic overlay on top of my childhood. I think it’s gonna take me a long time to process everything I’m feeling about this. Good thing I have a therapist. But I digress.

Puerto Rico is… well, it’s fucking complicated on a good day. And there are no good days en la isla del espanto encanto after María. The local government (the equivalent of a state government, if you will) is having trouble coordinating and properly directing the efforts of FEMA and other relief orgs, so there’s been a lot of chatter about relief supplies not getting to where they need to go 1. The mayor fo San Juan is doing good work, and is by all accounts a badass. From what I’m hearing, even the people who think she’s kind of an asshole also think she’s being effective, but she’s from the opposition party, and Trump’s babyman tantrum at her sucked the air out of the media news cycle for far too long.

For better or for worse, the private sector is stepping in to fill in the gaps, and as always happens in colonial situations, we’ll see a mix of effective, honest operators and opportunistic vultures — both local and from the US, porque está el ganso que hace orilla, as usual — taking advantage of the situation. The fact that there’s no communications outside of San Juan 2 makes it even harder to get a good sense of what’s going on.

And hey: you’re actually hearing about what’s happening in PR, more or less. There’s a reason that the US and British Virgin Islands and the rest of the Caribbean has ghosted: they’re worse off. My brother is driving relief boats from the east of PR out to Culebra and Vieques, as well as to the US and British Virgin Islands, and as far as he can tell, St. Thomas and St. John are still completely off the electric and comms grid; he can only speculate about the islands beyond those. Additionally, even if they wanted to start rebuilding, so many people are still reeling and seeking refuge on other islands (or in the US, if they can manage it), that it’s even hard to find hands who can do the rebuilding work.

So when people ask me where to contribute, I’m often at a loss. It’s hard to be 100% sure of an operation’s efficacy or integrity, especially when I don’t live on the island. Welcome to la diáspora ciento uno. Siéntate a esperar, no te desesperes, and don’t trust anybody. Lin-Manuel Miranda and other celebrities have put their considerable muscle behind their respective pet orgs, but even if you trust America’s favorite Puerto Rican 3, we live in a world where la Tañón y Don Omar se quedaron puyú wondering wtf happened to the supplies they collected and tried to send over. So your star-power may vary. Just about the only celebrity critter who seems to be consistently grinding away at the good work is chef José Andrés. He didn’t wait for anyone to tell him what to do (partly because this is basically what he does) — he kinda just got in there with his team and they’ve been cranking out hot meals for people almost since day one.

In any case, these big orgs are gathering hundreds of thousands of dollars, and helping hundreds and hundreds of people, which is amazing. But when you start operating at that scale, the little guy sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. So instead of pointing at one or two of the big ones, I’ll list a few small outfits that either I or people I trust have personally seen do good work on the island. Given the scale of their operations, and the amount of money that we managed to raise with the Hurricane Bookstore, these groups seem like a good fit for our community to make a substantial difference in the good that they’re able to do. A lot of what’s actually happening on the island is that people are helping each other in small ways, and it feels right to amplify that. Nobody gon’ save us but ourselves, fam.

El Centro de Apoyo Mutuo en Caguas, which is just outside San Juan, gives good hot meals to 600 people a day, and is a great example of the hyperlocal efforts happening at the lower-than-grassroots level. Their PayPal address is [email protected].

El Centro de Apoyo Mutuo inspired Christine Nieves to set up the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana, in Mariana, near Humacao, in the southeast of the island. Molly Crabapple wrote about the work Christine and her partner Luis are doing there. In the week since Molly was there, my mom and a group of friends from San Juan have been going down to Mariana to help out, too — last I heard this past weekend, they were working on trying to get their fresh water cistern filled up, and they need money to rent a water-tank truck so that they can do it all in one go and don’t have to waste time and energy securing potable water every day or two. Yon can find more information about this, and about their additional needs (like water filters, tents, and a generator), on their Facebook page.

My mom works part time at la Fundación Pediátrica de Diabetes, a 501 c3 nonprofit. They mostly do education to newly diagnosed kids with diabetes, not outreach, but since the hurricanes hit, they’ve been working to obtain and distribute insulin for both adults and children with Type 1 diabetes across the island. Over the last few weeks, my mom and her co-workers have handed out over 800 vials of insulin, and over 200 ‘frío bags,’ which keep insulin at adequate temperatures without needing refrigeration. They need ongoing support in order to continue helping people throughout the island. You can send them money via PayPal here.

So send some money or material to these small groups. I know for a fact that they will really really appreciate every single dollar, ice pack, or water filter. And I will too.

  1. from what I could see when I was down there a week or two ago, and from what my mom in San Juan and my brother to the east in Ceiba are telling me, this is generally an accurate picture, particularly outside of San Juan] 

  2. even though he’s now rocking a satellite phone, I only really hear from my brother when he drives into San Juan to use his iPhone 

  3. and I do, because he’s fucking awesome 

© 2017 Pablo Defendini

About the author

Pablo Defendini

Pablo Defendini is a designer and developer for hire, with a focus on editorial design for digital media. He helped launch Tor.com, before moving on to work for companies that sit in the overlap between publishing and technology, like Open Road Media and O’Reilly. Pablo was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, lives in New York City, and works with people all over the world.