Hurricane Maria - Sept. 20th, 2017, Boriken (Puerto Rico)
It is almost a year since the hurricane and there are still some parts of the island that are suffering the consequences of this both natural and unnatural disaster. According to an article posted in Mother Jones on Aug. 12, 2018, “ A mental health crisis unfolds in Puerto Rico ...the psychological effects of the hurricane are still being felt.” When hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the island and the people were ravaged. According to a Harvard Study, the death toll was 4,645. It was devastating to everyone on the island and Boricuas in the diaspora were deeply affected as well. We were unable to communicate with loved ones on the island, no one knew the death toll, and many of us didn’t know if our loved ones were alive. This caused sleepless nights and teary filled days for those who held Boriken close to their hearts. The collective wounds of the people whose land has been colonial property longer than any nation in the world, were open and raw, and the way the US government responded put salt all over that wound. Due to the racist colonial approach that the US still has toward the island, the aid was incredibly poor and that communicated the message that Puerto Ricans were disposalbe. FEMA has admitted it did a terrible job of supporting the island. They made contracts with private companies to aid Puerto Rico, encouraging more disaster capitalism. In addition, it took President Trump a week to temporarily waive (only a 10 day waiver) the Jones Act, which made getting any aid to the island very difficult. People were dying everyday as a result and it started to look like genocide. Boricuas in the diaspora had no choice but to pull closer together and start organizing relief efforts. It was clear that we had to take care of our own.
Grassroots efforts by the Boricua (Puerto Rican) Diaspora
Boricuas in the Diaspora created fundraisers and sent supplies by charter plane because it was the only way to ensure aid would get to places like the mountain regions. The island, including services like USPS, was completely shut down. People were without drinking water or food for weeks and months. Those of us who couldn’t charter planes, gathered supplies & donations from our communities and connected with folks flying to the island.
RaheNi & Myrna acted along with all those other in the Diaspora whose hearts were broken. RaheNi collected seeds from gardeners and centers and these were sent to a permaculturist in San Juan who committed to germinating the seeds and sharing them with community members on the island. RaheNi then collected medicinal teas and tinctures from various herbalist friends, some western medical supplies were also donated and were brought to the island by a nurse who was part of the medical relief efforts. RaheNi also led a discussion at the “Decolonize Meet Up” in Berkeley on the history and current status of Boriken in order to educate community members in the Bay Area & encourage donations to relief efforts. This discussion then led to a “Boriken Street Art Day” in which the painted plywood below was fastened to a construction site just outside of University Press Books in Berkeley. The bin provided pamphlets of information on the colonial history of the island, the current debt crises & information on ways to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. As of today, the painted plywood display is still up & educating folks in the UC Berkeley vicinity.
Altar at the Borikén Street Art event in Berkeley
Myrna hosted 3 medicine making sessions, coordinated 4 supply/medicine donation drop off sites in 3 of New York City’s boroughs and coordinated a fundraiser with A Party Called Rosie Perez at the High Line, where additional medicine was also made. She also collaborated with Boricuas flying back to the island and sent medicine (herbal tinctures, salves, bug sprays, disinfectant sprays, and spirit lifting sprays) and supplies directly in luggage to different parts of the island: Mayaguez, Anasco, Lares, Ciales, Adjuntas & Santurce. In collaboration with Casitas Wisdom, the healing arts collective she founded, Myrna also hosted a medicine-making workshop at the 9th St Community Garden so that Diasporicans could also practice self-care and make their own herbal medicine.
Community members in PR receiving herbal remedies sent by Myrna
Support RaheNi & Myrna as they provide healing services for a month in Boriken (Puerto Rico)
Since the hurricane, Myrna & RaheNi have been feeling called to get to their motherland & an opportunity has recently arisen. We have been offered a month long residency in October, 2018 at CEPA , a project whose mission is to foster decolonization in Puerto Rico by supporting individual and collective capacity to heal historical trauma, build the imagination and reconstruct mind-body-spirit. We will be staying at their pilot space in Rio Piedras, a casa-taller where they offer free healing services, practice groups and circles to activists and other changemakers. Myrna & RaheNi will be supporting CEPA’s work in a variety of ways and through different healing modalities. We will be offering “Presencing Circles”, similar to ones we offered in NYC , which incorporate meditation, singing, voicing our truth and then being introduced to a plant and being gifted with some form of its medicine to take home.
Photo from our recent Presencing Circle in Brooklyn, NY
RaheNi & Myrna will also be making individual contributions during their stay at CEPA. Myrna will be offering medicine making workshops focused on plants that nourish the nervous system and strengthen the immune system as well as one-on-one herbal consultations on a both drop in and appointment basis. This is a great opportunity for folks in the community to remember, re-learn and reclaim to taking care of themselves with plants that grow on the island and beyond. RaheNi will also be offering limpias (energy cleansings), sitting, walking and loving kindness meditation (Theravada/Vipassana based) to the community to help them learn how to harness their breath, their ability to be mindful and their hearts to harmonize their nervous system. RaheNi will also design some permaculture influenced garden areas on CEPA’s property consisting of perennial, medicinal and edible plants. Myrna and RaheNi also plan on spending some time on the island supporting other grassroots projects.
In order to make these beautiful offerings to our people in Boriken and support the amazing grassroots work that is already happening there we need your support! Our fundraising goal is $2700!
Also, do you know of anyone who can donate a car to CEPA on the island or who can ship one there? CEPA is looking for a permanent vehicle. It would be used as a vehicle for CEPA'S resident healing artists to use to get around the island while offering healing to the people. Please contact us if you can help them.
What your donated funds will support:
$750 to go to CEPA, a contribution toward sustaining this new grassroots organization & help them pay overhead costs so they can continue to offer a space for the community to garden, pray, play & heal. These funds will also be used to support a 2-week residency for an island-based Puerto Rican healing artist.
$500 to go to a community member in the metropolitan area who has a car to offer us during our stay. If you or someone you know on the island has a car to offer, please contact us.
$600 for 2 tickets to San Juan
$400 for our meals during our month long stay
$250 for medicine making supplies including tincture bottles for the people to take home medicine
$200 for transporting & mailing materials to the island for the circles being offered
Thank you for considering making a contribution!
Blessings to you & your loved ones!
Myrna & RaheNi
RaheNi Gonzalez I'naru is a Two-Spirit Boricua Taino Ceremonial Healer & Activist. RaheNi has over 2 years of accumulated silent retreat practice, they have completed 4 traditional vision quests & 20 years of ceremonial and meditation practice. They have taught meditation in prisons, to women with cancer & in yoga studios. They have completed a year long Mindfulness Yoga & Meditation Training, a year long intensive in Commit to Dharma and a year long intensive in the North American Nonviolent Communication Leadership Program. They are also a Master Gardener & an Indigenous Permaculturist. For more details, visit www.atabeysrisingtides.com
Myrna Cabán Lezcano is a queer Boricua herbalist, educator and cultural organizer. She grew up eating mangos and being doused in Agua Florida. Her elders inspired her to connect to Spirit and healing by growing gandules, raising chickens, making dream-based predictions, and singing spontaneous songs. Myrna studied spiritual herbalism through Sacred Vibes Apothecary. She completed a year-long yoga & healer training through Shambhala Yoga & Dance as well as Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Urban Gardener program. Myrna is the founder of Casitas Wisdom, a healing arts collective that organizes healing events honoring the legacy of casitas and the spirit of home in NYC: www.casitaswisdom.com