SUNSET PARK, Brooklyn — About one of every five Puerto Ricans in the world live in the New York metro area, more than anywhere else, other than Puerto Rico itself.
Also, the Tri-State ranks in the top 10 regions in the country for Mexican and Mexican-American population size. Those statistics underscore our region's close ties to two places that have seen intense damage in the past few days.
While personal connections to the areas of destruction have spurred support for them, many New Yorkers have proven that no connection at all is necessary to give.
"We have people from the Asian community, from the Muslim community, the Jewish community," said State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, "all bringing stuff into our office."
The Democrat, who represents this part of Brooklyn in the statehouse in Albany, has held a donation drive at his office every day since Hurricane Irma threatened Puerto Rico earlier this month.
Ever since, the donations have increased as the number of natural disasters has, also.
The quantities are so great that partner organizations have stepped in to help. The Muslim Community Center of Sunset Park, for example, is storing some of the donated goods. The items are already slated to be shipped once the airport reopens in Puerto Rico and once Mexico City is deemed safe for a trucking shipment.
"We go by a saying of the late Muhammed Ali," said Mohamed Bahe, president of the Muslim Community Center, "'Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth,'" he said, quoting the boxing legend. "So that's really what drives us."
The goods keep coming, but some items are needed much more than others, at least in these early stages of relief and recovery.
"Diapers, baby food, batteries and first aid supplies," are what Mayor Bill de Blasio listed at a news conference Thursday morning that pointed out that the city is sending more than two dozen first responders, heavy equipment and tons of supplies to Puerto Rico.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose family is from Puerto Rico, was also at the news conference. "I haven't slept well in three days," she said, explaining that because electricity has been wiped out to the entire island, as well as most cellphone connections, she's among the many who cannot check on family there.
Mark-Viverito also asserted that providing relief is New York's responsibility, along with the federal government. "The first and most important responsibility here is FEMA," said the speaker.
When she and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, who is originally from Puerto Rico, and was at the news conference, were asked how confident they are in the federal government providing as much help as possible, neither was completely confident.
Velasquez said that it will take a $10 billion federal commitment to enable Puerto Rico to recover. She called on Congress, as well as the White House, to support legislative measures that will produce relief funds of that magnitude, even though many in the Republican controlled House and Senate have expressed skepticism about higher government spending.
Velasquez told PIX11 News that there would be consequences if the funding was not procured.
"It is that," she said in an interview after the news conference, "or another million Puerto Ricans leaving the island and coming to Florida and Ohio."
"You know what?" Rep. Velasquez added, "politically, I don't mind. We will turn Florida blue."AlertMe