Mina Caban has been expressing her concern for victims of injustice through the Forest Park-based advocacy group Western Front for years, but her concern became very personal when Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico.

Caban’s parents moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland in 1965 to improve their economic situation. Although they spoke very little English, she doesn’t call them immigrants because Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917. The Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917 conferred U.S. citizenship on the residents of Puerto Rico.

Caban feels the impact of the devastation more personally than most because she spent many summers in her father’s hometown of Lares which is located in the central mountains of the island. She still maintains close contact with extended family members who live there.

One irony among many in this situation is that Caban knows more about what is going on than most people living on the island, she said. Most residents are still without power, so they can’t turn on the TV and find out the latest news. They can’t even make contact through their cellphones because there is no power to charge them and there are few places where there is a strong signal. In contrast, she is able to keep in touch through radio WKAQ AM and social media.

What she is hearing from all sources is how overwhelming the destruction is. The first pictures she saw were of dead animal carcasses decomposing in farmers’ fields, like those on the farm her grandfather owned. Perhaps the most difficult part, she said, is not knowing. With no power in rural towns like Lares, residents can’t let loved ones know how they’re doing, and people like Caban cannot ask. 

Among athletes there is a saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Caban said the hurricane is revealing the character of her “jibaro” family. The word “jibaro” refers to country folk in Puerto Rico who have attained an almost mythical status in Puerto Rican culture. Jibaros are self-sufficient, hardworking country folk whose needs are simple, who know how to raise their own food, and who are resilient. 

On the one hand, she said, the devastation caused by Maria is proving the Puerto Rican character, but on the other, the damage done is “overwhelming” and the residents of the island simply don’t have the resources to recover on their own.

For Forest Park residents who want to donate money to the relief effort, Caban said the major organizations like the American Red Cross do a good job, but giving to a local group on the ground like a church in Puerto Rico is usually more effective.