By Denise Padín Collazo, Chief of Staff
There’s a bird in the Caribbean known as the Gray Kingbird that’s nine inches tall and weighs in at just under two ounces. The Kingbird regularly fights and wins battles against the Redtailed Hawk. But the Hawk is three times taller than the little Kingbird and is 40 times its weight.
Why is it that the Kingbird fights against the Hawk and win? Because she believes she can. She is not intimidated by the height and weight of the mighty Hawk.
The same thing is happening today.
In Western Massachusetts, a group of Hurricane Maria survivors is taking on the United States Federal Government. These moms, dads, veterans, and grandparents have already lost their homes, cars, schools, and jobs. Many have health conditions that require medical attention. Yet the Federal Government, namely the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), is throwing its weight around. Instead of doing its job and helping these survivors get back on their feet, FEMA is counting on them to be weakened, disheartened and to “know their place.”
In disasters such as the Category 5 hurricane that hit Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, FEMA usually takes 2 steps. Step 1: help survivors with transitional housing—often in hotels. Then there’s Step 2: longer term housing help so families can get back on their feet. In the case of Hurricane Maria, FEMA has cut short Step 1 and refused to provide Step 2. They have the program that is made to offer Step 2. It’s called the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), and is longer term help given to other disaster survivors includes things like help with first and last month’s rent and other tools that make it possible to press the restart button after one has lost everything in a disaster.
Now why is FEMA refusing to take Step 2?
The victims of Hurricane Maria have been asking this question for months. But they’re not leaving their futures in the hands of fate.
Instead of hiding and running, these disaster survivors have organized themselves. When they arrived at the hotels in Massachusetts last fall, they started out as over 100 families. Now, they are one family. They are organizing themselves and standing up to FEMA. And they’re connecting with others from Florida and around the country.
In June, they boarded buses to drive the 8 hours to Washington, DC to meet with 5 U.S. Senators and 7 U.S. Congresspeople to tell their story to convince FEMA to do its job.
And now, they’re going to the courts.
On Saturday night, the eve of the planned mass evictions, they worked with LatinoJustice, a national civil rights organization to ask a judge to make FEMA stop the evictions of hurricane survivors in 30 states across the country on the grounds that it would cause “irreparable harm.” At 9:45 p.m. that night, the judge ruled in their favor and issued a Temporary Restraining Order which stopped the evictions for a few days while there is time for a hearing. FEMA complied.
Score one for the little Kingbird.
Today, a judge will hear their case.
Disaster survivors weighing in at a proverbial two ounces against the full weight of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration. Let’s see what will happen next.
In Puerto Rico, where the survivors lived before Hurricane Maria there is a name for the Kingbird. It’s called a pitirre. And the Red Tailed Hawk is known as the guaraguao.
So why does the pitirre go up against the guaraguao and sometimes win?
Because she believes she can.