Marilu Alvarado

Margarita Muniz Academy, Jamaica Plain MA

Interview Puerto Ricans about the devastation and after effects of Hurricane Maria to develop case studies for an oral history project that has students explore the impact of this catastrophic storm on residents.

Where I've Been

  • Caguas, Puerto Rico
  • Canovanas, Puerto Rico
  • Cataño, Puerto Rico
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico

My Fellowship in Images

This is a group of artist. They have a gallery in San Juan. After Hurricane Maria, they have been busy creating paintings that shows the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
This is Francisco. He is a young farmer who owns a Farm in Rio Grande. He has developed an ecological organic model. Hurricane Maria ripped away all and the 2 rivers flooded his field killing all of the crops. He had to start all over again.
This is Marilyn Marin and her daughter in law, Alondra. They live in Adjuntas, in the Central Mountain Range of the Island. Alondra's mother died a month after the Hurricane because she was not able to go to the hospital to do her dialysis treatment.
This picture was taking in Orocovis, located in the Central Mountain Range of the Island. I am interviewing Iraida Rojas, who didn't have water or electricity for about 7 months.They had to walk 2 hrs. everyday to get water from the nearest river.
Alfonso's house was completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Cataño. Since then, he lives on the beach.
This photo was taken in Utuado. An employee who worked with FEMA gave me a "tour" so I can still see the devastation Hurricane Maria left in that area. The house in the picture collapsed into a gorge.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

I have realized that interviewing people from different social classes and experiences is a deep process requiring more than just asking questions and receiving answers. One has to be responsive about the explicit and implicit messages given. People were talking about their tragedies and losses. If I was not responsive about what they were saying they might not want to continue to talk to me. A skill I learned was that by making people feel at ease, they could talk about a difficult topic.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

In many ways, I see how my students can benefit from my experience. I will lead my students to do independent research on specific topics. I am creating a unit on the issue of gentrification in Boston and how this is affects the latino population. This will allow them to go to different parts of the city to interview tenants, businesses and dwelling owners. In training the students for the interviews, I will be aware of the same issues I faced during my process: sensitivity and responsiveness.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

The greatest accomplishment was to be able to deeply relate to the farmers.Their loss was different from others as it was not about possessions or physical objects that were lost. Their loss was about their identity. It was embodied in something bigger than them. The land, which they identified as being part of themselves, was devastated. The destroyed land affected their psyches and spirits. Seeing the once verdant green land become dry and parched hurt them beyond belief.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

My students might have had traumatic experiences as they came to the US to escape war, violence, famine, abuse, oppression, etc. What I have learned about discourse and responsiveness is how I can make connections with people when I know there was a tragedy in their lives. This experience that I have had can positively impact student learning in new ways as I will be able to relate to them and have a better understanding of what they have been through and thus be able to better support them.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

The technology teacher from my school and I are working together on the unit about Puerto Rico. I am teaching the content and history of the Island while in her class the students will be editing the video and recordings from the interviews. We are calling our project "18 Count" (the Hurricane lasted 18 hours) and will be presented in November. We are planning to have a gallery where students will exhibit personal stories lifting the voices of different perspectives of the Puerto Rican people.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

The students will be very active in this process. We will have them use the interviews as raw data in order to have a media presentation in the community. Their work will be displayed as a gallery in the community to show issues of loss overseas and locally with the theme of gentrification. The issue is about loss. The students will present personal stories of people who they interviewed here in Boston and edit some of my interviews from PR. In a sense this will be a reflection of themselves.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

The students will make a difference by working to develop empathy, compassion, and embracing the Personal Stories Project "18 Count". September is the anniversary of Hurricane Maria therefore students will be participating in some of the activities from within the community. On Sept. 20th they will join the Puerto Rican Community to mourn those that have passed from the combination of Hurricane Maria and the debt crisis. Giving them voices and lifting spirits will be a cause to celebrate.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

I thought that after H. Maria people were only going to show resiliency. This fellowship has shown me that resilience is not just about returning to the same place.The people of PR have learned to overcome but also how to resist. They have learned to elevate their voices and use it to call for their rights. I know the media displays resilience butI have seen something different. This fellowship has shown me that through the struggles to survive people can be first resilience and then resistant.