Tourist guilt: Spring break epiphany

As spring approaches all I can think about are my plans for spring break 2020. This year’s destination: Puerto Rico. 

The white sand, palm trees and crystal blue waters make Puerto Rico the dream destination for tourists but what about for the people living there? 

Tourism is an important source of income for the island and its citizens. In 2016, it contributed about 8 billion USD in total to the island’s GDP according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

But what happens when there is trouble in paradise? When natural disasters occur (which seems to be frequent) Puerto Rico seems to be neglected. 

Today, Puerto Rico has been experiencing massive earthquakes including 11 that were of magnitude 5 or greater. The largest and most damaging of this storm of earthquakes occurred on Jan. 7 that had a magnitude of 6.4 and a maximum felt intensity of VII (very strong) on the Modified Mercalli intensity scale. At least one person was killed and several others were injured.

All the while, Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 hurricane, killing hundreds and knocking out the island’s power. 

Due to the earthquakes, 300,000 out of Puerto Rico’s 1.1 million population were left without water service and approximately 7,500 citizens have left their homes for other kinds of shelter (some cases tents and cars) according to the U.S Geological Survey. 

Puerto Rico’s status as a territory means they must abide by federal law but unfortunately do not get all the benefits.  

“After 120 years of a relationship, we still don’t call ourselves ‘Americanos,’” says Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, a former governor of Puerto Rico to U.S News. 

There seems to be a disconnect on both sides. Only 54 percent of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

“It’s the economic issue and the cultural identity issue. We are U.S. citizens, but we don’t feel we are Americans. That’s important to both sides — for Puerto Rico and for Americans,” he added. “It’s one thing for you to be for multiculturalism, even bilingualism. It’s another thing to accept people that call themselves a nation within the federation. That’s a completely different story,” told Acevedo-Vilá told U.S News. 

I feel some sort of tourist guilt going to Puerto Rico in March to enjoy their rich culture and beautiful attractions without thinking about how there are locations on the island still without power, families homeless with fear that their homes will collapse on top of them. Although, my dollars will contribute to the revenue increase for the island I know there is more to be done. Members of the western world tend to exploit outside countries for their tourism but neglect the bodies that inhabit these million-dollar places living in utter poverty. That knowledge does not sit right with me. I do not just want to leach off of the cultural nutrients of the island but actually provide genuine change. Puerto Rico is a strong and independent unit but still, an entity apart of the United States and the citizens need to be treated as Americans. 

Qur’an Hansford 

junior journalism major  

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