Students are rolling out an organization for students who identify with or want to learn more about Puerto Rican culture.
The Puerto Rico Student Association will operate virtually this fall with events like Zoom bonding parties and virtual discussion forums about the island for students looking to connect and celebrate Puerto Rico’s culture. Executive board members said PRSA has been an organization many Puerto Rican students have wanted since Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, struck and left students wanting a collective group to organize fundraisers and unify on campus.
“It’s important at GW and any university, in general, to make sure that people hear about the situation in Puerto Rico,” said senior Marielena Melero, the co-president of the group and a former Hatchet reporter. “That’s why we don’t limit ourselves to just being a community of Puerto Rican students. We want to be a community for any students here.”
Melero said the organization officially got off the ground in April when she and senior Camila Vilá, the other co-president of PRSA, contacted the Division for Student Affairs to start a group. She said the group has received “a lot” of enthusiasm from students who have approached her with ideas of programming like speaker events with Puerto Rican professionals in the DMV, but leaders haven’t yet held any events since launching three weeks ago.
She said the main focus for the fall will be ensuring members are comfortable and familiar with each other. The group plans to hold a Zoom welcome party in the next few weeks with introductions so that members can meet, she said.
Melero said the group plans to reach out through social media to Puerto Rican students and hold virtual Zoom celebrations like Noche Puertorriqueña, an annual celebration in October during the University’s Latinx Heritage Celebration, to build a community.
“For now, for this semester, at least toward the beginning, that is our focus,” Melero said. “To make sure that everyone knows each other, that we know what our goals are and obviously, for them to make suggestions of what type of activities they want to see, so we can better plan for when hopefully all of this is over.”
Vilá, the other co-president of PRSA, said the organization was needed for students from the island and the “diaspora” to connect with each other and explore their native home. She said many Puerto Rican students on campus felt more connected to each other after uniting to provide aid following Hurricane Maria.
“With all the things that have been happening politically on the island ever since the hurricane, I feel like we’ve kind of come together in a better, stronger way,” Vilá said. “Because pretty much we’re all we’ve got, and if things get messed up with the environment or politically, we’ll at least have that sense of community, even a sense of family.”
Senior Ana Bauzá, the PRSA financial director, said the organization has about 40 members interested in holding more conversations about the culture, history and current events in Puerto Rico as an effect of Hurricane Maria. She said Puerto Rico is different from other states in the United States and countries in Latin America in that it’s a territory, which makes a community especially important for students from the island.
“Puerto Rico has such a unique political status, and that transfers to social interactions and things like that,” Bauzá said. “We’re kind of part of the U.S., but we’re not like the U.S. but we’re also not a Latin American country because we’re technically not a country.”
Senior Mariajosé Pascual, the public relations coordinator for PRSA, said the group plans to collaborate with Puerto Rican organizations at neighboring universities in D.C. and Latinx student groups at GW for events throughout the year. She said one of the e-board members was a part of Casa Blanca, a Latinx affinity, and has been connecting the two groups to organize a joint event for the fall.
She said PRSA will operate as a space not only for Puerto Rican students but anyone interested in learning more about the culture. She said the group plans to recreate Puerto Rico’s Fiesta De La Calle San Sebastián, a festival that takes place during the third week of January, with food and music from the island if GW returns in the spring.
She said the organization’s leaders will also moderate discussions on Zoom and Instagram Live this fall with students from the island and professionals from Puerto Rico to teach students about the conditions and political problems affecting Puerto Rico after the hurricane and former Gov. Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló’s resignation in December.
“A lot of people have become more conscious of the conditions and the problems in the island, not only after the hurricane, but also Ricky’s [resignation], and the media has had more focus on Puerto Rico, which we actually didn’t have before,” Pascual said. “You could say a lot of people didn’t know who we were. So it’s good to form a community, which we are a lot of Puerto Rican at GW and also around the United States.”