Jo Cosme still doesn’t have electricity at her home in Puerto Rico, but the 29-year-old multidisciplinary artist still managed to churn out an incredible piece for an exhibition at Museo las Américas in Old San Juan. Titled Catarsis, the expo features work from artists in a post-Hurricane Maria context. For Cosme, who mixes social and political critique with humor and cynicism, that meant relating every bit of the struggle after the storm.
You can’t use the deck as a traditional tarot, Cosme notes, but Maria survivors undoubtedly identify with each card. As the humanitarian crisis unfolded, everyone literally lived what’s in this deck.
“The cards, if you look at them, they focus less about the hurricane and more about what happened after,” she says. “The hurricane was a monster, obviously – but even more monstrous was what happened after.”
The anxiety felt while glued to local meteorologist Ada Monzon’s Facebook page as Maria approached the island, the absurdity of the local and federal government’s failures, and finally, the hashtag that purports recovery, but feels tragically ironic – it’s all there in Cosme’s deck. And on the back of each card, there’s the Puerto Rican flag in black-and-white; a symbol of resistance.
Learn what each card means below.
With a nod to the stressful, frightening Facebook Live vigilance, this card also references the way some Puerto Ricans spoke about Hurricane Irma’s last-minute sparing of the island, just two weeks prior to Maria.
“People here were saying we’re blessed because the hurricane missed us. But it hit our neighbor islands! And then Maria came and hit us,” she says.”So it was a sarcastic comment.”
“In Puerto Rico, because of bad construction, if it rains a little bit, everything floods. And because of the hurricane, that was quadrupled,” she says. “People’s houses flooded, whether you’re in the metro [area] or el campo.”
Today, at least 27 percent of Puerto Ricans are still living without electricity. That’s more than 100 days without power, depending on whether it was Maria or Irma that caused the outage.
Whether infrastructure problems or a lack of truck drivers was to blame, the fact is that Puerto Ricans needed food and water badly. “So that’s why [it] says suministros with a question mark – like, where are they?” Cosme says.
Scarcity was a serious problem in the immediate aftermath, and remains an issue – but has been mitigated somewhat, thankfully, by grassroots community relief efforts.
The eye on top, of course, represents Big Brother and George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 novel, according to Cosme.
“People started fighting over ice,” Cosme recalls. “It’s like 90-degree weather here in Puerto Rico. It’s very hot. Old people need something cold to drink or they’ll get sick, or even for medication; some people are diabetic, they need their medication stored in ice. So the lines for ice started forming, hours and hours long.”
Waiting for hours in line for gas, whether in a car or in the unrelenting heat on foot to fill a container (there were lines to buy those, too), was an unfortunate post-storm ritual. There was no avoiding the process; many stations weren’t operating, few were getting replenished – and there were limits on how much a single customer could purchase at once. Sometimes, the wait resulted only in frustration.
“It looks holy as well, because any person who had a power generator was sanctified,” Cosme says.
But anyone who owns a generator has had to contend with potential theft. Just last week, a man was killed in Vega Baja while trying to prevent thieves from taking his brother’s generator. The police department has created a task force to specifically address generator theft.
“The debris were in front of houses on streets for months. Another thing nobody wanted to take care of. People had to go to the streets and take care of it, because the government wasn’t taking care of it for us, even though we do pay taxes for that to happen,” Cosme says. “And that meant it would keep flooding, because every time it would rain, the debris would get in the drainage, and it would flood again.”
Toque de Queda
Governor Ricardo Rosselló imposed an island-wide curfew intended as a safety measure, but some believe it actually put Puerto Ricans in danger. Criminals seemed to have free rein on empty streets, and many medical offices closed early to adhere to the rule, leaving patients who couldn’t arrive before then without necessary care.
It was initially was set from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m, but was eliminated altogether within a month. “They kept changing it constantly. Sometimes you wouldn’t even know; you would have to get on the governor’s Twitter to know what time. It was crazy,” Cosme says.
The Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York has estimated that between 2017 and 2019, 14 percent of Puerto Rico’s population will leave the island. Approximately 250,000 residents have already made the painful decision to leave following María. But because of the new blow to an already grim economic outlook, fears of medical inefficiencies, and poor quality of life amid the crisis, some young people have said they feel forced out.
“When he came here, they took him to Guaynabo to a chapel; not much had happened there,” Cosme says about Trump. “He went to the prettiest corner of Guaynabo. He came here and instead of giving us food, he gave us paper towels. It was like a joke to him.”
Cosme, like many others, Cosme felt the visit was a slap in the face.