On September 20, 2017, one of the deadliest hurricanes ever recorded, Hurricane Maria, devastated the small Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Yet, in the face of unimaginable destruction, young creatives are striving to rebuild the island – and the spirit of the Puerto Rican people – one art mural, community project, and boutique hotel opening at a time.
Another group of creatives looking to revive the island through art are the guys behind Art Truck Expo. In the district of Santurce, you’ll find a handful of colorful trucks painted by local artists, such as Betsy Casanas, Sergio Vazquez, and Elizabeth Barreto. Inside, they transformed the small trucks into beautiful mini galleries displaying local paintings, photography, drawings and sculpting. Completely free for residents and visitors, these trucks are places for people to come together, share stories and support local artists.
On the other side of the island, two young Puerto Rican women have managed to reopen their shops thanks to some savvy ingenuity. Before the hurricane, Gaby Pagan (founder of Monticello Smoke Shop and proud medicinal cannabis advocate) and Raixa Sánchez (owner of El Shop) had their own thriving boutiques in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan. However, after Hurricane Maria destroyed their stores, their respective businesses were left in tatters.
Raixa, determined to carry on selling her Puerto Rican apparel on the streets after her shop was destroyed, said: “Sometimes we didn’t have anything to eat. But if we made five or 10 dollars a day, that was something to celebrate.”
After a challenging year of saving and struggling to come up with the funds to rebuild, the two women decided to combine forces. Three weeks ago, Gaby and Raixa proudly opened up a joint smoke and apparel shop, where you’ll find Puerto Rican clothes, accessories, and art from El Shop on one side, and porcelain smoke pipes and marijuana seeds from Monticello Smoke Shop on the other.
Also in San Juan, The Dreamcatcher is just one of the island’s forward-thinking hotels showing the world that, a year on, Puerto Rico is ready to welcome tourists once again. The stunning boutique bed and breakfast, which once housed volunteer workers helping to rebuild Puerto Rico after the hurricane hit, is open and ready for business, offering farm-fresh vegetarian cuisine, beautifully simple retro-chic design, and a laid-back Caribbean vibe.
There’s no doubt that, a year on, Puerto Rico is still coming to terms with the traumatic events of last September. However, thanks to the resilience of its people and sheer determination from talented local artists and small business owners, this vibrant Caribbean island hasn’t just got its old spark back, but – maybe most impressively – is reinventing itself as a stronger, more determined community. As Raixa said, if nothing else, Maria has “taught us to work together and support each other.”