Puerto Rico “After María”

Puerto Rico “After María”

by Holly Madrigal

“Puerto Ricans now think of things as ‘Before María and After María’,” says Paloma when reflecting on the past five months. Paloma Victoria Rodriguez Irizarry has lived in Mendocino County for years, but her heart belongs in Puerto Rico. She was born in Mayagüez, and her mother and sister still live on the island. In early October, when California was experiencing unprecedented wildfires, Puerto Rico was devastated by the second of three category five hurricanes to roar through the Caribbean that season. The destruction wiped out whole towns, roads and communities. As of this writing, 45% of the island remains without power today. Clean water and transportation are a challenge. The elderly and young children have been hit the hardest, and the interior of the island remains very difficult to access. “You have to realize that you cannot just go help when it is impossible to drive to some of these villages,” says Paloma. “The roads are gone or buried in mud-slides. Some people have propane to cook or generators but it has been very difficult there.” Having just spoken to her father, she says that he is busy preparing their house for the next hurricane season. They live near a river and worry about the water rising during the next storm.


Her friend, Gisela, is a geologist working with the seismic network at the University of Puerto Rico, and she keeps Paloma updated on the recovery. Gisela says that many aid groups claim they are helping, but that people seeking to donate support should make sure the money is actually supporting the recovery effort. “Unfortunately, right after the hurricane politics came into the picture,” laments Paloma. “A bunch of laws and regulations were passed that will negatively affect Puerto Rico for some time. Politicians have an interest in gaining better financial status, not thinking about the people or needs of the island. They are trying to privatize the electric authority, and an effort to make charter schools has begun even though the locals don’t want that.” Over 500,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island in the wake of the disaster, and it is unknown how this will affect these political efforts. But her friends are working to bring unity and healing to the island. They support the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras (MST) that has an initiative called the Fundación por Derechos, Educación, y Cultura Popular, has been organizing the community so they can work as a collective and create self-sufficiency.

Self-sufficiency and life in general has been a struggle these past six months. Paloma’s mother’s partner, Didi, is a farmer who lost all of his fields and storage in the hurricane. He has been trying to repair the damage but he cannot find seeds to plant. Even without power, many people can cook using propane or charcoal, but they are reliant on food shipped to the island since farms across the island have been impacted by the storm.

Even as Paloma worries about the fate of her home and family, she is happy living here in Ukiah. Working as a educator, she connects children to nature using dance and theater. Paloma is a dancer herself with the Mendocino College Dance Program. She appreciates how our area provides space for creativity and loves how active and positive the locals are. “Everyone here works together as a community to make things happen.”

This is a recipe traditionally made in the Island of Boriquen in Puerto Rico, and serves two.

Start with:

  • High temperature oil
  • 4 green plantains
  • 2 chicken breasts (organic)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro
  • 1/2 roasted red bell pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Achiote powder
  • Cumin powder
  • Italian herb seasoning
  • Tomato paste

Chicken  Stew

Cut 2 chicken breasts into 1” or 1-1/2” squares. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, lime, and Italian herb seasoning. Heat 2-3 tablespoons oil in a deep pan to brown the chicken.
In another 2 tablespoons of hot oil sauté the following:

  • 1  green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small spoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon achiote
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Sauté until vegetables are clear, then add: 
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 cup of water or chicken stock
  • Roasted bell peppers, sliced

Let everything cook over medium heat until reduced to a dense stew.

Mashed Plantain

Peel the plantains and cut each into six pieces. Fry them in high temperature oil until they turn yellow/light brown. After the plantains are fried, move them to a wooden bowl and smash them with oil (be sure the oil has a mild flavor). Crush 2-3 cloves of garlic and add them to the plantains with 1/4 bunch chopped cilantro, salt, and oil. Mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Make a bowl shape with the mashed plantain and ladle the chicken stew inside. Enjoy this traditional plate from Puerto Rico’s Island of Boriquen.

Paloma Victoria Rodriguez Irizarry was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. She possesses a bachelors degree in Spanish Teaching Education from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico. Presently she works as an educator in Ukiah, California, where she connects children to nature using dance, music and theater. She is part of the Dance Program with Mendocino College.