BY ANNA SHORTRIDGE ’19
Members of the Mount Holyoke Community gathered on the steps of Blanchard to stand in solidarity with the victims and those affected by natural disasters in Puerto Rico and Mexico on the evening of Sept. 28.
The vigil was hosted by La Unidad, a student organization on campus for those who self-identify as Latinx, who identify with the culture and language of Latin American countries or anyone that has an interest in Latinx cultures. The student organization strives to bring awareness to happenings in Latin American and Caribbean countries, according to Social Chair of La Unidad, Adelita Simon ’19, who was one of the primary organizers of the vigil.
“I organized this vigil for the community to allow them to be surrounded in love and solidarity,” said Simon.
What started as a handful of students holding a Mexican flag and a Puerto Rican flag, lighting candles and playing Mexican and Puerto Rican music over a speaker developed into a sizeable crowd. Attendees were handed a burning candle and given a place in the circle.
The vigil began with a period of reflection. Mexican and Puerto Rican music played softly in the background as attendees watched their candle flames dance in the wind, closed their eyes or held onto friends and classmates around them, offering comfort.
After this period of reflection, Simon invited attendees to share their stories, thoughts, poems or even to plug their phones into the speaker to play a song if they did not have the words to express their thoughts.
Simon was the first to share her story with the group. She said that she recently had the opportunity to talk to her grandfather on the phone — he is currently in the hospital because his leg had been injured during the earthquake.
“It’s really hard to be away from home and to be the last one updated, so it was really nice to be able to talk to him,” said Simon.
She told the group that her grandfather was concerned that after the emergency ended, the community togetherness that had been created in the aftermath of the earthquake would cease to exist.
“Last week an earthquake shook us inside out,” said Simon, “My grandpa, like many others, agrees that on Sept. 19, a new Mexico was born. A new Mexico in which instead of fighting with each other, we all have united in one race. People are going out to help, offering their services. Restaurants are giving away food, hardware stores are giving away equipment and tools, people are opening doors of their homes to strangers. On that horrific day, the people took the city. The people took Mexico in their hands and if we let go, we will lose an opportunity.”
Simon went on to stress the importance of donating to the cause because governments (U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico) are not the primary force helping in the relief efforts, the people are.
“Nature forced us to open our eyes and hearts to see all that we can achieve together. We need to bring awareness that governments aren’t helping these people, it’s the people themselves that are helping,” said Simon.
Simon said that although her heart was heavy, she believes it was vital for the earthquake to occur so that Mexico could discover its sense of togetherness and community.
“Although this incident has impacted my family, it hurts my heart — I lost cousins, I lost an uncle — it was necessary to make us realize that we have to work together. We have to make sure that we stay like that,” she said.
Other attendees shared their stories. One student from Puerto Rico shared that while her family survived the hurricane, she was still very shaken by the experience. She expressed repeatedly that she wished that she could be with her family back home to help them. Others from Puerto Rico had similar experiences, including Nohelya Zambrano ’21 whose mother lives in Puerto Rico. At the time of the vigil, Zambrano had been unable to contact her mother.
“I still don’t know if she’s okay,” said Zambrano. “I wish she had waited to go back to Puerto Rico. She came to Mount Holyoke to help me move in and went back pretty soon after, but if she had waited a little while longer to go back she wouldn’t be in this situation.”
After words of comfort and a few hugs, attendees were then able to share one word about how the vigil made them feel by going around in a circle. Sentimentslike “hope,” “solidarity,” “love” and “togetherness” were commonly expressed.
At the end of the vigil, Simon and the other members of La Unidad explained that while they need time to heal from the recent incidents, they would be there for anyone in need of consoling from the recent events. The organizers also stressed the importance of donating to help the victims in both Puerto Rico and Mexico.
Sister Annette McDermott, the dean of Religious and Spiritual Life and Catholic advisor, attended the vigil to be a supportive presence to the campus community.
“As a sister of St. Joseph, providing comfort to all who need it is a very natural role for me,” said McDermott. She said she believed that it was important to bring the Mount Holyoke community together to create a sense of solidarity around these happenings.
“Building a community of love and support is very important if we are to make our campus the MoHome we want it to be,” McDermott said. “You could feel that a sense of community and belonging had emerged from the sharing during the vigil and the conversations that developed after the vigil. I am grateful for all those who were able to be that symbol of solidarity on Friday night. We are best when we come together for one another.”
The organizers of the vigil recommended donating to the GoFundMe for “Students with Puerto Rico,” a coalition of schools and students across the U.S. working to raise funds for the victims of the hurricane in Puerto Rico. The GoFundMe will be available for donations until Oct. 6th at www.gofundme.com/studentswithpr?d=185986958. The funds raised will go to Unidos por Puerto Rico, a private-public organization run by the office of the first lady of Puerto Rico.
Simon also said that over the next month or so, many student organizations will be creating events to raise funds for Mexico and Puerto Rico, such as Noche Latina, a dinner show and party, that will be happening on Nov. 17th. At the event, donations from Mount Holyoke students will be accepted and there will be a $5 entrance fee for Five College and other community members, with all funds raised at the event going towards helping Mexico and Puerto Rico.