BY EMMA RUBIN ’20
Carmen Yulín Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, will speak to the Mount Holyoke Community on April 26, sponsored by the Weissman Center for Leadership. She will also participate in a town hall-style discussion on April 27.
Mayor Cruz rose to international notoriety for her leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. She has received some criticism, notably from President Trump, who branded her a poor leader. However, within Puerto Rico and among humanitarian organizations, she has been applauded for her role in handling the hurricane’s aftermath and demanding increased federal aid from the United States government.
Cruz grew up on the island of Puerto Rico, but traveled to the continental United States for her education, receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston University and a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University. “I often say to my friends that I felt too Puerto Rican to live in the States; then I felt too American to live in Puerto Rico,” she said in a 2014 interview with The Washington Post.
According to the Post, Cruz has been involved in Puerto Rican politics since 1992, when she became an adviser to Sila María Calderón, a former mayor of San Juan. Calderón would later go on to become Puerto Rico’s first female governor. Cruz ran for a seat in the Puerto Rican House of Representatives in 2000 and lost. She ran again in 2008 and won, serving until 2012.
Cruz was elected mayor of San Juan in May 2013, after originally being considered an unlikely candidate. According to The Washington Post, she rallied together various groups at the grassroots level, including the LGBT community, taxi drivers, students and immigrants from the Dominican Republic. With a formidable base, she defeated three-time incumbent Jorge Santini.
As a member of the Popular Democratic Party, she supports the island’s current commonwealth status rather than advocating for statehood. Still, she has not been afraid to speak about disparities in the federal government’s treatment of Puerto Rico compared with the U.S. states, especially following Hurricane Maria.
“The federal government’s response to Puerto Rico’s tragedy and humanitarian crisis has been inadequate, insufficient and, plainly, it has been a way for the Trump administration not to comply with their moral obligation to help the people of Puerto Rico,” Cruz said at a press conference on Nov. 1.
Media portrayals of Cruz have highlighted her commitment to the people of San Juan. Shortly after the hurricane, a viral image of Cruz circulated which shows her wading through waist-deep water, grasping the hand of a person floating in a kayak. The image quickly became a call to action of celebrating the leadership of Cruz in the face of Trump’s criticisms.
Ruth Sangree ’18 studies politics and history and said she will be attending Cruz’s talk. “She seems great,” said Sangree. Alex Kenoian ’19 agrees that Cruz plays a positive role as a leader in difficult times. “I admire her for being so persistent in demanding help from an unwilling administration,” said Kenoian.
Additional reporting by Allyson Huntoon ’19