Options few, and ‘we don’t have that time to waste’
further notice,” she said. “We’re trying to find a flight.”
Her boyfriend, Luis Enrique, 26, who works as an accountant and is also a grad student, pointed out that electricity and telecommunications are still down across much of the U.S. territory. “Nothing is telling us everything will be OK in one or two years. We don’t have that time to waste,” he said.
The trend of young people leaving Puerto Rico began before Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma two weeks earlier. But the devastation is now accelerating a process of migration that could trigger a future financial crisis, said Carlos Méndez, an associate administrator at the Auxilio Mutuo Hospital, one of the island’s top medical facilities.
“Younger people are leaving the island and older people stay,” Mendez said. “There’s not going to be enough (young workers). Eventually the structure will fail.”
Atabey Nuñez, 25, who lost her job as an accountant with a TV series because of Maria, said her plan is “to finish this month’s rent and go to the States.” She’s bilingual and hopes to stay with whichever friend can put her up the longest.
“I was going to look for a job here, but there’s no electricity,” Nuñez said. “It’s hard to find Internet, so it’s hard to find a job.”
She had planned to backpack across Europe next summer, but that prospect is dashed because she has been dipping into savings to survive. There’s still a stigma to leaving. Melisa Gonzalez, 34, and her husband, Gabriel Viera, 32, are affluent bankers in the capital who continue working despite the destruction.
“I think those who leave the island are not proud,” Viera said. “They just leave and disappear.”
He said that if he lost his job at the bank, he would work for a coffee plantation doing manual labor, and others should seek farm or construction jobs to rebuild the commonwealth.
Gonzalez said she wants to leave. “But if we abandon the situation, we’re not going to help the island move on,” she said. “We have the finances to leave, but we don’t want to because we’re part of the solution. But — ”
“We don’t judge,” her husband interrupted.
“— when the going gets tough, the Puerto Rican people stay,” Gonzalez finished.
Quiñones, the psychology student, rejected that way of thinking.
“No one should tell me I’m not doing enough for my country,” she said. “Actually, my country is not doing enough for me.”
Luis Enrique, 26, and Viviana Quiñones, 28, have seen their graduate studies interrupted by Maria and its aftermath. “We’re trying to find a flight,” Quiñones says.