- Auto/Biography After DisasterThe Year in Puerto Rico
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On September 20, 2017, Hurricane María made landfall in Puerto Rico and ravaged the island. The rising temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean—created by a continued dedication to producing fossil fuels despite the severity of the environmental crisis in the Anthropocene Era—triggered several large-scale hurricanes in the 2017 and 2018 storm seasons. Puerto Rico's colonial status as a territory of the United States, however, has generated a second, human-made humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the hurricane. In a series of moves by the US federal government that clearly positioned Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens, essential supplies and assistance did not appear in a timely manner (if at all), causing a staggeringly high number of deaths and prompting a second wave of the contemporary mass migration to the continental United States.1 In this year of natural and human-made disasters, a spate of e-memoirs, digital narratives, and online auto/biographical acts have emerged from Puerto Rico that speak to the sense of urgency in life stories crafted in the wake of disaster. In this essay, I will focus on hurricane narratives that were digitally self-published in Puerto Rico in the twelve-month period following María.
I have previously used the term "ugly auto/biography" to refer to the fast, unrefined, and unrevised hurricane memoirs that were written by my students when our classes at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez resumed on October 30, 2017. At this time, the majority of residents were still without electricity and access to telecommunications, while others were living in various states of precarity due to compromised housing, lack of food and/or potable water, and [End Page 124] inability to access medical care. In a recent essay on disaster pedagogy, I articulate that the term "ugly" in this usage does not enter into a binary signifying a story worth less than another, different sort of a narrative.2 Instead, I argue that the term denotes the rawness and urgency of these narratives—recorded in periods of great instability and voiced from spaces of crisis and danger—that manifest without time for reflection or editorial intervention from either the author or nonauthorial agent. Such narratives outline particular types of life stories, ones that we might recognize and engage with for different reasons and in different ways than those crafted with the benefit of a narrating "I" who has the luxury of time and the advantage of distance from the event or events that motivated the act of narration. Auto/biographers can be self-aware in these narratives that something different may be published as more time passes. "In the months and years to come," M. Kelley states in her hastily-produced disaster narrative, "I believe there will be an outpouring of stories" (2). The primary emphasis in these initial e-narratives may not necessarily be the craft of storytelling but the need for sharing the life story at this juncture.
Rangely J. García Colón tells one of these life stories. Otherwise known as "Rad Rangy," García Colón is a self-proclaimed "Art Director/Illustrator/Writer/Comic Book Artist & crazy bird lady from Puerto Rico" (@radrangy), who has won three Emmy Awards for her animation and writing for children's shows (García Colón). Her work tends to revolve around anthropomorphic characters who have highly urbanized adventures. In her fictional comix, she uses a sophisticated visual style that blends action-oriented scenes with elements of classic noir aesthetics, and she typically produces full-color images.
This sense of immediacy in post-disaster narratives is easily seen in the contrasting visual style adopted by García Colón in her webcomic, Ave María: A Comic Diary of a Category 5 Disaster. García Colón's visual diary of Hurricane María and its aftermath was posted on her...