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Yuleidy Cordero-Feliciano produjo este video en el Laboratorio de Medios WHYY en la escuela Julia de Burgos bajo la dirección de su instructor de medios Ariel Goodman y su maestra Christy Halcom. Foto: Cortesía de Ariel Goodman. 
Yuleidy Cordero-Feliciano produced this video in the WHYY Media Lab at Julia De Burgos school under the guidance of her WHYY media instructor Ariel Goodman and her teacher Christy Halcom. Photo: Courtesy of Ariel Goodman

The Puerto Rican Philly girl who survived Hurricane Maria

I never thought that a hurricane could give me so many experiences. In this came, some of them were good. And some of them were very sad.

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Yuleidy Cordero-Feliciano produced this video in the WHYY Media Lab at Julia De Burgos school under the guidance of her WHYY media instructor Ariel Goodman and her teacher Christy Halcom. WHYY has established Media Labs in 40 Philadelphia public schools, where it runs afterschool programs and trains teachers to use media production as a classroom teaching tool.

Ariel Goodman: 

When I met Yuleidy Cordero-Feliciano, she was a smiley but shy 7th grader. A few months after Hurricane Maria devastated her home island of Puerto Rico, her family moved to North Philadelphia, where she began attending Julia De Burgos Middle School on Lehigh Ave. At the time, I worked at the school as the instructor of the WHYY Media Lab, where Yuleidy and her three sisters attended my after school documentary production program.

While her school days were filled classes in an entirely new language and the struggle of trying to slowly piece together a new life for herself in the U.S., Yuleidy and her sisters would arrive to my classroom after school eager to speak in Spanish. They told me the story of everything they had just lived through, and all that they had abruptly left behind on the island.

I was always struck by their memories from the night of the hurricane: the door that their mother struggled to keep shut to prevent the wind and rain from pouring in and destroying their house. The  howling winds outside, which they said sounded like the screams of monsters, that they tried to ignore by watching movies in their room. 

On the first days of her 8th grade year, Yuleidy came skipping in to my classroom to give me a  hug. Only this time, she spoke to me in English:

“Ms. Ari, I’m ready to tell my story.” she said. And we both knew exactly what it was going to be about.

Over the course of the school year that followed, Yuleidy became one of the most dedicated members of the media club. She came by to work during lunch and after school, and brought her friends along to help her with her project: recreating her family’s story of survival, migration, resilience, and home.

What you see is the product of a year’s work, created by Yuleidy, her sisters, her teachers, and her friends — many of whom are Hurricane Maria survivors themselves. And what you hear is a story of resilience that reflects the more than 3,400 Hurricane Maria refugees that have resettled throughout the state of Pennsylvania. 

Yuleidy's story: In her own words

Hi, my name is Yuleidy. I am 13-years-old and I live in North Philadelphia. But before coming here, I lived most of my life on the island of Puerto Rico. I want to tell you the story of my life before coming to Philly.

When I lived there, I used to like to go to the beach. I loved watching the sun set over the giant blue sea because it makes me feel peace in my heart.

But one day, the peace in my heart went away. The radio and TV started to announce that a hurricane named Maria was coming to Puerto Rico. Everyone was getting prepared for the storm.

Every time that my family and I tried to go buy some supplies to cover the windows and doors, we couldn’t find anything. There were long lines of people everywhere to buy things, but the stores were so full that there was no room. Sometimes they were so long that people started to fight one another [for] the little bit of food that there was.

The night of the hurricane I was in my house with my three sisters. The wind started blowing so hard that it sounded like there were people punching the outside of my house. I looked out of the window and saw cars moving from side to side, branches of the trees started falling, and parts of people’s houses ripped off and flew around in the wind.

I was sleeping in the living room when one of the sliding doors was pushed open by a strong wind. My mom told me to go to my little sisters’ room while she and my stepfather tried to fix the door.

Still the crazy wind and rain poured into the house. My sister took a broom and tried to sweep all of the water out of the house. I stayed with my little sisters and watched movies on the computer to try to forget about the world that I was living in.

The next day, when I got outside the house, tears came out of my eyes because of all of the destruction that I saw in my neighborhood. Houses were destroyed. There were landslides and trees pushed over from all the wind. I saw some people outside searching for family members and helping to clean the street. I was surprised by how much destruction there was and very worried about the rest of my family. We couldn’t go anywhere because the roads were destroyed and everywhere I can see the rivers were covering the land.

I do not have any words for the way that I [felt] after the hurricane.

After a week, the streets were finally clean, but in order to get gasoline people needed to wait in hours in line. I started meeting people in my community that I had never [met] before. Every time my mom made extra food, she would share it with the other neighbors. Everyone was uniting.

Almost four months later, we still didn’t have electricity or water. It was so stressful for us and our neighbors.

One day my aunt called my mom and she told her that she could come to Philadelphia. She told her that if we came, we could get help and good education and a good job.

In that moment, I [felt] sad. I [couldn’t] imagine never returning to Puerto Rico, the place that raised me. What if I never saw the rest of my family again?

Finally, I came to Philly. There were actually a lot of students just like me. I met my friends in ESL class, and slowly I started to feel less quiet.

I never thought that a hurricane could give me so many experiences. In this came, some of them were good. And some of them were very sad.

One day, I will return to mi isla to live. But until then, I will continue to be the Puerto Rican Philly girl who survived the Hurricane Maria. 

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