Detroit-Puerto Rico Solidaridad: Agua Es Vida! (Water Is Life)

by William Copeland and Adela Nieves Martinez
with Dr. Alicia Steele


Months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, many people in Puerto Rico continue to be without water, electricity, fresh food, gasoline, constructed roofs, tarps for damaged roofs, and the ability to communicate with family members on the island and abroad.

Puerto Ricans from the hardest hit communities are doing most of the work themselves to rebuild, heal and help each other. All over the island, neighbors are helping neighbors, family members are traveling around the island to help families, with many who are in need suggesting that donations go to people they feel are more in need.

Damage and dangerous conditions are still everywhere, even in San Juan, the most populated hub of Puerto Rico. Power lines are down in the streets, held up by tables. Tarps serve as roofs. There is need for constant use of generators, and a lack of electricity for traffic lights and highway lighting at night. Many still lack access to clean water. In conditions like these, undoubtedly more lives than the estimated 3,000 have been lost due to Hurricane Maria and its aftermath – some of the deaths from treatable, preventable and curable causes.

It was not only Puerto Ricans who felt the pain of this disaster. Michiganders from all over the metro area were reaching out, trying to figure out how they could help. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, El Comité Cultural Boricua de Detroit (CCBDET) was formed in order to concentrate and maximize collective support efforts within Metro Detroit.


Detroiters had already been building a relationship with Puerto Rico before the hurricanes. A group of artists and organizers from Detroit, Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora came together at the 2017 Allied Media Conference (AMC) to attend the Detroit-Puerto Rico Solidarity Exchange Network Gathering. This historical meeting emerged from conversations folks had while attending the 2016 AMC, which sought to connect Boricua organizers with organizers in Detroit. The burden of going through emergency financial management and fiscal oversight brought us together.  The conversation deepened to food justice, water access, decolonization, indigenous and African relations, and a wide range of topics that connected what appeared to be disparate issues within the U.S.

After the hurricanes, it felt even more important to stand with and for each other. The cultural organizers of the Long Hairz Collective wanted to figure out a way to support our family on the island and decided to host a free concert/fundraising event in collaboration with Detroit Boricuas. They reached out to Adela Nieves Martinez, who co-organized the Solidarity Exchange. Adela is one of the founders of El Comité Cultural Boricua de Detroit, and a Project Coordinator for the Center for Embodied Pedagogy and Action (CEPA) in Puerto Rico. After several exciting emails and a powerful group phone conversation, the idea for Detroit-Puerto Rico Solidaridad: ¡Agua Es Vida! (Water Is Life!) was born.

¡Agua Es Vida! was held the evening of January 11 at the D. Blair Theater in the Cass Corridor Commons. The event was sponsored by the Long Hairz Collective, and supported by the Comité Cultural Boricua de Detroit. Attendees enjoyed music, activities, and solidarity. Judi Hernandez of El Caribeno provided delicious traditional Caribbean food.

Adela Nieves opened the event by reading a moving update from the frontlines of Puerto Rico.  Will See and Bryce Detroit then provided a hip hop entertainment justice set that got all hands clapping, followed by a performance by the Long Hairz Collective. After a brief intermission, all the kids got a chance to smash a piñata.  The event was closed out by the drumming and dancing of Ozzie Rivera and BombaRica.

Joe Reilly of the Long Hairz Collective said “Agua Es Vida felt like a true community and cultural celebration, a coming together of hearts and spirits in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who have been the recipients of so many environmental and social injustices by our country’s leadership.” A highlight for Joe and many attendees was the drum and dance circle led by Ozzie Rivera and BombaRica, when they invited the audience and performers to dance together and feel the shared rhythm of humanity across cultures. There was so much joy! 

¡Agua Es Vida! was successful in reaching its fundraising goal. El Comité Cultural was able to purchase a water filtration system from Kalamazoo-based Clean Water for the World to provide clean water for 600 families in Puerto Rico. They took it to the island during their January delegation hosted by Detroit Equity Action Lab (DEAL) of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University’s Law School.  

The water system will go to a small town on the east coast of the island called Ceiba. Marta A. Smith-Cruz from CCBDET is collaborating with a group called Seybeños for Ceiba.  They are a community group formed of residents of Ceiba, Puerto Ricans from the diaspora, and allies that live in various places in the US and Puerto Rico. They have begun a fund for rebuilding homes for families that have not been able to receive FEMA loans, and they will now be able to bring clean water to the community, which has been without since Hurricane Maria hit. You can find more information about their efforts here: 

If you weren’t able to make it to the event and would still like to support the efforts in Puerto Rico, please connect with El Comité Cultural Boricua de Detroit on Facebook or email with questions or ideas and for donation drop-off locations. For financial donations, checks or money orders may be made out to Grace in Action Church, Memo: Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief.  Electronic financial donations will be accepted through at Please mark the friends and family option, so they are not charged a fee.

CCBDET is also collecting the following items:

-Colloidal silver

-Face masks

-First aid kits


-Saline sinus spray

-Sterile strips and bandages

-Sanitizing and antibiotic ointments

-Cranberry, Cherry, and Magnesium Supplements

-Aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen

-Antihistamines, allergy medications, hydrocortisone, etc.

-Muscular pain ointment

-Adhesive body warmers for soothing sore muscles, arthritis, stiffness and stress relief

-Aromatherapy (lavender and more)

-Diapers and wipes


-Battery powered radios

-Large outdoor heavy duty tarps, 16′ x 20′ and larger

-Solar lamps and fans

-Water tablets


-Mosquito nets

-Bug spray

-Coloring books and crayons

-Sidewalk chalk


Tools: chainsaws, woodchoppers, drills, gloves, hammers, saws,

Non-GMO Seeds: Arugula (rocket), Asian Greens, Beans, Beets, Bell Peppers, Bok Choy, Cabbage, Chili Peppers, Cilantro, Cucumber, Cover Crops, Eggplant (Aubergine), Kale, Lettuce, Okra, Pumpkins, Parsley, Passion Fruit, Radish, Spinach, Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomato, Turnips, Watermelon, Zucchini and more.

Please email us for drop-off locations.


Sidebar: * What 100 Days without Electricity Have Revealed to Me

by Yasmin HernandezMoca, PR

The US/ Puerto Rico relationship:  It was cruel before the hurricanes and it is cruel after the hurricanes.  All that has changed is that more people are aware and those who chose to ignore it before, no longer can.

I can survive 100 days without electricity and almost 60 days without running water. Not for the purpose of feeling righteous, but because humanity needs to know how to survive this type of situation because as Slick Rick said, “This type of shit happens everyday.”  Maybe not in the US, but in a good part of the planet.

Though natural disasters are indeed catastrophic, humanity’s failure to place love and compassion first has resulted in the perpetual rule of the ignorant, power-hungry brutes

who breed more trauma and lovelessness.  That to me is catastrophic. Hurricanes claim  

lives, but colonialism and systemic oppression breed generations of the walking dead, where trauma has severed their bodies from their minds and spirits.

How to see, feel, walk, think, write, paint, cook, dance, love in the dark.

How to collect water and power from sources unimaginable.

How much people without money can do and get done, and how much people with all the money necessary to do things don’t because they actually think they have no money.

How withholding water is an act of war.

How much cell phones and social media are overrated.

How the children of this land are conditioned to believe it is without resources and uninhabitable, while others flock here eager to tap into its physical, material, cultural and spiritual resources.

How it is easier for the masses to turn against each other than against their enemy.

How deeply we continue to judge and measure our self-worth with values set forth by our oppressor.

How natural disasters are divinely orchestrated to reveal and convince us of our inherent capacity for greatness.

How healing and love will always be the weapon.

How you can never aspire to something just, something beautiful, something sustainable, never envision, attain and practice liberation without knowing your self-worth; without committing to accept nothing less than love, justice, respect and kindness for yourself and yours.

Out of darkness there is light.


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