In the weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, hundreds of families moved temporarily to the mainland trying to find refuge, health care, education, and jobs.
While over 150,000 Puerto Ricans moved to Florida and several thousand more to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and other states that have traditionally been part of a story of circular migration between the territory and mainland, Georgia has also received a number of families from Puerto Rico looking for better opportunities.
In the south of Georgia, specifically in Hinesville, one person, Cristina Talavera-Abreyu, Puerto Rican, and a disabled veteran, has been at the forefront of the crisis supporting over 20 families with case management, navigation, referrals, advocacy and housing connections.
Cristina, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Hinesville, GA. She has lived in Georgia over twenty years. As a translator/intake specialist working for JCVision and Associates, Inc., she first learned about the families needing help when she was approached asking for resources to find housing.
At the beginning of October, Cristina started advocating and accompanying families to different state, federal and local nonprofit organizations, translating and helping them fill out the appropriate forms to receive assistance. During this time, she was exposed to lack of knowledge about the status of Puerto Ricans in the US (yes, Puerto Ricans ARE American citizens) as well as the lack of understanding of processes and procedures applying to displaced families due to a natural disaster in many government offices.
As word of mouth spread, and soon more and more families contacted Cristina with stories of discrimination, racist comments, and frustration. She learned that several families had already left Hinesville because they could simply not take it anymore.
Requests for her time increased significantly and Cristina could no longer serve so many individuals in her spare time, so with the support of her church and her employer, she took a more active role.
In Christmas, members of the community came together to support Cristina’s work. Sheriff Sikes donated Christmas gifts for all the children and two boxes of food for each family; Mrs. Pamela Farrie from the Board of Education, provided applications for the families to apply to received toys from Liberty High School; Representative Al Williams contacted all of the state and federal agencies the families were having issues with and held a town hall meeting. Cristina collected toys and food and delivered the items to each family and translated all concerns to the agency representatives during the town hall.
Cristina, has also facilitated the enrollment of the families in the McKenney Vento Program and coordinated with Mrs. Pamela Farrie to get the children enrolled in school, the ESOL program and been provided with uniforms, school supplies and transportation.
Mayor Brown, has provided letters for six families to help facilitate housing.
In mid-January, the first 2 families are finally housed and are currently receiving donations for their apartments.
We talked to Cristina and she shared the greatest needs of these refugee families:
“The families greatest needs these families have are getting jobs, finding affordable housing, food, household items and furniture, vehicles, clothes, shoes and legal orientation. JC Vision, the nonprofit I work with has provided a bank account to collect monetary donations for the families.
At the moment, and seeing the immense need in our community, I am considering creating a nonprofit organization offering translation services, legal orientation, food and clothes pantry, job search and relocation services or temporary shelter”
“This is a great example of the resilience and resourcefulness of our community facing adversity. In a city without a homeless shelter or cultural competent support, it has been me against the odds and the challenges. I have used my own household resources to help these families, I hope more people come along and support the work we do.”
When asked about recommendations moving forward or what would she like to see in Hinesville and surrounding areas? She says:
“Please, be welcoming to those in need, help the new members of our community without expecting anything in return, be aware of the processes in your job. Treat families in need as you would like to be treated”
To support Cristina directly, you can contact her at 912-980-1604. You can also email us back and we can provide more details.
We learn about Cristina after an article was written about the plight of these families by La Voz Latina. You can read the article here. We reached out to learn more about the story. GALEO.org has facilitated a connection with LatinoJustice to explore pursuing actions in the case of discriminatory actions and treatment.