It’s the first time Secretary Nellie Gorbea will return to the island since the devastating Hurricane Maria.
Gorbea has lived on the mainland for more than two decades, but she was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where much of her family, including her parents still live.
She plans to spend Christmas and New Year’s on the Island, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. The storm left most of the island without water or power for days.
“I’m curious what I’m going to find,” said Gorbea. “You know some of the vegetation has started to come back, as it does in the tropics, but there’s still a lot of need. So there’ll be some happiness, and then I’m sure some work to be done to help out.”
Gorbea said her family, who live in the San Juan area, were uninjured during the storm, which hit the island in September. But she said there’s much still to do as the territory works to rebuild its battered infrastructure.
“Puerto Ricans are incredibly warm, hardworking people, and I am convinced that they will come out of this stronger than ever, and it will take a lot,” said Gorbea.
She said the slow recovery, response by the federal government and subsequent exodus has raised new questions about whether Puerto Rico should become the 51st state.
“It’s been more than 100 years, of being U.S. citizens without having full-blown citizenship rights, voting rights,” said Gorbea. “I would love to see my parents, my siblings, my cousins and family and friends, be able to exercise that right to vote.”
Gorbea has worked directly with Puerto Rican families who have relocated to Rhode Island since the storm. She estimates that some 50 families have sought refuge in the Ocean State. Gorbea adds she’ll likely meet with her counterpart, the Puerto Rican secretary of state, while visiting.