Humboldt Can Help: Blue Lake brings it home for Puerto Rico

Janine Volkmar
Mad River Union

BLUE LAKE – We read the news or see it on television and it’s horrific. Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September and 1.2 million people are still without potable water and many without electricity.

But talking with former Dell’Arte International students from Puerto Rico about the situation brings it home with a wallop that news sources cannot convey. The anguish in their voices and their worries about their families release a hurricane of emotions.

SAFE Dell’Arte alum Robi Arce, now living in Portland, reports his family in Puerto Rico is “OK.” Photo by A. Arnista

“My mother lives in the mountains,” said Stephanie Martinez, “and the expectation is that she will be without electricity for 10 months.” Martinez lived in Blue Lake while her husband, Robi Arce, studied for his MFA at Dell’Arte from 2013 to 2016. Both Arce and Martinez are concerned for family and friends who are experiencing hardships in the aftermath of the hurricane.  “My family is OK,” Arce said, adding “by ‘OK’, I mean they are alive but they are still without water or power.”

Dell’Arte hosts a benefit, Humboldt Can Help, this Saturday. Your donation receipt is your ticket; donate and bring your receipt or just donate at the door. Please participate; show your support so people in Puerto Rico will know we in Humboldt County care.

Noticing is caring. “We are really grateful about people starting to notice how the situation is in Puerto Rico,” Martinez said. “A lot of people didn’t even know that we are Americans. I cannot speak for the people in Puerto Rico but just knowing that people are caring is good.” Martinez and Arce live and work in Portland now but spent their whole lives on the island before coming to Blue Lake.

The money raised at the benefit will go directly to groups that are helping those who are worst off, according to Arce. “I know the people at Mano Mano Puerto Rico,” Arce said. “They are focusing on people who lost a house or a roof. They are visiting the people who suffer the most. I know that they are doing the work. They are very on-the-ground, which I believe in.”

Arce contrasted that approach with FEMA, “giving the people muffins and sweets and Skittles. People need water and food, not Skittles.”

Another Dell’Arte alum, Andrea Martinez, (no relation to Stephanie) is living and working in Puerto Rico. She teaches at Atlantic University there and feels lucky that she still has a job. “I’m very lucky,” she said, “most schools are closed or damaged or being used as shelters. Our entire island looks like we’ve been hit by a bomb.”

Martinez spent 22 days without water and still has no electricity. Cell phone coverage is spotty and many people have no place to charge their phones.

“Still we try our best to be happy and help each other,” she said.

Martinez has studied “to be part of plays” since she was 6 years old. At Dell’Arte, she studied mime, physical theater, dance and her true love, circus. She graduated in 2013 but brought a group, Uplift, to the Mad River Festival in 2015.

BRINGING SUPPLIES AND JOY Despite living without water for 22 days, and still without electricity, Dell’Arte alum Andrea Martinez wore a clown nose while helping fellow Puerto Ricans with “hope, a shoulder to cry on, hugs and food.” Photo courtesy Dell’Arte

Action is Martinez’ way of dealing with the pain. “For me, I was very sad and angry. It wasn’t enough to be sad and angry, so I started to move. I made a video so people can see how our life is here. Last week I went to a place where the bridge over the river was broken. People were there to give the people on the other side water and food. They had a cable and a car and pulled the supplies over by a rope,” she explained. The video shows the waiting people on the broken bridge, so broken that they had built makeshift wooden ladders down to the ground below. Martinez and her friends brought supplies and joy, wearing clown noses and giving “hope, a shoulder to cry on, hugs and food.”

She is touched that the community in Blue Lake is helping. “I don’t have the words to say in English to say how much this means to us.”

The fundraiser was the inspiration of two Dell’Arte alums who are now staff members, Tushar Mathew and Becca Finney. Finney works as the school’s registrar and Mathew as the school’s marketing director.

“The idea came from Tushar and Becca,” said Michael Fields, producing artistic director at Dell’Arte. “Dell’Arte’s family extends beyond the town of Blue Lake and the borders of Humboldt County. When something happens, whether it is in Houston, or in New Orleans, or in Puerto Rico, it’s that spirit of trying to reach out and help,” he said. “Everybody’s donating their time.”

Arce and Martinez have been sending packages priority mail but even that is delayed. “We just don’t know what is going on there,” Stephanie Martinez said. “You feel that you do have your hands tied tight. You stay in your job, stay focused, try not to worry. I’ve only been able to talk to my mom two times. You hear about people standing in certain spots on the highway to try to get cell coverage to contact their families.”

Put this into perspective at how upset folks in Humboldt get when the Internet or cell phone coverage is down for one day.

The benefit will be outside in the Dell’Arte amphitheater, weather permitting, so bring low chairs and blankets. Show your love for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and have a great time.

“At the bottom of all of this, we do have hope that things will get better,” Arce said.

Humboldt, let’s prove him right.


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