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Maria Elena Salinas and the Road to Recovery in Puerto Rico

On this week’s episode of An AARP Take on Today, Bob Edwards chats with Salinas about Hurricane Maria and the devastation it had on the island

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Bob Edwards:

Hello! I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP take on today.

September is hurricane season.

As I'm recording this episode three hurricanes are brewing off the Atlantic coast.

My guest says it's a strange parallel to this time last year when three named storms: Harvey, Irma and Maria ravaged communities.

And she would know.

Maria Elena Salinas reported on the storms from the anchor desk at Univision where she was one of the most recognized female journalists until she retired last year.

Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico had a special impact on Salinas. Not only did she cover it this spring, she and AARP teamed up to return to the island and hear from residents. What she heard about the storm, aftermath and recovery is timely, as the country braces to be battered once again.

Maria welcome to our program.

Maria Elena Salinas:

Good to talk to you, Bob.

Bob Edwards:

A lot of retirees say they've never been busier and I sense that maybe your story too?

Maria Elena Salinas:

That's true. You know my sister retired a couple of years ago and she told me I don't know how I ever had time to work. I'm beginning to feel the same way. Because I have been working. I'm working freelance. I'm working as an independent journalist now. But I am keeping pretty busy. I'm traveling around the country with several speaking engagements and I'm really loving it. I love the freedom that I'm enjoying.

Bob Edwards:

So, you couldn't stay away?

Maria Elena Salinas:

No.

Bob Edwards:

You live in Miami, so you're no stranger to hurricanes. Yet Puerto Rico seems both distant and present. What have you found in your reporting?

Maria Elena Salinas:

Well, yes. I'm very familiar with hurricanes. Not only have I lived with them here in Miami, but I have covered many hurricanes throughout the years in several places around the world.

One of the most memorable ones has to be Maria in Puerto Rico. When it happened and after it happened. I mean the most impactful image that I have seen in years of reporting was that image of the island black. Completely black with absolutely no electricity. That was definitely a shocker and we could only imagine what the Puerto Ricans went through.

When I went back – as you mentioned, with Jo Ann Jenkins and Lisa Marsh Ryerson – what we found is a community that was still suffering, a community that was still without power, some of them without water.

But at the same time they had united to help each other out and I think that was one of the most impressive things that I saw. All the volunteers or the organizations that were supported by AARP – that provided these services to residents that were 50 and older in Puerto Rico – were also affected by the hurricane.

Yet, they were helping their peers. It didn't matter that they didn't have electricity or water, or if they had loved ones that were sick. They were still doing everything possible to help. I think it's amazing the way a community unites in times of trouble. Especially, when they have the help of organizations such as AARP.

Bob Edwards:

And this was six months after the storm?

Maria Elena Salinas:

Exactly, six months after the storm they were still suffering. And most of them were elderly, because a lot of the younger people left Puerto Rico. They left the island. They either went to other countries or they came inland to the U.S. to work, study or just try to continue their life here. And they sort of left them alone there. Just to try to figure it out and try to make it on their own. A lot of the few young people that did stay were helping with rebuilding homes that were completely destroyed, painting them. Helping clean up the debris six months later. The streets were still full with debris. Their homes were still full of debris. But again I say that they were very thankful, because there were so many people that were there to help them.

I think one of the most tragic things was the fact that because they didn't have access to water,  the medical services were scarce. Because of accessibility – because the roads were also blocked – they couldn't get there. They couldn't have gasoline for their vehicles. But also because the hospitals and medical personnel were also affected and they didn't have access to water and electricity. It was a real tragedy.

And up to today I think they’re beginning to come back. But just when hurricane season is beginning again, they’re not fully recovered. And they're concerned. They're very worried when they see the type of strength that hurricane Florence came to the U.S. and the ones that are following it. And just thinking about the possibility that another hurricane might hit them. It would be something that would be truly devastating for them.

Bob Edwards:

And you made a powerful documentary. Whom did you interview?

Maria Elena Salinas:

I know one of the places that I enjoyed the most was a daycare center for the elderly. And they were dancing and just having an incredible time. And it was to help them. That place was important, because not only did it help provide shelter, food and water for them right in the aftermath of the hurricane. But it continues to help them and they themselves continue to help others in need. And they were happy. When you give a smile to adversity it is very impactful to see these people that were suffering, yet they were not complaining, crying and playing victims. They were victims, but they were just thankful that they were alive. They were thankful that they had someplace to go to.

Bob Edwards:

Let’s listen in.

[TRANSITION TO DOCUMENTARY CLIP]

Bob Edwards:

You've been called the voice of Hispanic America. What does that voice need to say?

Maria Elena Salinas:

You mentioned before that I left the Univision. And thanks to Univision, I have a voice. I was with the company almost 37 years. But as long as I have a voice I will continue to use my voice on behalf of my people, on behalf of the Hispanic community in this country. I do so in situations like this when they're in need. I do so also to motivate Latinos to be civically engaged in politics, elections. Right now, I'm part of a campaign with “Mi Familia Vota” to motivate Latinos to register to vote and go out and vote. I also work with several women's organizations to empower Latinas. I think it's important that when you have a forum – whether it's a small forum or a large forum – you need to use that voice. And you need to defend those who do not have a voice. And empower those who feel weak or who feel that you know they have a voice but they don't have a forum for it. That's why I think that it's something that's very important for me to continue doing.

Bob Edwards:

Your new show is called “The Real Story.” Why that name?

Maria Elena Salinas:

“The Real Story with Maria Elena Salinas” is two seasons of a crime investigation show on Investigation Discovery. It's a real story because there's always the story behind the story. The perfect example of that is Puerto Rico. One thing is what was reported and what was said by the politicians and another thing is what you actually saw when you get close. And that's what I did in this show. I got close to the people that were directly involved in a crime – the family members, the victims (that ended up being victims), and also investigators, detectives, prosecutors – to get the real story, the story behind the story. Because we always find someone who saw something and never spoke about it, who knew evidence that was not allowed in court that now we can bring out. To me that's the most important thing. What we do as journalists is search for the truth and try to uncover injustice and denounce corruption. I think that's something that is my responsibility and the responsibility of every single journalist. That's what we do, regardless of those who question the work that we do.

Bob Edwards:

You won an Edward R. Murrow award. Murrow was the guy who pretty much invented what we do. What's your take on the state of journalism today?

Maria Elena Salinas:

It's a very sad state, but I do take some solace in the fact that media organizations are not allowing themselves to be bullied, intimidated or silenced. I've covered Latin America for many, many years. I know what it's like when you have an authoritarian government that seeks to silence the press. They either close them down or put them in jail or they try to discredit them. And that is not something that we will allow in our democracy in this country. It is sad and one of the things that concerns me is that a society that is uninformed or misinformed is a society that is vulnerable to the abuse of those in power. That's why I think it's very scary and very dangerous to call journalists the enemy of the people. Because we are exactly the opposite of that. Our job is to be a watchdog of those in power – no matter who is in power – and ask the tough questions, fact-check them, and put it into perspective for the sake of our audience, for the sake of our society.

Bob Edwards:

Midterm elections are coming up and new data confirms that Hispanic Americans vote in lower proportion than others. What would you say to them?

Maria Elena Salinas:

Well, that's exactly what we're doing with Mi Familia Vota and encouraging them to vote. You're absolutely right. The Hispanics are the largest minority in the country, yet we are the ones that vote the least in midterm elections. And we're hoping that that is about to change. What we're doing is reminding them that we are Americans too, even though some of the negative rhetoric that we hear make some people feel like they're foreigners in their own country. We’re here to remind them that we're just as American as anyone else. That Americans come in all colors. It doesn't matter what the accent in our voices or the texture of our hair or the color of our skin. We are no less American than anyone else. Unfortunately, when you have a country so divided the line between us and them becomes more profound. And if there is one time when we can blur that line is now during election time, because we're all Americans. We are all the same and we all have the same power. That is why I'm involved in this campaign called “Usa Tu Poder,” which in English is use your power. But the word use in Spanish is USA. We just want to remind everyone that we are all citizens of the U.S. and that we have the same power and the same responsibilities. I think it's important. And to me it's always been my responsibility as a journalist to remind the Latino community of their rights, but also of their civic responsibilities as a citizen and or as a resident of this country.

Bob Edwards:

Maria Elena Salinas thanks for your reporting and your philanthropy.

Maria Elena Salinas:

Thank you, Bob. Good to talk to you.

Bob Edwards:

This election season AARP is supporting voters with nonpartisan election information at AARP dot org slash vote or AARP dot org slash vota.

[TRANSITION]

Bob Edwards:

AARP Foundation has announced a relief fund for listeners who want to help the victims – especially those age 50 and older – in the Florence-affected regions of the Carolinas.

According to Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson:

Lisa Marsh Ryerson:

Natural disasters like Hurricane Florence intensify the struggles that low-income older adults are already experiencing. And experience each and every day. As we know, it will be days before the waters recede and we can truly assess the damages to homes and communities in the area of Hurricane Florence. When that time comes, every donated dollar will make a difference for recovery in those communities. And I’m thanking all of our donors, including many, many AARP members, in advance for your generous donations to our disaster relief fund for Hurricane Florence. I want you to know that all donations – 100 percent – will provide relief and support for organizations who are meeting the needs for disaster victims on the ground.

Bob Edwards:

AARP Foundation and AARP will match contributions, dollar for dollar, up to half million dollars. 

100 percent of donations go directly to organizations to meet the needs of hurricane and flood victims. 

Be sure to check out other reputable relief organizations. And you can give by going to AARP Foundation dot org slash Hurricane Relief.

Bob Edwards:

For more, visit AARP dot org slash podcast.

Become a subscriber, and be sure to rate our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast apps.

Thanks for listening.  I’m Bob Edwards.

 

On this week’s episode of An AARP Take on Today, Bob Edwards chats with Maria Elena Salinas who reported on Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico. This spring, she and AARP teamed up to return to the island and hear from residents about the recovery.

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