As we start to regroup, a month after Hurricane Maria, it is my greatest desire that all of you, and your families are in good health, and that you find yourselves with the progressive and optimistic mindset that will carry us all through the long road to recovery which lies ahead.
I must admit that this disaster took a heavy emotional toll on me. Four days had passed since Hurricane Maria had made landfall in Puerto Rico, when I landed in the Island returning from a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. Those peaceful afternoons would not prepare me for what I was to witness from my plane window, and later the streets.
At that moment it felt like the best thing to do to maintain sanity was to keep busy, “clean up + help out” became the formula. Miramar Elderly Housing, in San Juan had asked for help, and I was determined to make myself useful.
I gathered friends and relatives, and soon what started out with a garden rake, and an afternoon clearing leaves and debris, turned into hundreds of hot meals being cooked daily in my home kitchen, for elders as well as the homeless at Hogar El Buen Pastor in Puerta de Tierra.
We all came together in this daily operation of love for our community. We took our initiatives to the most remote areas in Orocovis, and forgotten barrios in Rincón, with a positive spirit and a thankful heart. Friends in the mainland chipped in on the effort, and new friendships were born here in the Island.
If I am willing to admit to an emotional sense of tiredness, it is mostly because of the stories that I have heard, and the damage I’ve witnessed outside the Metropolitan Area. The exhaustion millions of our neighbors must feel as every day is the same, and difficulty mounts up, to me is unimaginable.
La Tigre was founded on principles of high quality in customer service, as well as product. It was always my dream to create an environment in which caring (for our image, for those who make our clothes, our family and friends, and for the society we are a part of) would be paramount. Throughout the time La Tigre has been in business, we have confronted the question of whether our customers will value quality similarly on many occasions. We have personally confronted those who question our values, as it relates to the price of the fine goods we passionately offer. And I am satisfied to say that the result has been an ever-growing network of people who, through their continued loyalty are happy to say, “I share these values, and I too value quality”.
Which brings me to this conclusion: understandably things have changed, and we are now beginning to embrace a new normal. Priorities have shifted, and in the depths of the crisis that surrounds us, we have all been forced to question ourselves what we are made of, what is it that truly matters, what is it that makes us happiest, and what is the foundation in which we are building our destinies.
As much as I was moved by a sense of accomplishment when La Tigre opened, and I finally had a platform in which to profess these values, the style and the story that I greatly enjoy; that lacked in emotion when compared to the simplicity of a child in Aguada, thankful because he had not had a banana in weeks, and I had brought some.
Emerging better and stronger from this crisis will require practicing that quest for quality from all of us. It will require less superficiality and more action; lending a pair of helping hands, taking the extra meeting, and advocating for that stable foundation we all need to thrive, while leading efforts that will empower those who are less fortunate, but who carry lion hearts and enviable humility. In short, we will all have to sacrifice convenience, and look at our weaknesses, when we used to look the other way.
We have grown accustomed to a society where we are pinned against one another, skeptical of our neighbors and explicitly questioning ulterior motives. People seem not only unhappy with their freedom not to take part on fresh endeavor, but they also go on social media and rain on new businesses’ parade as if for sport.
Nelson Mandela said that “you can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. And the most important weapon in changing yourself is to recognize…If you are humble, if you make people recognize you are not a threat to them, they will embrace you. And that creates peace.”
If Hurricane Maria has led to social soul-searching, but we reemerge as chauvinistic and superficial as we were before, then that’s on us, not on nature. But if we take the time to reflect, to visualize our communities, to call out our nonconstructive friends, engage in positive interactions, be of service without retribution beyond gratitude, and turn optimism into small actions; we will have won.
So far, this aftermath has given us beautiful experiences, and golden opportunities. It has put us in a place where it doesn’t take much to make a difference. It has brought strangers together in a common goal, from cleanup to rescue. No tear of joy is ever sweeter than that cried quietly, out of humility. And no human sensation can be more beautiful than grace.
As for La Tigre, we are not going anywhere far, but we will re-emerge smarter and more beautiful. I will very soon follow up on this reflection with an announcement. In the meantime, please share your thoughts with us, and let us know how you’re doing; take part in a group, organization or initiative aimed at helping disadvantaged communities, and tell your friends how much you value quality, your people, local businesses, style and La Tigre Uomo.
Best of luck,
Photo credit: Volunteer, Yarimar Jimenez