Jonathan Reyes-Colon, a student at the University at Buffalo School of Law, is already in Puerto Rico helping prepare for the arrival of his classmates who will be providing legal services under the auspices of a practicing attorney. Here are his reflections on the legal clinic and his experience since Hurricane Maria:
“Leaving Puerto Rico to study law in Buffalo meant beginning a new, entirely different life away from home. So far, that has meant being part of two entirely different worlds, separated by many miles, with a different culture, a different way of thinking and of doing things. The two worlds didn’t really overlap in any significant way. Whenever I visit my parents, I would tell them about my experience in Buffalo so far, and to some extent, my friends in law school know about my life back home. However, there was never truly an occasion or any reason where the two worlds came together.
In that sense, when Maria hit Puerto Rico, I naturally felt alone. I had no communication with my family. Desperate and worried, I could only rely on local media in New York to hear what was going on back home in Puerto Rico. After a few weeks, I finally got a call from my mother and as soon as we spoke, I could tell right away that this hurricane had been something else, something entirely different than the hurricanes I lived through growing up as a child. Right away, I felt in my heart that I would return for the holidays to be with my loved ones. I must have purchased my tickets the day after I spoke with my mom. I was sad at the reality my family was facing, worried about what I would find and see when I got back home, but I knew that out of the two worlds that make up my life, I had to be there at the moment.
I was back home when I found out about the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic. I had been so worried and focused on what was happening with my family, I hadn’t noticed that professor Connolly had come up with this wonderful endeavor. A few calls later and I was on board!
Since I joined, my feelings and my state of mind has gone from despair and sadness to a sense of hope and purpose. I have met wonderful people who have looked at my country as I look at it, with the same kindness, the same heart, the same willingness not only to help but to tell the world about who we are, Puerto Ricans. I feel incredibly grateful and blessed to be part of this group of talented individuals, and equally grateful to those at my law school, the law school I chose many miles away from home, who were moved and felt in their heart that this was the right thing to do. I am hopeful and, in some ways, anxious about the prospects of what this could mean for both my country and for my law school. I think this could be the beginning of a wonderful, long-lasting relationship between the two worlds that make up who I am; two worlds that are suddenly not so far apart anymore.”