San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz says her career is haunted as much by those she feels she failed as it is soothed by those she helped to save.
“We did all we could, but we could have done more,” she said, in a powerful, at times tearful speech recalling the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Maria last year. “Forever, I would know that because I stopped to eat, somebody died. Because I wasn’t able to get there faster, somebody died.”
Honored by the student-led Phillips Brooks House Association, Cruz was the 12th honoree of the Robert Coles “Call of Service” award. Coles ’46, a civil rights activist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and retired Harvard professor, sat in the front row of Memorial Church Friday night to hear Cruz talk about how her “brothers and sisters” were attacked, “not by the storm but by an administration not up to the task.”
“They killed us with neglect,” she said, citing the 2,975 people who lost their lives following the storm due to what critics say was the government’s delayed response. “We will never be able to close that wound of grief.”
Speaking to a packed crowd, Cruz talked about her unlikely path, as the dyslexic great-granddaughter of a sugar cane farm worker, to the San Juan mayor’s office. She said she was “humbled” by the award.
“We all share the common thread of humanity. The tapestry of democracy will only be perfect and complete with each one of the threads. If one of those threads is missing or gets pulled out because we think it’s different or we don’t like it, we will forever leave a mark,” she said.