One year after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans reckon with their identity as Americans

Watch the new CBSN Originals documentary, "Puerto Rico: The Exodus After Hurricane Maria," here.


One year ago, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. A recent study from George Washington University estimates nearly 3,000 deaths are linked to the hurricane.

CBS News' David Begnaud was in Puerto Rico when the deadly Category 4 hurricane made landfall. For the past year, he's been following recovery efforts and recently returned to the island for a new CBSN documentary about the disaster. Begnaud says despite all the reporting he did last fall, it still wasn't enough to convey how bad things were.

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States and so its residents are American citizens, meaning they can relocate without any restrictions. It's estimated that nearly half of the people who have left so far are under 24 years old – a demographic that is the lifeblood of any labor force.

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Migdalia Luz Barens  

CBS News

Despite that alarming trend, Begnaud met with a group of inspiring young professionals and artists who believe that right now may be Puerto Rico's best chance to reshape this island for the better.

"We have gotten stronger. If anyone had a doubt, any doubt, that Puerto Ricans are struggling on their own. This is a country that has been fighting for its freedom forever. It's unveiled that, you know, that truth," Migdalia Luz Barens said.
 
"Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, so you can't separate that. It's part of, you were born in a colonized country. In the context of Maria, it's about realizing that you're on your own. That your government won't do the work. The country that has colonized your country won't do the work," Luz Barens said when asked what it means to be Puerto Rican.

It was a resounding yes when Begnaud asked the group if they'd prefer Puerto Rico be an independent country.

"A lot of people contributed money towards Puerto Rico and its recovery. Where's the money? When we still have people without power or potable water for that matter?" Mariangel Gonzales said.

Those Puerto Ricans are staying, but there are a lot of people who are leaving because it's just too difficult. Begnaud said he's never experienced an endless emergency like the one Maria left behind, though things are now in a recovery phase.