After Maria, a young Puerto Rican forges a new path in Florida – Marketplace.org
Before the sun has risen over central Florida, Nicole Morales is inside a factory building in Orlando with thousands of workers testing out internet routers. She carpools 40 minutes to the quiet industrial complex most weekday mornings with her uncle, a supervisor there. When Morales’ shift is over, she heads across town to the outlet mall, where she sells clothes to tourists.
It is hectic. It is hard. But the 21-year-old is grateful.
“When I got here, I was three weeks without a job, so I was going crazy because I was doing nothing at the house. I was just watching TV and applying for jobs, but I didn’t have anything,” she said.
Morales had been studying at the University of Puerto Rico and working two jobs when Hurricane Maria hit. She described her city Caguas as a “tree in the winter without leaves” after the hurricane blew through it. There was no food, no clean water and no place to sleep. She and her relatives lived off crackers and water.
“I never thought in a million years that my people, you know, the people that I see every day, would have that type of necessity, you know?” she said. “I never thought in a million years that would pass.”
Like millions of other Puerto Ricans, Morales waited for relief in the weeks after the storm. Then she found out her university wouldn’t open for another year.
“I decided that I had to leave because education is really important to me. I really want to be a professional. I really want to work. I really want to be someone,” she said.
The choice was hard. Morales, an only child, didn’t want to leave her mother, who has vowed to stay in Puerto Rico. But her uncle, grandmother and dad were already in Florida living together in Kissimmee.