Brenda Flores Santiago Awarded Puerto Rico’s “Medalla de la Juventud Puertorriqueña 2021”

Voice of Witness is excited to announce that Brenda Flores Santiago, a collaborator on the VOW book Mi María: Surviving the Storm, is one of the 38 young people in Puerto Rico to receive an award from the Governor of Puerto Rico this year (Medalla de la Juventud Puertorriqueña 2021). 

The award is given to those who have had a large impact on their communities, and who have a proven commitment to serving the needs of others and the economic development of their country. 

Brenda headshot
Photo of Brenda Flores Santiago

Brenda was one of the recipients of the award through her work with Mi María, the Voice of Witness oral history project that recorded and shared the experiences of those who survived Hurricane María and its unjust aftermath in Puerto Rico. These narratives were published in a book and informed the creation of a free curriculum that can be used in classrooms to explore topics of climate disaster, colonialism, representation, economic policies, and more.

As one of the first student interviewers in the University of Puerto Rico classroom where this project originated, Brenda has played a key role in the initiative from the beginning. In the aftermath of the storm, she was instrumental in the collection of stories, and contributed to the dissemination of supplies for those who needed them on the island.

Her father’s own narrative, as recorded by Brenda, can be found in the published book, painting a picture of his work as a traveling salesman and his worries about how to get basic food and products to his clients when FEMA had blocked the ports and was seizing and ineffectively distributing supplies themselves. In the narrative, Brenda’s father expresses frustration with the inaction of his government in helping small business owners, getting supplies to rural areas, and ensuring access to vital health care.

Brenda has continued to play a large role in the project, serving as an advisor in the editing and curriculum development process, conducting outreach, and speaking at the book’s launch event. In the Mi María curriculum, Brenda notes that there is much more work to be done. The hurricane showed the cracks in the system and exacerbated economic inequalities that already existed within the context of colonialism and imposed austerity measures in Puerto Rico pre-storm. Brenda highlights this and reminds readers that:

“These are our stories of our people by our people, with no filter… These narratives showcase that even while living in a society that has tried to bury our people and their struggles, we have risen through community efforts and solidarity.”

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