Healthy Inspiration

Shelter from the storm'
Written by Chris Gerbasi

After fleeing Puerto Rico, a mother and son start a new life.

One hurricane was enough to make Sasha Guevarez think about leaving Puerto Rico. Two sealed the deal.

Hit with the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, Sasha and her 8-year-old son, Yael, fled for Clermont to move in with her godmother. They were among thousands of Puerto Ricans who migrated to Florida. The move was bittersweet, however, as Sasha’s partner and Yael’s father, Joel Grajales, stayed behind to complete mechanic’s training.

Still, the decision was easy. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico for 24 hours, Sasha says, leaving the island without power and virtually underwater. At her home in the city of Florida, water sprayed through the windows like it was pumped from a fireman’s hose, she says. Sasha mopped continuously, never sleeping, to minimize flooding inside. Outside, satellite dishes floated by and roofs blew away.

“We were scared of all the things flying around and hitting the windows,” Sasha says. “The wind was so bad that it felt like the whole house was shaking, like an earthquake, and the windows [rattled] like someone was banging on them. You felt like all the things were going to fall on you.”

The cement house survived, but the family’s belongings were ruined.

“We didn’t lose our house, but we were losing everything else—my son’s education, the power, the water,” Sasha says.

Since the move, Sasha has made a difficult transition from stay-at-home mom to breadwinner. During a typically hectic day, she takes Yael to school, works an hour as a crossing guard, cooks breakfast and lunch at Golden Corral, then returns for another hour at her crossing guard post, and picks up her son—all without a car.

Sasha, a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in fine arts and photography, also makes and sells crocheted crafts and mosaic artwork. She hopes to parlay her talents into a job as an arts teacher.

She says Yael is adjusting well but misses his father, who, in turn, is alone in Puerto Rico while working and studying full time. She expects Joel to join her in August. For now, though, after moving from one Florida to another, Clermont couldn’t look any better to Sasha.

“I don’t really want to go back,” she says. “I want to stay here and make a life for me and my son, and for my husband to come here to be a mechanic and try to start a new life.”

About the author'

Chris Gerbasi

Chris Gerbasi has been a journalist for more than 30 years, writing and copy editing for newspapers and magazines throughout Michigan and Florida, and covering everything from city hall to spring training.

Leave a Comment