Media coverage of the recent hurricanes reminded us that inhabitants in the United States Virgin Islands are our fellow citizens. I went to the Internet to brush up on history and geography —I think I fell asleep in school classes or maybe I just forgot. But, I came across the Virgin Island Daily News (virginislandsdailynews.com) and purchased a subscription for more information and to help out my American islander newspaper.
The United States Virgin Islands experienced degrees of devastation from hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Located in the Caribbean Sea and 40 miles east of Puerto Rico, these islands are a tourist destination referred to as “Islands of Paradise.”
It can be confusing, but two countries have control over different land masses called Virgin Islands. The United States Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, and several minor islands and The British Virgin Islands consist of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA (www.fema.gov) approved more than $2.5 million in federal disaster assistance due to hurricane damage for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Why? Because Denmark and the U.S. signed treaties on March 31, 1917 and control of the Virgin Islands was transferred to the United States. U.S. citizens can travel to the islands without a passport.
Why did the North America government buy these islands? The U.S. purchased the Virgin Island to protect access to the Panama Canal during World War I and military bases were built on the islands during World War II. The U.S. paid $25 million for the island real estate.
What is the history prior to U.S. control? These islands had a history of colonialism and slavery under Danish rule which began in 1672 when they captured and brought slaves from Africa. Slavery ended on these islands in 1848.
What happened after U.S. ownership? The islanders pay federal income tax and property tax and employers deduct social security, income tax from employee checks, and Medicare. Currency is the U.S. dollar. The official language is English. Although the U.S. granted citizenship to the islanders in 1927, the residents are not allowed to vote in U.S. presidential elections because they are not a state of the United States.
Virgin Islanders have cultural identities ranging from Afro-Euro-Caribbean to assimilation into some of American customs and traditions. Immigrants from other Caribbean islands arrived along with people from the U.S. mainland. In 2010 the population on the islands combined numbered 106,405 according to World Population Review. The populace is 76 percent Black or African American and 16 percent White.
What now? With financial assistance and support from the U.S. the islanders will rebuild just like the people of Puerto Rico. Visit www.fema.gov/disasters and peruse the 2017 disasters of the U.S. and the Major Disaster Declarations and Emergency Declarations. It does boggle the mind and provoke emotions.
Have you experienced a natural disaster in Ohio? My grandparents talked about the 1937 Ohio River Flood in Portsmouth, Ohio and my parents talked about the 1974 Xenia Tornado. The Ice Storm of 2003 was brutal in Ohio and vicious in Southern Ohio. I remember the Blizzard of 1978 in Scioto County because schools were closed for around a month or more. The Flood of 1913 is recognized as the greatest natural disaster in Ohio history.
In 2005 we watched TV coverage helplessly during Hurricane Katrina in the U.S Gulf States. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami is the deadliest tsunami in recorded history and media viewers watched in shock and horror as people were swept away. According to the Weather Channel “The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season will long be remembered as one of the busiest and most destructive hurricane seasons on record.”
How can we help others after a natural disaster in other countries? The organization I donate to is the American Red Cross. I’m sure there are other reputable associations and groups, but donators need to be aware of scams and do the research before you give. Due to family, jobs, health concerns, and other factors, many of us cannot travel to the disaster areas to help, but local churches and other organizations seek out helpers to box items to send. And people of faith can pray for the islanders. According to the American Cross website, after Irma and Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands, more than 79,400 meals and snacks were provided along with relief items and gave 3,9000 mental health and health services to people in need. Pray for the Red Cross workers, too.
Disasters are mass traumatic events that involve many people and loss. Trauma results from natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes or hurricanes, tsunamis, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, or landslides. The mental health impact of natural disasters can show up immediately and the individuals would be diagnosed with acute stress disorder, but some symptoms show up over time and can lead to a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder. Americans who have vacationed in the U.S. Virgin Islands may experience an intense reaction. Being in close proximity to victims of a disaster can cause secondary trauma.
How you taken inventory for any biased or prejudiced thoughts or feelings about the islanders who are different in culture, nationality and skin color? It is my goal to embrace multiculturalism and diversity; to role model pluralism and peacefulness; to seek justice and give mercy; to practice humility and kindness; to give acceptance and empathy; to show compassion and love; to begin each day with gratitude and to take inventory at the end of each day. But, I too, am a member of flawed humanity being susceptible to the I-me-my-mine mentality and the God-bless-us-four-and-no-more attitude.
You are me and I am you. We are us. We are them. Listen to our hearts beat with a stethoscope. Study our anatomy, our physiology, our body. We are a combination of one egg and one sperm. We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Birth and death are experienced by us all. Cut into our veins and see our red blood. Dissect our brains and what do you find? Humanity. As Shylock, the Jew, proclaimed to Bassanio in the Shakespearean play Merchant of Venice, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
I want my children to grow up safe and secure and so do you. I want bacteria-free drinking water, pest-free shelter, and nutritious food sources and so do you. I want to worship the deity of my choice and so do you. I want love and to be loved and so do you. I want purpose and meaning in my life and so do you. I want to have choices and options and so do you. I want freewill and personal power over my own life and so do you.
I want a life free of inhuman treatment, violence, war, poverty and so do you.
In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and proclaimed, “Whereas recognition’s of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.” Amen.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.