Our friend Wowlebrity and photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel just returned from Puerto Rico with some amazing pics of the island’s beauty amid the devastation as well as some gay nightlife in Old San Juan. The queens are not letting Trump‘s response keep them down for long. I caught up with Ruben to find out how these images came about.
Trey: So, how long did you stay this last trip?
Ruben: Almost 20days.
Trey: Wow. So you shot the exteriors during the day and then went out and shot at night?
Ruben: Well, I was there to cover the disaster aspect of it mostly but, one night in the Old San Juan, was curious of how the LGBTQ community was coping with all this and googled gay bars and there was one right around the corner from my hotel called Polo Norte. It is a beautiful bar with a storefront over 200 years old and was a former perfume factory and store.
I went in early and was told to show back at midnight because, there will be a cabaret drag show. Went back and was packed and was very sleek, elegant quite entertaining . I never go out anymore but, there was my answer about the LGBTQ community in PR. Resilence and the show must go on!
Trey: So, that was the attitude? Was it different in the day when you talked to people. Does everyone feel forgotten by the mainland U.S. or do they just blame Trump?
Ruben: Everyone was resentful and even in the show jokes were made about 45. But, the sense of community was there and gave me a sincere bout of hope. I needed that myself after witnessing, documenting, talking to victims and living through it myself as my family was directly affected by the Hurricane catastrophe.
One thing that most people don’t know is that most of the homes and business which were not physically affected the water damage was pretty serious. Water cane in gushing through the windows, ceilings and even underneath the doors, even on high rise apts. Winds reached 225 miles per hour!
We’ve seen pictures and yours are beautiful/horrific but to see it in person must be devastating considering you knew the island as it was intact.
Trey: Gotta love those queens putting on a show. Your wig gets blown off –get a new one and keep going!
Trey: Is there anything we can do to help? I mean the average person, what do you think we should be doing? It seems like such a long road back…
Ruben: I think we need to promote tourism back to the Island. Tourism is one of the biggest industries there. I met the owner of Polo Norte and he is truly committed to help the island rise again. Getting the word out there of renewal and hope is very important. You know a lot of progress, rebuild and renewal comes first and most always from the LGBTQ community , so by witnessing this, it gave me a real sign of hope and faith.
Trey: I agree. But when do you think people can and will start going back. People need to feel like they can take a vacation there and not worry it’s too soon.
Ruben: People are already coming back. There were some areas ( like Old San Juan) , some homes and business that , were untouched and braved Hurricane Maria fury. All the most tourists destinations had been renovated or are being restored aggressively to meet the tourism demands. I stayed in hotels and they had most amenities functioning. But, more than everything we are know for great hospitality skills and that alone will place us back on the map again.
Trey: That’s encouraging to hear. The media keeps reporting that 50% are still without power, etc. Good to get the word out for a PR vacation. Just taking pics like you have helps a lot, I think. Thanks for going and sharing your work, Ruben!
You can follow Ruben here on Instagram.
(Photos, Ruben Natal-San Miguel)