At an event at the Yale Bookstore on Friday, October 15, Yale freshman Salvador Gómez-Colón spoke about his book “Hurricane: My Story of Resilience,” written for young readers.
Keenan Miller & Alessia Degraeve
Courtesy of Salvador Gómez-Colón
During an event held on October 15 at the Yale Bookstore, Salvador Gómez-Colón ’25 spoke about his book “Hurricane: My Story of Resilience,”About his experience with Hurricane Maria.
Gómez-Colón is a Puerto Rican student, activist and speaker known for founding Light and Hope for Puerto Rico, a crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly $ 200,000 for 3,500 families struggling with the hurricane sinking Maria. Gómez-Colón launched Light and Hope for Puerto Rico in response to feelings of hopelessness and vulnerability he experienced in the aftermath of the hurricane. Her book seeks to inspire “vulnerability and perseverance” in mid-level readers. It is part of the “I, Witness” non-fiction narrative book series by McSweeney’s WW Norton publishing house.
“We have all had a few events that changed the way our life unfolded, that changed our mindset,” said Gómez-Colón. “Hurricane Maria was that for me.”
Gómez-Colón said the inspiration for his crowdfunding organization came from the understanding that Puerto Rico was in urgent need of “attention of all kinds.” Particularly impactful was her experience of seeing people wearing mud-soiled clothes in public.
“Clean clothes were not just a commodity, but a public health issue,” Gómez-Colón said.
Since the hurricane caused the second longest blackout in history, which persisted for several months, Gomez-Colón used the funds he raised with Light and Hope for Puerto Rico to distribute hand-crank washing machines and solar-powered lanterns – which do not require electricity to function – to communities around the island.
Gómez-Colón said his experience had taught him the importance of not holding back when addressing issues of importance to him, of involving community stakeholders in advocacy work, and of ensuring that Advocacy efforts last longer than the person who initiated them. He also learned individual lessons on recognizing his own limits and balancing his private and public life.
“It is getting exhausting,” Gómez-Colón said at the event of continuing advocacy. “Your motivation to do something according to your goal decreases. You can either recognize it or exhaust yourself.
“Hurricane: my story of resilience” is an account of Gómez-Colón’s life and experience in advocacy work. “The story covers my harsh experience of crossing the hurricane and the process of creating my initiative,” said Gómez-Colón.
The novel is part of WW Norton’s “I, Witness” series, a first-person, non-fiction narrative book series aimed at readers aged 9 to 12 and written by young activists in the Writing Program of the International Congress of Youth Voices – which brings together teenage activists for summits intended to “amplify their ideas and their energy”. It was co-founded by bestselling author Dave Eggers and Amanda Uhle, editor and executive director of McSweeney’s. WW Norton, a publishing house that hires authors directly – an unusual practice in the industry.
“It all started very secretly,” said Gómez-Colón. “Amanda Uhle contacted me to ask for audio recordings of me sharing my story in February 2020. In May, they told me Norton wanted to publish a novel of my story.”
Much of the writing process involved fine-tuning the novel’s word choice and narrative style to suit readers aged nine to twelve. But that editing process ended up pushing Gómez-Colón to look at his own advocacy from a new perspective and deal with some particularly difficult and meaningful moments, he said.
“It made me think of intentionality,” said Gómez-Colón. “How can my story and the work I did afterwards inspire other young people to take action to see their difficulties as fuel to move forward? ”
Uhle, who became Gómez-Colón’s mentor, told News that “[W.W. Norton was] looking for the world’s most extraordinary young activists, young people who have dedicated their young lives to making the world a better place.
“Salvador is one of those people,” she added.
The story of Gómez-Colón seemed to Uhle incredibly moving. In her mission to inspire young people to respond positively to adversity, she asked Salvador to share her story with the world.
“The series was born from the idea that the young people around us see the world in a new way.” said Uhlé. “First-person testimonials from young activists like Salvador communicate global issues with a unique sense of immediacy and intimacy.
When asked during the event if he would write more in the future, Gómez-Colón was unsure.
“It’s the best story I can tell yet,” said Gómez-Colón. However, he did not exclude this possibility.
Gómez-Colón – who is pursuing studies in economics and history – currently balances his classes at Yale with opinion pieces for TIME, CNN Business and The Independent.
The event largely brought together friends of Gómez-Colón, and it warmly greeted most of the participants by name. He stressed that this was a unique opportunity for these spectators to learn more about his public life in a setting that was comfortable for him.
“He’s not talking about [his advocacy work] a lot day to day so this gave me some interesting insight. Camden Smithtro ’22, another resident of Stiles de Gómez-Colón, said after the event. “It makes me appreciate what he went through.”
The Yale Bookstore is located at 77 Broadway, New Haven.