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Post-Hurricane Help Slow To Arrive In 'Despacito' Neighborhood


The song of the summer connected its fans to an oceanside barrio that borders the city walls of Old San Juan. And now the people in this part of Puerto Rico are asking for help. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: I'm standing on the edge of La Perla, a neighborhood where you used to only be able to come into if you had protection or you knew somebody in the gangs. Somebody has put up plywood boards and written on it, SOS. We need water. We need everything. La Perla. And it says (speaking Spanish). Don't abandon us. Despacito.


LUIS FONSI AND DADDY YANKEE: (Singing in Spanish).

DEL BARCO: The music video for this summer's hit reggaeton song "Despacito" was filmed right here in La Perla.

CARMEN LOURDES LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Carmen Lourdes Lopez points to the street corner where Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee sang surrounded by neighborhood kids. Here they played dominoes and there sultry former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera sauntered around. The video has nearly 4 billion online views, and over the summer Lourdes was giving "Despacito" tours to curious tourists.

YENTIL RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "La Perla has had a bad rap as a haven for drug dealers and crime," says 26-year-old Yentil Ramirez.

But with "Despacito," there were great hopes that this long-neglected barrio might turn a corner. Then the hurricanes hit - first Irma, then Maria. A few of the homes collapsed completely, and some people are now sleeping in the ruins.

LOURDES LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "We feel forgotten," says Lourdes.

So far help has been piecemeal.




DEL BARCO: Yesterday, Robbie Alomar, a baseball Hall of Famer who grew up in Puerto Rico, rolled through handing out water bottles, canned food and T-shirts.

ROBBIE ALOMAR: I just want to bring joy back to the people here.

DEL BARCO: San Juan's mayor was here one night handing out small solar-powered lamps. A few Baltimore police officers and a kindly neighbor from the National Park Service brought some water.


DEL BARCO: Helicopters and planes roar overhead, presumably carrying supplies, but people in La Perla don't know when or if they'll receive them. They've been cleaning up the debris themselves. Angela Magana is a UFC fighter who lives in La Perla with her boyfriend and their three children.

ANGELA MAGANA: Demolished, devastated. My neighbor lost his house. They've been sleeping - some of them have been sleeping on my couch. We need these houses rebuilt. These people are living in my living room because they have no shelter.

DEL BARCO: Magana had planned to open a boxing gym for La Perla. She's now raising money to help her neighbors.

So President Trump is coming here on Tuesday to...

MAGANA: Oh, really? I had no idea. We're cut off. We have no communications. He's coming here to Puerto Rico? And what is he trying to say, do?

DEL BARCO: Magana says she doesn't trust Trump. And she worries that instead of rebuilding, La Perla might get turned into luxurious beachfront property. People here are still waiting to find out what's next for them.

GABI LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "Help is coming little by little," says Gabi Lopez, who's lived here all his life. Despacito - slowly. That could just be the theme song for this hurricane disaster relief. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


FONSI AND DADDY YANKEE: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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