The Puerto Rican musician reflects on the changes he and his family have lived through after they decided to move to Florida when the Category 5 hurricane destroyed the island.
Sept. 20 stirs up a lot of emotions in Puerto Ricans.
On that date in 2017, Hurricane María caused the most devastation that the island has experienced in modern times.
This year, emotions are especially heightened as Puerto Ricans deal with the path of destruction left by Hurricane Fiona, which made landfall on the island on Sept. 18.
Inevitably, Fiona brought back memories of months without electricity and drinking water, and scarce food and work opportunities.
For those reasons, thousands of Puerto Ricans decided to leave the island in the months following María.
According to Teralytics, a New York-based tech company, 400,000 Puerto Ricans left the island between October 2017 and February 2018. Around 150,000 of them settled in Florida.
Musician, teacher, and producer Anthony Rodríguez, known artistically as Tony Toyán, and his wife Keren, were part of that immigration.
The couple was in Cabo Rojo when Hurricane María hit. Fortunately, Cabo Rojo did not suffer severe damage. However, Tony remembers he realized the level of destruction in other parts of the island, when he went to Hormigueros to check on his parents since there had been no communication from them at all.
“There are many anecdotes. Neighbors shared food, even in the wind. Despite the situation, there was a bit of humor, because despite the winds we were holding on to the stop signs and palms, bringing a flan to another, and another bringing rice to another. Puerto Ricans are like that, we help each other,” Toyán told Floricuas.
The artist and his wife decided that was the right moment to fulfill a dream he had had for a long time. As a musician, he always dreamed about living in Miami, which is known as the capital of Latin Music.
Once they arrived they were lucky to find work as music teachers in Miami.
“Thank God both of us, in our respective schools, since we arrived in Miami, we have had stable jobs. And we have to thank God for that, because not all of our Puerto Rican brothers, who have to make a change in life, start where they want or get a job that pays a living wage,” Toyán said.
The main challenge for the couple has been being far away from family.
But for Toyán, another situation that caused him frustration is having to start his music career from scratch since he was already established in Puerto Rico.
“Nobody knew me. It was very hard to have to start from scratch, but little by little, God was putting the right people in my path, and they began to give me opportunities. And it’s a matter of getting you one, and you take advantage of that one and the other, and the other,” the singer said.
Now Toyán is well known in the Puerto Rican community of South Florida. He continues to perform in Puerto Rican shows and restaurants, and he has also had the opportunity to be a music producer for events.
“My purpose is to always keep our culture alive, our roots. I always had two great pillars in music, tropical music and authentic music, obviously because of the cuatro,” the artist said.