Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled New York’s Hurricane Maria Memorial, which honors the victims of Hurricane Maria and stands as an international symbol of the resilience of the Puerto Rican community. The Memorial’s design, by Puerto Rico-based architect Segundo Cardona and artist Antonio Martorell, was recommended to the Governor by the Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission and completed one year after the Governor announced the winning design at the March 2020 Albany SOMOS conference. Now open to the public, the Hurricane Maria Memorial is located at the Chambers Street Overlook in Battery Park City.
“New York was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters when they needed our help the most, and we will never forget the victims who tragically lost their lives to Hurricane Maria,” Governor Cuomo said. “We committed to have a Memorial symbolizing the spirit and perseverance of the Puerto Rican people completed in one year’s time, and today we deliver on that promise. New York continues to stand with Puerto Rico, and this monument will serve as testament to that enduring partnership today, tomorrow and always.”
On the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, Governor Cuomo established the Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission to solicit designs for a memorial honoring the victims and to stand as an international symbol of the resilience of the Puerto Rican community. The Commission was tasked to search for and provide recommendations to the Governor pertaining to the site, design, and installation of the Memorial.
The Commission received 120 submissions for designs of the Memorial in Battery Park City pursuant to its search for architects issued in August 2019, and after a thorough review process, recommended to the Governor that Puerto Rico-based architect Segundo Cardona and artist Antonio Martorell design and build the Memorial.
Segundo Cardona and Antonio Martorell said, “As well as many other Puerto Ricans, we witnessed firsthand the terrible effects of Hurricane Maria. Our proposal for the creation of a memorial in New York City to remember the victims of the hurricane arose from a shared vision that one can always transform the sad memory of adverse circumstances into something positive and poetic that can bring solace to all. The poem Farewell from Welfare Island, by one of Puerto Rico’s greatest poets, Julia de Burgos, is interpreted as organic shapes of calligraphy resulting in a boisterous expression of color, letters, and shapes. Its message, both timeless and specific, is sensitive to New Yorkers and to the Puerto Rican community of any gender and age. A message intended to involve passersby, invite curiosity, provoke thought and invoke contemplation.”
The Hurricane Maria Memorial is an ascending glass spiral, evocative of a hurricane as well as a shell, which is a symbol of protection for living organisms against a hostile environment such as extreme weather. The Memorial enfolds and projects beams of bright blue, red, and orange sunlight on visitors. The spiral is topped off by the upward rotating star of the Puerto Rican flag, depicting hope rising from the devastation. The glass panels, painted by Martorell, include the poem “Farewell from Welfare Island” by one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved poets, Julia de Burgos. The poem, telling of the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people, was written by de Burgos when she was living in New York City and is the only work she ever wrote in English. Together, the piece grows from the site, organically merging art, architecture and literature.
Benches are built inside the Memorial, inviting visitors to sit and reflect. Escribed in the base of the Memorial is a dedication from the People of New York:
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, made landfall causing catastrophic damage and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. New York stood in solidarity with Puerto Rico, providing immediate relief and helping to rebuild the Island.
This Memorial honors those lost and stands as an enduring tribute to the resilience of the Puerto Rican community.
The spiral evokes a hurricane and a shell: symbols of both destruction and protection. Rising from the center with hope is the star of Puerto Rican flag. Throughout are words from Julia de Burgos’ poem Farewell from Welfare Island: “It has to come from here, right this instance, my cry into the world.”
Read more about the Hurricane Maria Memorial and listen to an audio tour here.
Segundo Cardona, FAIA, is a Puerto Rican architect and developer, whose prior work focuses on bringing the urban landscape, nature, architecture and art together to create accessible and impacting spaces.
Antonio Martorell, born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, keeps his workshop in La Playa de Ponce and has been artist-in-residence for more than 30 years at the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey. His work has been exhibited around the world. He is a member of the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española.
The Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission is overseen and coordinated by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Congressman Jose E. Serrano, SUNY Trustee and former-Assembly Member Marcos Crespo, Assembly Member Maritza Davila, and New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado.
New York is home to the largest Puerto Rican diaspora, with more than one million Puerto Ricans who are part of its fabric. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and the storms and earthquakes that hit the island in the following years, Governor Cuomo’ led a comprehensive New York response. New York sent supplies and teams of experts and volunteers to rebuild homes, assess damage, and repair the power system. New Yorkers also welcomed Puerto Ricans into their homes, with at least 11,000 Puerto Ricans evacuating to New York.
The Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins will be holding an Uptown memorial ~ Hurricane Maria Memorial Monument unveiling will be held on Saturday, June 12, 2021 at 4:00pm at Taino Towers at East 123rd Street, East Harlem, NYC.