Courtesy of Salvador Gómez-Colón

At an Oct. 15 event at the Yale Bookstore, Salvador Gómez-Colón ’25 spoke about his book “Hurricane: My Story of Resilience,” about his experience living through Hurricane Maria.

Gómez-Colón is a Puerto Rican student, activist and public speaker known for founding Light and Hope for Puerto Rico — a crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly $200,000 for 3,500 families struggling in the wreckage of Hurricane Maria. Gómez-Colón started Light and Hope for Puerto Rico in response to the feelings of hopelessness and vulnerability he experienced in the wake of the hurricane. His book seeks to inspire “vulnerability and perseverance” in middle-grade readers. It is part of the “I, Witness” narrative nonfiction book series from McSweeney’s W.W. Norton publishing company. 

“All of us have a few events that changed the way our life was going, that changed our mindset,” Gómez-Colón said. “Hurricane Maria was that for me.” 

Gómez-Colón said the inspiration for his crowdfunding organization came from an understanding that Puerto Rico had an urgent need for “attention of all sorts.” His experience seeing people wearing mud-soiled clothing in public was especially impactful.

“Clean clothes represented not just a commodity, but a public health issue,” Gómez-Colón said. 

Since the hurricane caused the second longest electrical 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 — both of which do not require electricity to operate — to communities around the island. 

Gómez-Colón said his experience taught him about the importance of not holding back when addressing issues important to him, engaging community stakeholders in advocacy work and ensuring that advocacy efforts outlast the individual who started them. He also learned individual lessons about recognizing his own limits and balancing his private life with his public one. 

“It gets draining,” Gómez-Colón said during the event about continuously advocating for a cause. “Your motivation to do something based on your purpose wanes. You can either acknowledge that, or burn out.”

“Hurricane: My Story of Resilience” is a narrative of Gómez-Colón’s life and experience in advocacy work. “The story covers my hard experience living through the Hurricane and the nitty gritty process of creating my initiative,” Gómez-Colón said. 

The novel is a part of the “I, Witness” series from W.W. Norton, a first-person narrative nonfiction book series aimed at readers ages nine to 12 and written by youth activists from the writing program at the International Congress of Youth Voices — which gathers teen activists for summits meant to “amplify their ideas and energy.” It was co-founded by bestselling author Dave Eggers and Amanda Uhle, publisher and executive director at McSweeney’s. W.W. Norton, a publishing company that recruits authors directly — a practice which is unusual in the industry. 

“This all started very secretively,” Gómez-Colón said. “Amanda Uhle reached out to me, asking for some audio recordings of me sharing my story in February 2020. By May, they shared with me that Norton wanted to publish a novel of my story.”

A large part of the writing process involved refining the word-choice and narrative style of the novel so that it would be appropriate for nine to 12 year old readers. But this editing process ended up pushing Gómez-Colón to view his own advocacy in new ways and process some especially difficult and meaningful moments, he said. 

“It made me think of intentionality,” Gómez-Colón said. “How can my story and the work I led thereafter inspire other young people to take action to see their hardships as fuel to move forward?” 

Uhle, who has become a mentor to Gómez-Colón, told the News that “[W.W. Norton was] seeking out the most extraordinary youth activists in the world, young people who have dedicated their young lives to making the world better.”

“Salvador is one of these people,” she added. 

Gómez-Colón’s story struck Uhle as incredibly moving. In her mission to inspire young people to respond positively to adversity, she asked Salvador to share his story with the world. 

“The series came from the idea that the young people around us are seeing the world in a new way.” Uhle said. “First-person accounts from young activists like Salvador communicate world 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 uncertain. 

“This is the best story I could tell for the moment,” Gómez-Colón said. Still, he didn’t rule out the possibility.

Gómez-Colón — who is pursuing studies in economics and history — currently balances his coursework at Yale with contributing op-eds for TIME, CNN Business and The Independent. 

The event was attended largely by friends of Gómez-Colón, and he greeted most attendees warmly by name. He stressed that this was a unique opportunity for those audience members to learn more about his public life in a setting that was comfortable for him.

“He doesn’t talk about [his advocacy work] much in the day to day, so it gave me interesting insight.” Gómez-Colón’s fellow Stiles resident Camden Smithtro ’22 said after the event. “It makes me appreciate what he’s been through.” 

The Yale Bookstore is located at 77 Broadway, New Haven. 

KEENAN MILLER
ALESSIA DEGRAEVE