SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – As we continue to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, a UConn professor from Puerto Rico is giving insight on the history of his Puerto Rican citizenship and how the island is handling the most recent natural disaster.

Charles Venator Santiago is an Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science. Over the years, Santiago has written reports on Displacement and Migration in the Age of Climate Change and Holyoke’s Response to Hurricane Maria, which battered the island back in 2017 leaving more than 3,000 people dead.

As the nation recognizes Hispanic heritage this month, Hispanic American Library in Springfield hosted Santiago for a free community event opening up about citizenship and the challenges the people on the island face.

“It’s a really hot topic in Congress because there is legislation discussing the potential status of Puerto Rico and the big question that comes up is if Puerto Rico becomes a sovereign nation or independent nation, whether the U.S. can strip Puerto Ricans of their citizenship,” said Santiago.

Puerto Rico is a political paradox. It’s part of the United States and its residents have citizenship but the island is lacking full political representation, and infused with its own brand of nationalism despite not being a sovereign state.

Another challenge Puerto Rico is facing is with the latest natural disaster. Hurricane Fiona, which struck the island as a Category 1 storm earlier this week, still leaves thousands without power or running water.

Santiago spoke about the problems the island is facing when it comes to getting its power grid back up and running, “There’s been a lot of money allocated for Puerto Rico but the Puerto Rican government has refused to spend the money. Especially in the electric and power element. There was $32 billion allocated to Puerto Rico and on infrastructure, Puerto Rico only spent $1 billion when they could have spent $25 billion to fix the power grid.”

Despite the challenges Puerto Rico faces, Santiago said its people are tough, and they are always ready for the next obstacle that comes their way, whether political or natural.