Carmen Yulín Cruz

by Benicio Del Toro
Christopher Gregory

In September 2017, just over 100 years since every Puerto Rican became an American citizen, Hurricane Maria destroyed most of the island, killing more than 1,000 people and leaving thousands without shelter, food, water and power.

The federal help that arrived was not prepared to meet the magnitude of the emergency. The problems of the people on the island quickly became, in many cases, a matter of life and death. On an island where 3.4 million American citizens live without the right to vote for their President and without representation in the U.S. Congress, it seemed impossible to reach the ears of the decisionmakers in Washington, D.C.

From the chaos, delays and indecision, a shout for help was heard. The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, became the voice of the disenfranchised citizens. She was passionate, courageous and articulate. And little by little, her words got the crisis the attention it desperately needs, just as if it were happening in Florida or Texas.

Cruz’s legacy will be marked by her uncompromising refusal to let anyone ignore the lives of those affected by the hurricane. For this we are forever grateful.

Del Toro, who was born in Puerto Rico, is an Oscar-winning actor

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.