Depending on what media outlets Americans engage, they might think that Puerto Rico is the only U.S. territory hit by hurricanes recently, but that's not true.
The U.S. Virgin Islands were hit twice — by Hurricanes Irma and Maria — and for the most part have been overlooked in the national disaster relief conversation, said Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands). The Category Five storms left the community without power and Internet service, preventing many stores and pharmacies from serving customers who mainly use cards to purchase essential items.
“We hear headlines about what's happening in Puerto Rico,” she told MSNBC's Joy Reid last week. “I can't tell you the low morale that the people of the Virgin Islands have right now about how the federal government and the rest of the Americans feel about them because we hear nothing — nothing about the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
“And unfortunately, some of us are beginning to think that maybe it's because the U.S. Virgin Islands is a primarily black territory that we're not hearing anything in the news,” Plaskett added. “There's no discussion about us.”
President Trump originally considered visiting the Virgin Islands but did not include a stop in the territory on his brief trip this week.
I will be going to Puerto Rico on Tuesday with Melania. Will hopefully be able to stop at the U.S. Virgin Islands (people working hard).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
After spending a well-received or much-criticized day in Puerto Rico — depending on the coverage — Trump headed to Nevada to meet with those impacted by the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history. The White House has not yet announced plans for the president to visit the Virgin Islands, but Vice President Pence stopped there this week.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) October 6, 2017
During Pence's visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp praised the Trump administration, saying the U.S. government has hurricane response and efforts to restore power and operations “down to a science.”
And while that may be true, others in the territory feel like the latest response by Washington is part of a longer pattern of disinterest in the citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a predominantly black community of 103,000 people who can't vote in presidential elections and are also represented in Congress by a delegate who cannot vote.
Sally Jewell, the interior secretary under President Barack Obama, told New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters, a former resident of the territory:
“They’re not really on the radar,” she said. “When she would try to get members of Congress to take notice of local issues in the Virgin Islands, she recalled, she would be met with incredulity: “They would say, ‘We’re here to focus on the United States.’ And I’d say, ‘They are the United States.’”
At the end of Pence's visit, Plaskett took to social media to remind Americans of that very fact. While some have moved on to other, newsier stories, she's calling on them to be mindful of the millions of Americans in the Caribbean still desperately in need of assistance even after the country's leaders return to Washington.