The closing scene of the “Parts Unknown” episode featured singer Tito Augur and his band, Fiel a la Vega singing “Salimos de Aquí” (We Come From Here). At a dinner party with the band, Auger and Anthony Bourdain discuss politics, the financial crisis, and providing inspiration through music. Following the hurricane, Auger touches on the slow relief response, the incredible amount of debris to be cleared, and slowly returning to what he does best—making music.
The band has started playing again. Slowly, opportunities are starting to crop up again. Hurricane Maria couldn’t hold Fiel a la Vega back.
Alfonso “Tito” Auger is a beloved singer-songwriter and founding member of the popular Puerto Rican band Fiel a la Vega, a rock group that has been popular in the local scene for more than 20 years. “The material that we like to work on, it’s about the situations and the situation that happens here in Puerto Rico,” says Auger. “We are very locally oriented in terms of what we write about. That’s what we do. We touch on politics a lot, we talk about the political situation that we have.”
Two days after the hurricane passed, Auger traveled to Orocovis to check on his mother. Located in the mountainous heart of the island, Orocovis was one of the island’s most affected towns. Auger was relieved to find that his mother was fine after the hurricane. But on this trip he began to comprehend the magnitude of the destruction, seeing the downed trees, the blocked roads, and the damage to homes. Still, he says, “We are dealing with it; life goes on.”
Auger considers himself fortunate that he didn’t lose his home, unlike many Puerto Ricans. “When I got to the house, I still had the roof, which was a wood roof. I thought it was gonna be gone, and it’s still there,” he says. “I don’t consider myself as somebody that lost a lot. I guess I am one of the lucky ones. I’m just thinking that I can’t complain. … [Some] people lost everything.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Auger doesn’t have strong opinions about the recovery efforts. “We don’t know for real what’s going on. We’ve been told six months, nine months, a year to get electricity back, which is the most basic, fundamental thing that we need right now to get everything else going and running.” Auger cites similarities to other mishandled tragedies, like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. “We don’t understand why during the first two weeks, things didn’t move faster. We feel like there’s a lot of bureaucracy going on behind the scenes.”
Auger has spent much of the past month cleaning and dealing with heavy debris and tree removal, and, he says, “We are able and willing to keep doing stuff like this for as long as it takes.”
Slowly, life is starting to return to normal. Fiel a la Vega has played a couple of shows at refugee centers and played a concert on the island of Vieques. “We went to Vieques, which I have a really, really special relationship with. … We’re doing whatever it is that we do, just going over there, making some music, helping a little bit to get your mind out of the problems for a little bit—that helps us, and it helps the people.” They have a few shows booked in mainland U.S. in November, some of which are hurricane-relief benefits.
Auger is not optimistic about leadership in Puerto Rico. He feels it must be stronger: “We need a leadership that defends this country, that defends our people. The people feel defenseless right now, you know? I stay in Puerto Rico because I love this country and I’ll die for it … but the scenario is not looking good.”
Change, Auger feels, is necessary in the coming months and years. “When we sit to negotiate our future with our debt and everything, we’re gonna have to be a lot stronger than we have been so far.”
He adds that Puerto Ricans will, at the end of the day, decide whether to “push for our own country, the one that we always had … but that’s never been ours.”