It has been approximately three years since category 5 Hurricane María decimated Puerto Rico in September 2017. Since this natural disaster—exacerbated by the climate emergency of the Anthropocene era—and the humanmade national disaster of failed government relief efforts, I have committed my academic studies to collecting, disseminating, and working to understand narrative transactions between witness-survivors and those I name reading witnesses, although this term is meant to acknowledge reading as a multimodal activity. This special issue of Kairos offers a unique space to begin reflecting upon the functionality of sound in disaster narratives and the potential benefits they hold for facilitating narrative transactions.

While I have discussed elsewhere narrative transactions in disaster studies as a mode of instigating response and relief efforts for individuals and communities impacted by catastrophe, this particular audio essay focuses upon the ways in which sound triggers connectivity between narrators and reading witnesses. This essay touches upon three examples of sound in/as disaster narrative as a means of opening this conversation: an earthquake alert interrupting a meeting, background noise at an oral history interview, and the roar of a caserolazo at the July protests in San Juan. Together, these three cases position sound as an auditory bridge between internal and external communities that creates connectivity to experiences of disaster, engagement that can potentially create social change.

L to R: Blue Roofs in Hato Rey by Eric Purcell (2017); destruction in Guanica after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, Getty Images (2020); and, protesters demonstrating against Governor Ricky Rossello in Viejo San Juan, photo by Joe Raedle (2019). 

The people of Puerto Rico have been largely barred from participating in the national narratives and media stories scripted in the aftermaths of Maria. It is imperative that we learn to listen to frontline communities who are simultaneously battling both the climate crisis and systemic marginalization borne of generations of colonization. Critical listening, however, may need to include sounds beyond words. This essay is an initial reflection on these ideas as they pertain to the ongoing communal trauma of Puerto Rico.