Luis Fonsi on the Devastation in Puerto Rico: 'This Will Take Years to Rebuild'

Luis Fonsi
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

Fonsi sang in front of American and Puerto Rican flags in Hollywood, Fla., on Sept. 22, two days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

"Despacito" singer-songwriter Luis Fonsi, Puerto Rico's official ambassador for tourism, was in the midst of his first major U.S. tour when Hurricane Maria devastated the island that was celebrated in the megahit's music video. Since then, Fonsi has had to balance performing and helping, as have other Puerto Rican stars. Daddy Yankee, Fonsi's "Despacito" collaborator, has been spearheading multiple fund and need drives for the island, while Marc Anthony's Somos Una Voz (We Are One Voice) campaign brings together Latin and non-Latin stars who want to help. Here, Fonsi speaks on Sept. 26, prior to his New York show, and just as the first lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rossell√≥, announced a concert/telethon on Oct. 22 to raise funds through her Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico) initiative.

I'm in the middle of my most successful tour, and here I am trying to put on my best face before going onstage knowing that the world is upside down. It wasn't until yesterday [Sept. 25] that I got in contact with most of my family members. My sound guy was able to speak with his daughter literally only an hour ago. It breaks my heart.

There are a lot of beautiful things happening, and all people want to do is help and reconstruct Puerto Rico in the best way they can. I'm trying to organize many different events. I'm focused on "What do we do now?" and how to use all the contacts we have to help get medicine, water and generators there in addition to donating. People have no energy, no gas.

So I'm flying down there. I'm working directly with the first lady of Puerto Rico through her [initiative and its website]; that's where I've made my donations. And I will personally go there with goods and with a check between the U.S. and Chile legs of my tour.

This will take years to rebuild. I want to make sure the help is constant and that it's not going to stop once the buzz is gone. I have a deep connection with La Perla [the neighborhood where the "Despacito" video was filmed]. It gave so much color and energy to this music video, which has been so important and has such deep connections to the song. And it's completely destroyed. We were already working with La Perla to try and fix so much that needed to be fixed. We were working on making a music room, and I wanted to donate a bunch of musical instruments this Christmas. And now, forget the music room -- we literally have to start laying the first bricks again.

And of course we can't forget [the Sept. 19 earthquake in] Mexico. As Latins, we're going through deep trials. There is a "No Me Doy por Vencido" feeling. [The song, whose title translates to "I Won't Give Up," was Fonsi's biggest hit before "Despacito."] At my first show after Maria, it was tough to go onstage. I felt I was disrespecting Puerto Rico by performing. But when I sang "No Me Doy por Vencido" -- the song is all about hope -- and I saw so many Puerto Rican flags, it became that moment in the show where I could at least defuse the situation. That's what music does: Music unites. Now we put the Puerto Rican and Mexican flags on the stage, and it's my way of saying, "We're all here, we're all united, we're all Latinos." -- As told to Leila Cobo

A version of this article originally appeared in the Oct. 7 issue of Billboard.


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