From September 15 through October 15, we acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating equity champions in the Hispanic agricultural community. One of these champions is David Josué Carrasquillo-Medrano, a member of USDA Equity Commission’s Rural Community Economic Development (RCED) Subcommittee. As Executive Director of ¡Planifiquemos! in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carrasquillo-Medrano has spent years advancing equity and building community infrastructure in Puerto Rico. He has devoted his career to ensuring that underrepresented communities receive equal access to resources and opportunities.
“As a Puerto Rican and representative from a non-incorporated territory, I bring a unique perspective to USDA’s equity programs highlighting the burden that comes with being an underrepresented voice in a system that has historically perpetuated disparities and inappropriate practices,” he says.
Carrasquillo-Medrano has fought for big changes in federal programs. He has advocated for a more inclusive and culturally sensitive approach to programs and urges consideration of the diverse agricultural practices and foodways of all communities, regardless of their location or demographic makeup. Puerto Rico is highly dependent on imported food, yet the island sits at the bottom of the food supply chain, causing its citizens to suffer negative nutritional impact, including delayed access to fresh products. Puerto Rican communities have faced long-term, chronic challenges in accessing food and nutrition resources, including Puerto Rico’s limited Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and higher food costs due to the Jones Act.
“The current federal subsidy scheme neglects to account for the unique food culture of Puerto Rico, other territories, and even minorities within these territories,” says Carrasquillo-Medrano. “While efforts are being made to remedy this, exclusion still exists for farmers and producers in these regions, as well as a disregard for the nutritional needs and preferences of the local population, many of whom do not adhere to strictly white-centric diets.”
Carrasquillo-Medrano is committed to developing recommendations that ensure equitable access to USDA programs and services.
“As an active participant of Equity Commission Subcommittee conversations, I focus on learning as much as possible so I can work closely with communities to guide them in better understanding their options and how to successfully apply for funding and resources,” he says.
September is also National Preparedness Month, which hits close to home for Carrasquillo-Medrano given the significant natural disasters Puerto Rico has experienced in recent years. He reflects on his dedication to preventing gentrification and displacement while ensuring that rural and low-income communities have the resources and support they need to thrive during extreme weather events. Carrasquillo-Medrano says, “Watching several communities in Puerto Rico disappear brick by brick in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, I saw firsthand—and am still seeing—how profit-driven infrastructure development can erase the very people it was meant to serve. No community deserves that.”
For Carrasquillo-Medrano, the biggest obstacles for many underserved communities include the lack of knowledge in how to improve their livelihoods, lack of help from external stakeholders in making such updates, and lack of awareness on where to go for resources.
“One of my biggest rewards in the agriculture space is being able to guide communities through necessary conversations and helping them navigate the complexities of bureaucracy,” he says. “For community planners, or anyone trying to make a better world in general, I would say learn to say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’, see the world beyond your horizons, and be able to listen. Overall, it’s important to understand who needs what change in order to design it.”
Carrasquillo-Medrano is determined to not let his time on the Rural Community Economic Development subcommittee go to waste.
“This may be the first time a Puerto Rican voice is heard in an institutional space designed to tackle systemic inequities. I feel this as a personal responsibility to immerse myself in the process and fight for justice so that when I return home after each meeting, I can say with a straight face ‘I did my best’,” Carrasquillo-Medrano asserts. “I’m also grateful to the USDA officials, staff, and fellow members for acknowledging and validating my perspective. It has relieved some of the burden I carry.”
For more on the Equity Commission, visit www.usda.gov/equity-commission.