Minutes into touring the Mark Twain House in Hartford, the visitors came across a black-and-white photo of a young Clara Clemens, a daughter of Mark Twain. Soon, it dawned on everyone that Clara looks a lot like Milianis Rivera, a Puerto Rican evacuee.
“Yes, yes. … I saw it right away,” said the tour guide, Grace Belanger. “Looks like you!”
Milianis, a 5-year-old student at Hartford’s Sanchez Elementary School, came to this national landmark on a Saturday morning with her mom and other families displaced from Puerto Rico. They climbed the creaky stairs of the historic home built in 1874, and learned that the famous man who used to live here had affection for their island.
“He did love to go down to the Caribbean,” said Belanger, assistant manager of historic interpretation for the Mark Twain House & Museum. “And he did visit Puerto Rico.”
This private tour was months in the making. Hartford schools Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said she was talking to some of the evacuees in December, just a few months after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico — the damage forcing out thousands of U.S. citizens who began resettling in cities such as Hartford.
“They were wondering, you know, how am I going to get to know the community?” Torres-Rodriguez recalled. She remembers them saying, “I don’t feel like I belong, I don’t feel like I will ever belong.”