A 45-minute drive from where Bianca Graulau lives in Camuy, Puerto Rico, sits her favorite beach. Beige stretches of sand stretch along Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where you can surf and munch on some local food. This is where Graulau, a 31-year-old puertorriqueña, spent her summers and Christmas holidays as a young adult.
However, she was not there for the hype. Graulau would often catch up with his aunt, who preferred a place away from the crowds just along some cliffs. It used to be her routine – back then that part of the beach still existed.
It’s gone now. The sea has eaten it up.
“The water is hitting the rocks now,” Graulau said over Zoom with her long dark hair in her signature style: natural loose waves down her shoulders. “I visited the beach again and I thought, ‘Oh, my god. Where did the beach go? ‘
This topic – sea level rise and erosion by devouring Puerto Rico’s beaches – was the subject of Graulaus first YouTube video in 2019. Since then, the journalist has acquired nearly 40,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 326,000 followers on TikTok.
Graulau continues to cover the transformation of Puerto Rico on her various platforms. It is a transformation she now dedicates to capturing, documenting and sharing with the world. The first video now has over 1.4 million views.
“That video really resonated because everyone is watching it,” Graulau said. “If you grew up in Puerto Rico and went to a particular beach, you’ve seen it slowly disappear.”
That’s what makes Graulau’s storytelling so special: She connects. She dares to do what few other journalists wanted on camera: She becomes personal. “It allows me to communicate with my viewers and followers as a fellow human being,” Graulau said, “as a Puerto Rican who goes through the same issues as the rest of the population here.”
She often talks directly with community members and experts in her videos. She loves to jump on the latest TikTok trend, but she also asks the tough questions. Graulau is unapologetic and not scared.
She has worked hard to reach this place where she is comfortable and confident in her own skin. She spent years making TV news where bosses told her to straighten the hair and lose its accent. The picture was everything. In 2020, she finally stopped. She would work for herself and call shots.
“I think being independent removes the part of you that always asks, ‘Oh, what do bosses want to think about this?'” Graulau said. “Now I’m worried about my audience.”
She focuses mostly on the problems at home – and she already leaves an impression across the archipelago. Ivonne del C. Díaz, professor of environmental economics at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, used Graulau’s video about rising sea levels in the classroom.
The video is not just about the oceans rising. It also shows the economic differences that exist in Puerto Rico – and the different ways in which climate change affects different communities. While private developers can afford to buy beaches, local families who have had these views for free for generations now have to contend with the reality that they can lose everything they have.
“You can see her concern,” Díaz said in response to the video in Spanish. “This work is important because we sometimes talk about these issues in the classroom and it feels distant to the students. After watching this type of video, students can see how much she cares and it feels more real. ”
Díaz can not remember how she found Graulau’s work, but she remembers that she enjoyed how original and interactive it was. The economics professor knew that the video would also help her students link economic issues to environmental and social issues.
And that’s all on purpose in Graulau’s stories. Lately, she has been thinking a lot about colonization and the way history interacts with the ongoing climate crisis. Her latest pieces reflect that interest: “Does the United States still own colonies?” is the latest video on Graulau’s YouTube channel.
However, the effects of the first sea-level rise video-the one that started Graulau’s independent career still trickle through her own life. One of Graulau’s best friends, America Arias, worked on the video with her. Arias, a TV news producer, performs and takes notes while Graulau interviews a local oceanographer. The couple met in Puerto Rico about 12 years ago at a conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The two Latinas did not kick it off right away, but they became inseparable after 2012.
Graulau and Arias both lived in Sacramento, California, worked at local stations, and felt professionally unfulfilled. In 2016, the two journalists took a risk that changed their lives. They spent a month creating unpaid content just for themselves. They went to North Dakota for a week to cover the Standing Rock movement. They visited the border between the United States and Mexico together. Arias had not been that since she crossed illegally as a little girl and she wanted to tell stories from the region.
Despite having protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Income program, Arias was nervous. The sound of helicopters triggered. On the third visit, the team got enough of a story.
And yet Graulau never pushed her. She was always patient. And the stories really mattered. “We were so excited to chase the stories that we were really interested in,” Arias said. You can hear the respect in her voice as she talks about how far her best friend has come since the first days in California.
Graulau was a fast-fashion consumer at the time. She would buy lots of cheap clothes and jewelry to see the part and keep her overalls satisfied. Today she is doing videos on how to buy less. Graulau talks. Her birthday in March was the last time Arias saw her. The birthday girl “hates buying new things,” Arias said, so she donated her used items she collected from garage sales over two months: ceramic plants, clothes, a rug. She also packaged the ingredients to bake the perfect vegan, gluten-free cake. They got up late at night, ate cake and caught up.
“We had a moment where I told her I was really proud of her,” Arias said and her voice broke. No gift she gave the birthday girl could match what Graulau has given her: the opportunity to see her grow and thrive. Arias described her friend not as another person, but as “the person she always needed to be.”
“How lucky am I to witness that?” she said, “and she has just begun.”
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