Debris was strewn across the street. No electricity and running water for weeks on end. Homes and businesses were destroyed. A town completely devastated by a hurricane like no other.
This is what Victor Muniz Rosa, a senior journalism and digital media major at Montclair State University, woke up to after Hurricane Maria tore through his hometown in Puerto Rico.
Muniz recalled how he and his dad had to remove trees from the roads just so that they could see his grandparents, who lived a mere three minutes away.
“I went with my dad because my dad had a pretty big truck, and we started clearing the roads because he wanted to see how my grandparents were doing because I lived close to [them], three minutes [away],” Muniz said.
Experiences like these are what make Muniz a proud Puerto Rican, and the person he is today. From growing up in a town right outside San Juan to leading Latin American programming at Montclair State’s radio station, Muniz has made quite the journey.
Muniz was raised in Gurabo, Puerto Rico, a town near the capital of the island. He lived a mostly normal childhood- he played sports, did Boy Scouts and watched movies. Lots of movies.
“Since I was a little kid, I loved movies and I thought I was [going to] become a movie director,” Muniz said, smiling at the memory.
Things were great until Hurricane Maria came to the island in 2017. Muniz was in the 11th grade, and at first, he thought that the storm would be just like any other.
“[I thought it would be] the equivalent of a snow day [in New Jersey],” Muniz said. “You know that you didn’t have school, but you could still go out. There was electricity, it was normal. But when Hurricane Maria hit, I thought the same thing. I was like, ‘Ah, whatever, day off of school,’ [and] I went to sleep.”
When Muniz woke up, his hometown was unrecognizable. Gurabo was without running water for almost a month, and without electricity for two months. Houses without roofs were covered in blue tarps for years.
“I remember every detail,” Muniz said. “Imagine everything is normal here. And then all of a sudden you wake up, there’s water in your house because of the floods. And then when you get outside, you see everything is in ruins.”
On top of dealing with a natural disaster, Muniz had to deal with something even more tragic. A little over a month later, Muniz lost his father to cancer.
Before he passed, however, Muniz’s father gave him some last advice that served as a wake-up call for Muniz.
“What really drove me is those last words he told me,” Muniz said. “’Follow your dreams and study, so you can have a base on something, anything, so you can keep going and progress.’”
Muniz went out looking for his passion. Although he enjoyed movies, he didn’t see himself in the entertainment industry.
“It was a very hard time, but at the same time that really woke up something in me,” Muniz said. “I need to progress and get out and do what I have to. I need to do something with my life.”
Muniz’s answer came to him via the Boy Scouts. He completed a journalism badge training course through them, and that’s when Muniz knew what his life’s passion was.
Muniz attended a journalism training camp, where he received an opportunity of a lifetime. Along with two other reporters, he published an article in one of Puerto Rico’s biggest newspapers, “El Nuevo Dia.”
With this article, Muniz realized how he wanted to help make a change in communities.
“My first article was about a community who wanted to take an abandoned school and turn it into a cultural center where they did dance lessons,” Muniz said. “[In] 2021, I [went] back to that place and they made it into what they wanted it to do. I added something to that, and I helped that happen.”
Muniz originally attended the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus in San Juan for three years before hearing about an exchange program from a friend. From there, he made his decision to come to Montclair State.
Once arriving, Muniz found WMSC, the award-winning campus radio station. He made two important connections within the station, Anandaji Cruz Rosario and Kimberllyn “Olive” Oliveira.
Cruz Rosario, a senior communication and media arts and Spanish double major, was the first person Muniz talked to upon joining the station. She invited him to the station’s two shows about Latin American news and pop culture, “Aqui Planeta Tierra” and “Sin Limites“.
“It was awesome because I saw his passion, especially because he literally just came from Puerto Rico,” Cruz Rosario said. “Any interviews that I got, I would also share with him [and he] would do an amazing job. [He] would make it personable in [his] own way.”
Today, Muniz now hosts “Aqui Planeta Tierra” along with his co-host Darian Mozo. He invites guests and discusses Latinx news, music, entertainment and pop culture. He and Mozo also run an Instagram page where they do man-on-the-street interviews.
“Aqui Planeta Tierra” is also where he developed a deep connection with Oliveira, who just graduated from Montclair State this past spring. Oliveira gave some valuable insight into what makes Muniz such a good Latinx journalist.
“He does fully embody being that voice because he is such a proud Puerto Rican man,” Oliveira said. “It specializes our experiences. So I think for him to be on the radio is really special because he can be that voice for other students like him that are coming from the outside, that don’t necessarily have a connection.”
While Muniz doesn’t know where exactly he’s going next, he knows he wants to be making an impact for those who need it, as he did with his first article in “El Nuevo Dia.”
“I want to help communities,” Muniz said. “And the best way I can do that is by being a journalist, being a voice for those marginalized groups and that includes Latinos.”