Elected officials and community members joined Puerto Rican Festival President Edwin Alicea to raise the flag on City Hall Plaza, kicking off a week-long celebration of Puerto Rican culture — a show of unity especially poignant in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

“We must continue to work together,” Alicea told attendees, “not only to keep our culture alive … but to keep our rights alive too.”

In the months following the storm, thousands of evacuees came to Massachusetts. They found limited support from the federal government bolstered by emergency state assistance, but joined a community of almost 300,000 people of Puerto Rican descent already living in the state.

At the event, Walsh applauded the local Puerto Rican community, stressing that diversity has made Boston a stronger city. He drew stark contrast to what he called the Trump Administration’s "disgraceful" response to the disaster with Boston's efforts to open homes and schools to evacuees.

“Puerto Ricans are American citizens,” Walsh said. “They have all the rights, and deserve the respect, of any other American.”

According to Alicea, community members have worked hard to help evacuees, but new arrivals are struggling with the state’s high cost of living and dwindling federal assistance. He says the island needs more assistance.

“At the end of the day, most of these people want to go home,” Alicea said. “What we need to do, I think, as a government and [as a] whole, is to assess what we have, and that has been done, and just go help.”

Elsa Morales, a Boston resident, agreed that the Puerto Rican Festival holds special significance this year because of the hurricane. She said that even though she does not have any family members who evacuated, the impact is clear.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Morales said. “You want to do more but you’re just so limited in helping, and you want to help everybody but you just can’t.”

Meanwhile, local activist and former politician, Carmen Pola highlighted the importance of unity, but noted that the island’s economic struggles predate Hurricane Maria.

“This year, they’re talking about what happened in Puerto Rico,” Pola said. “Puerto Rico has been in trouble, financially, with this country for a long time.”

The festival ends Sunday with a parade leading to City Hall Plaza where there will be carnival rides, food, live music.