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El Sentinel

NYC Disaster Takes Toll On Hispanics

By Walter Pacheco

September 30, 2001
Copyright © 2001 El Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.


Touring Scene: New York Gov. George Pataki guides Puerto Rico Gov. Sila M. Calderón. ‘Nothing that I have seen or read could have prepared me for the amount of devastation I've seen,' she said.



Lt. Dennis Mojica, 50, was the first Hispanic firefighter that was identified after being pulled from under the rubble of the World Trade Center ruins. He was buried in Brooklyn last week, but his hometown was Puerto Rico.

Unofficial estimates from various Red Cross agencies and consulates in Latin America report 1,600 Hispanics are missing -- or one of every four disaster victims.

That tally fluctuates as each country attempts to verify its missing.

Mexican government and consulate officials are set to conduct their own census from New York City because they suspect the figure of missing Mexicans is low. The last unofficial count of missing Mexicans was 30.

Like Mojica, half of the missing people come from New York's most flourishing Hispanic community -- Puerto Ricans. Colombians were the second hardest hit, with nearly 300 missing.

The figures aren't surprising because New York City ranks highest in Hispanic population in the country, with residents from all parts of Latin America. Many were bankers, lawyers, stockbrokers, tourists, retailers, waiters and service people who were employed by many of the 430-plus companies that were housed in the towers before their collapse.

The famous Windows of the World restaurant overlooking New York City on the 107th floor of One World Trade Center was catering a 500-person breakfast banquet when the plane struck the tower a few floors below. The bulk of the restaurant's employees were Hispanic.

Such are the ties among Hispanics that Puerto Rico Gov. Sila M. Calderón flew to Manhattan recently to tour the financial district's charred remains.

"Nothing that I have seen or read could have prepared me for the amount of devastation I've seen," Calderón said. "At the same time, I was able to observe the courage and determination of the rescue efforts by firefighters."

Calderón confirmed that more than 800 Puerto Ricans were reported missing by their families. However, she said it was "very difficult" to tally accurate official figures.

"We know that more than one thousand Hispanics died, with more than 800 from Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican descent, which coincides with the amount of calls that we received in Puerto Rico," Calderón said.

Hispanics in Central Florida share more than just the language with those in New York City -- they share the homeland of Puerto Rico, which is home to 50 percent of the Hispanics living in Central Florida.

"The first thing I did was call my family in the Bronx to see if they were alright," said Carmen Monteviedo, who is Puerto Rican. "They work in the area, and I was really worried after seeing what was going on. Thank goodness they were safe, but my heart goes out to all those other people."

Just like people across the nation, Orlando Hispanics also are mourning. An all-Spanish language mass was held last week at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in south Orlando in remembrance of those believed to have died in the attack.

"The mass was a mix of different nationalities and emotions of people seeking solace," said Father Miguel González, who delivered the sermon. "Some have family there or have children in the military who will be called in for duty if necessary."

Faith prevailed as an antidote after watching the news coverage of the attacks.

"At moments like this, the Hispanic community has really pulled together," said Vilma Espenger who spoke at the mass that packed the 750-person church to capacity. "It was a beautiful gathering of music, emotion, and prayer at a time when we needed it."

The Office of the Government of Puerto Rico in Orlando sponsored the mass.

"The reaction in our community has been one of solidarity," said Luis R. Pastrana, regional director of the Orlando office. "Our community is like a tree with two roots: one in our place of origin and the other in the United States. Both are strong and will survive, just like our people."


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