Mexicans, Puerto Ricans Respond to Tragedy Back Home

Lucero Castillo, from Mexico, lost a member of her family in the Mexico City earthquake. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

[Mexico has suffered two earthquakes, the most recent killing more than 270, while Puerto Rico felt the brunt of Hurricane Maria. In the New York metro area, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are organizing help for their ravaged homelands. Below are excerpts from a story by El Diario’s Zaira Cortés.]

In the midst of the deep pain caused by the powerful earthquake – which measured 7.1 on the Richter scale – that caused the death of hundreds and the devastation of Mexico City and other states, Mexican immigrants in New York and the tri-state area have begun to organize to take action where help is needed.

The Diaspora was already in the process of responding to the other tragedy caused by the 8.2 earthquake that took place in the southern state of Oaxaca on September 7, and part of the funds collected through the events that have been planned will serve to assist the victims of the most recent quake.

In addition to heeding to the call to help their compatriots, a number of Mexicans living in New York have been directly affected by the tragedy, having lost relatives and loved ones during the earthquake.

That is the case of Lucero Castillo, a resident of Belmont, in the Bronx, who told El Diario that she endured hours of profound anguish during the time she was unable to communicate with her relatives in the state of Morelos, one of the most devastated by the quake.

 “My niece replied to a text message after a long time (…) ‘Aunt Estela is dead. Her house collapsed,’ she said. My dad is very scared,” expressed Castillo. “As of this morning, they still had not recovered her body from the debris. This happened in Cuernavaca. Our family cannot travel to Morelos because roads and bridges are down. They are incommunicado.”

The 42-year-old mother said that she has felt how the tragedy in Mexico has shaken her compatriots living in the Bronx. “My coworkers are immigrants from the areas of Puebla and Mexico City that were destroyed, and they are very affected. There is a lot of anguish,” she added.

Consul General of Mexico in New York Diego Gómez-Pickering expressed his gratitude for the demonstrations of solidarity with the victims of the earthquakes that shook the Mexican territory and called on the community of the metro area to “remain calm and stay informed through official media outlets.”

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“I plead to the authorities and our community to also think about the victims in the smaller towns farther away. There were victims and a great deal of destruction in Puebla and Morelos too. We are very sad. We feel powerless to be separated from our families,” said Guadalupe Aguirre, the owner of a bodega located on the corner of 116th Street and Third Avenue in El Barrio.

Aguirre, 61, was in Oaxaca when the first earthquake hit. She said that it was a terrifying experience from which she still has not recovered: “I lived through the first quake, so I know the fear people went through on Tuesday. It was terrible not to be able to communicate with my family in Puebla. Phone lines were down, and many areas continue to have no power and a poor internet signal.”

Rosaura Arellano, another East Harlem merchant, said that anguish has overwhelmed the neighborhood, where a large Mexican population lives.

“You can feel the desperation, the impotence of not being able to do more for our people. No one is talking about anything else. There is much fear that an aftershock could be just as destructive,” said Arellano.

Help from New Jersey

In the meantime, Mi Casa Es Puebla, the office representing the government state of Puebla in the tri-state area, implemented a donation center at their headquarters located at 77 Third Street, Passaic, New Jersey.

Ana Flores, the office’s executive director, said that they are mainly interested in receiving flashlights, batteries, medicines and hygiene products.

César Aguirre, an entrepreneur and political leader based in Passaic, established a donation center at his wholesale food distribution company, located at 100 8th Street.

The business owner said that the center had already collected goods for the Oaxaca victims, which were sent out on Monday after reaching an agreement with Aeroméxico. “Part of the supplies will be delivered in Puebla, Morelos and Mexico City, and wherever they are needed,” said Aguirre.

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Aurora Morales, a union and community organizer born in the state of Morelos, said that a race will be held on the second Sunday of October at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. The event was originally meant to help the victims of the quake in Oaxaca.

“We will split the funds to assist the most recent victims. We know of many immigrants whose relatives lost their homes in Morelos and Puebla. The Mexican community is already coming up with strategies to help as soon as possible,” said Morales.

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[Below are excerpts from a story by El Diario’s Edwin Martínez]

Hurricane María, the worst meteorological phenomenon to hit Puerto Rico since 1932, has left destruction and chaos in its path. As the population of the island bears the brunt of the storm, the City of New York has promised that it will not turn its back on them and that, beginning on Wednesday, it will begin coordinating assistance.

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“New York City stands with you, and we will be there to help,” said Mayor de Blasio, pointing out that whatever happens in Borinquen has great impact on New York City, as the Big Apple is home to the largest Puerto Rican population outside the island.

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“This morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio dispatched 27 police officers and firefighters to help with rescue operations in Puerto Rico. They will join 9 others who were already on the ground assisting the victims of Hurricane Irma,” said Jessica Ramos, spokeswoman for the de Blasio administration. “We are ready to send more teams and assistance when it is safe to do so.”

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – who was born in Puerto Rico and has family there, including her mother – said that she would dedicate Wednesday afternoon to devise an organized plan to find assistance strategies.

“We are meeting with government officials to see how we can set up a coordinated effort, whether through monetary donations or goods,” said the political leader.

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Diverse organizations and everyday New Yorkers are organizing to lend a hand to Puerto Rico to do their part.

Union 32BJ announced that it will allocate funding from their solidarity fund to help victims.

“The devastation Hurricane María is causing throughout the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma hits home for many of our union’s members and staff. We pray for the wellbeing of the thousands and thousands of families affected, and we will collaborate with these families in their time of need, now and in the coming days,” said the union’s president, Héctor Figueroa.

Likewise, Awilda Cordero, an activist for the Bronx organization Emergency Rights, said that they have started collecting food and resources to send the victims.

“We need people to bring canned food and water, lots of water. That is the most pressing need. Also light summer clothing,” said the activist.

Haydée Morales, the director of Casita María, a Puerto Rican organization operating in New York since 1934, also said that they will have a meeting with personnel from the Hispanic Federation and leaders such as Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez to begin implementing a plan of action.

“We are trying to work as a community and as a network of organizations to do something impactful, as there is a great connection between New York and Puerto Rico and, if they are going through high water, we feel it too and we have to help them,” said the Puerto Rican politician.

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