For Dominicans, Mourning Upon Mourning
Community Was Still Reeling From Losses at Trade Center
By Alona Wartofsky
Special to The Washington Post
NEW YORK, Nov. 13
An estimated 500,000 Dominicans live in the section of Upper Manhattan
known as Washington Heights, but in the past two days, the Dominican community
has felt remarkably small.
"Dominicans are very close, and all of us are feeling the hurt and pain,"
said cabdriver Alex Torres, who was born and raised in New York but speaks
English with a
Washington Heights, which spans more than 40 blocks and several avenues,
is where a stretch of St. Nicholas Avenue has been renamed Juan Pablo Duarte
Boulevard, after the founding father of the Dominican Republic. Where sports shops are filled with posters of Dominican American baseball heroes Sammy Sosa,
Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. Where corner groceries sell the starchy, potato-like yautia blanca and plantano verde (green plantains), and botanica shops
offer plastic Jesus ornaments, skin-lightening creams and several varieties of "Money Jackpot" soaps and candles.
And where, now, a community of immigrants is mourning the lives lost
Monday when an American Airlines flight en route to Santo Domingo from
John F. Kennedy
International Airport plunged into Queens, leaving no survivors. Nearly all of the 251 passengers were Dominican or Dominican American.
"Every Dominican has lost a relative, a friend, someone that they loved,
someone that they knew," Fernando Mateo, president of the city's Federation
Drivers, told the mourners, politicians and reporters crammed into a memorial event Monday night at the Club Deportivo Dominicano -- Dominican Sports Club on
For Ana Nova, a teacher's aide who has lived in Washington Heights since
immigrating here 37 years ago, news of the crash was almost too much to
bear. "It's a big
blow, losing so many people. It's like losing part of our family," she said.
Along with everyone else in New York, Nova is still mourning the events
of Sept. 11. "How much do we have to take?" she asked. "My brother-in-law
was in the
World Trade Center and he survived. Now his wife and 3-year-old daughter are gone. I don't even know what to say to him."
Nova said her brother-in-law, Rafael Hernandez, had considered accompanying
his wife and daughter but decided against it. "He's still panicked about
happened and didn't want to fly," she explained.
Community leaders here estimate that as many as 30 percent of the low-wage
laborers who perished in the World Trade Center attacks were Dominican.
starting to recuperate a little, then this accident happened and our morale went down so fast," said Club Deportivo Dominicano President Leonard Tapia. "It's very
hard, especially at this time of the year when people are flying down to the old country to be with their families."
Despite initial indications from federal officials that the crash was
caused by engine failure, many Dominicans suspect foul play. Today at Genesis
Florentino, along with another hairdresser and the salon's sole customer, spent the afternoon speculating about the plane crash. "There's a lot of confusion," said
Florentino. "Some people say maybe it was an accident, but a lot of people say maybe it was a terrorist."
Nearby, Copos Blancos, advertised as "authorized travel agent for American Airlines," was deserted.
"The community has been totally traumatized by September 11," said Nelson
Pena, president of the Dominican Day Parade held annually in August. "We
the authorities to investigate to the fullest, because putting a bomb's not the only way to commit a terrorist act. You can also commit a terrorist act by harming a
Makeshift street memorials, much like those found here in the days after
Sept. 11, have materialized throughout Washington Heights. Outside the
Dominicano, clusters of carnations and candles in red and white glass holders are arrayed in front of a framed picture of Jesus. Today a man stood before the display
wordlessly, holding a framed photograph of relatives lost.
No one shopped at More Than . . . Flowers on Amsterdam Avenue on Monday.
"Today it's a little better," Jan Camillo said as he surveyed his empty
have some orders, but mostly it's people passing by to put flowers on the memorials."
Outside the Alianza Dominicana, which has set up a community assistance
center for families affected by the plane crash, a mural decorated with
the American flag,
the Dominican flag, pictures of baby Jesus and a single weeping eye read, "Estamos de Luto" -- "We are in Mourning."
And late Monday night on Amsterdam Avenue at 139th Street, a group of young men arranged 25 red, white and blue candles to evoke the Dominican flag.
Sitting on milk crates and the sidewalk, they passed around a bottle
of rum wrapped in a brown paper bag and silently watched the tiny flickering
the dance-hall-style music favored by young Dominicans, floated down from a window.
A stranger approached them to ask about the candles. Did you lose a friend or a relative?
They seemed surprised by the question. "It's for everybody," one of them answered. "All of us."