Commentary: Response to Sandy Shows Vital Role of Immigrants During Calamities

Super storm Sandy wreaked havoc all along the East Coast, especially in New York and New Jersey, and first responders were there to help millions get through the calamity. So were immigrants who are invisible to most but no less indispensable at times like this: deli workers, food delivery guys, taxi drivers, nannies, tree limb cutters, and many others who ensured our first world comforts.

Some of these individuals labored through the hurricane by choice.

Félix Acosta, a bodega owner, wanted to make sure his customers had their essentials. “People stocked up on groceries early, and we decided to stay open until the hurricane started,” he told El Diario. “We had to place an order of water and milk on two occasions because we ran out, and bread was another item that sold quickly.”

Rafael de la Cruz, a livery cab driver, kept plying the streets to help people get around. “I wasn’t working because I was earning more money than on a regular day; I had to be out on the streets providing service because public transportation was shut down and many people were stranded,” he said.

Mo Showair, a pharmacist, kept his doors open, knowing full well that many of his customers needed their prescriptions. “We filled more than 150 orders for our clients, many of them elderly and sick, and we closed at 4 p.m.,” he said. “We were worried that people in the neighborhood wouldn’t have their medicine when they needed it most.”

David Rohde, writing for the Atlantic, points out however that many kept working because they had very little choice:

Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home … Instead of heading home to their families as the winds picked up, the city’s army of cashiers, waiters and other service workers remained in place.

We rightfully salute first responders who save those in dire straits and acknowledge elected officials who lead us through calamities. But we very rarely applaud those around us who do the small things that make a big difference, often at the expense of their own comfort and well-being. Now would be a good time to express our gratitude.

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Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.