“They Had a Dream of a Better Future for Themselves and Their Families”: Communities Mourn and Remember Immigrant Workers Lost Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse

“They Had a Dream of a Better Future for Themselves and Their Families”: Communities Mourn and Remember Immigrant Workers Lost Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse

By Gabe Ortiz | America’s Voice

Baltimore construction worker Maynor Suazo Sandoval dreamed of opening a small business in the area. Sandoval, who arrived in the U.S. from Honduras nearly two decades ago, loved all things machinery, his brother said. Miguel Luna, a grandfather and immigrant from El Salvador, worked alongside Sandoval as a valued member of Brawner Builders. One recent weekend, Luna brought lunch for all 20 crew members from his wife’s food truck, The Baltimore Sun reported. The crew became so close they were almost like family, one worker said.

Both men were among the construction workers who were laboring in the predawn hours to repair potholes on the Francis Scott Key Bridge when a nearly 1,000-foot-long freighter lost power and pummeled into the bridge, causing it to collapse into the Patapsco River. Sandoval and Luna are among the six workers – all Latin American immigrants with hopes and dreams for themselves and their families – who are missing or have been confirmed dead.

CASA, a community-powered advocacy and assistance organization in Maryland, said that Sandoval and Luna were members. In a statement, CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres mourned the tragedy and the devastation facing all the affected families.

“Our hearts break knowing that Miguel and Maynor were part of the six essential workers who were on the bridge when it came tumbling down,” Torres said. “Families are in anguish, lamenting the loss of their loved ones. They had a dream of a better future for themselves and their families and made the brave decision to travel to this country for a brighter future.”

“The Mexican consulate in the region said late Tuesday the six missing workers included Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadoran people,” The Washington Post reported. The bodies of two workers have since been recovered. Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes was originally from Mexico, while Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera was originally from Guatemala, CBS News said. “Two people were rescued from the river shortly after the collapse. One was unharmed, while the other was hospitalized with injuries and later released.”

However, during an interview with the New Republic’s Greg Sargent, Maximillian Alvarez, editor-in-chief of the Baltimore-based Real News Network, raised the possibility that the rescued worker may have actually declined medical assistance. We know that many immigrants who are essential workers are undocumented, and they occupy inherently dangerous but critical jobs in various industries, including construction. Alvarez spoke powerfully about the vital role of immigrants and the constant attacks they often face. “I plead to people out there. We’re not your enemy,” he said. “Like, migrants are not coming to this country to ruin it. Migrants have made this country what it is…we are all in pursuit of a better life for our families, for ourselves, for our future,” adding “don’t forget these men.”

“Some 130,000 immigrants work in the construction industry in the Baltimore and Washington regions, making up 39 percent of the workforce,” The Washington Post continued. “Latin Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the region, surging by 77 percent in Baltimore during the 2010s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.” They work “all while enduring blazing heat, speeding drivers and the disdain of those who want to see a crackdown on illegal immigration.”

We noted earlier in the week that right-wing media and elected officials were twisting the tragedy to scapegoat immigrants. The Washington Post headlined its article: “Republicans put forth unfounded and sometimes racist theories on bridge collapse.” Those same opponents of immigration benefit from the labor of essential immigrant workers. They eat the food harvested by immigrant workersthey benefit from an economy revitalized by immigrant workers, and they drive on the roads and bridges improved by immigrant workers.

Alvarez told Sargent that our culture “devalues labor, devalues the people who do these essential jobs and make our economy run.” Not only are immigrant workers “doing a lot of hard, thankless jobs that we depend on, but they are dying doing it. Construction is one of the places where that happens.” Baltimore’s Mayor Brandon Scott has also been a very strong voice calling out the racist attacks in the wake of the tragedy, saying these essential immigrant workers “came to this country to fulfill the American dream.”

“The men were supporting families both in the Baltimore region and in their home countries, said the Rev. Ako Walker, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic parish in southeastern Baltimore that serves a largely Hispanic population,” The Washington Post reported. ‘It’s important to realize that families lost their breadwinners,’ Walker said.” CASA has linked to a fundraiser that will benefit impacted families reeling from uncertainty and grief.

Community members are also mourning the loss of these beloved men. “Luna wanted to build a fence around the one-story brick home in Glen Burnie he had recently bought with his wife, but he didn’t want to encroach on the property where his next-door neighbor Kim Luna lived,” The Baltimore Sun continued. “Because he struggled to communicate in English, he enlisted translation help from a bilingual neighbor across the street, Pedro Marin Luna.” They all became friends, with Miguel offering rides and handyman fixes. “They were providing for our state,” Pedro Luna told the outlet. “While they were just fixing potholes, they were making the state better.”

Sandoval was also remembered as an optimist who smiled and persevered even when facing harassment from past employers. “He called and video-chatted for every baptism and wedding and could often be seen shedding tears of joy,” The Washington Post reported. “On birthdays, he would buy cakes for faraway relatives. When someone got sick, he would help pay for medicine.”

“In a time when there is so much hatred against the immigrant community, we look to the story of Maynor and Miguel who built bridges to connect communities, not building walls to divide them,” CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres continued in the organization’s statement honoring the lost workers. “Today and always we honor them and their sacrifices.”

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