Season One, Episode 07 – No Duties Without Rights

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PRODUCER: Can you sing the 

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: Internationale? 



PRODUCER: Let’s hear it in Russian. Do the whole thing.


MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA:I forgot that part. 

PRODUCER:That’s perfect.

CREDITS: You are listening to Everything is Stories. And we’re calling this episode No Duties Without Rights.

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: My name is Miguel Vargas-Caba, and right now we are in my apartment in the Bronx. Well see, my mother never learned to read or write. My grandparents believed the old school– women are only home. Husband, children in church. That was it. And because of that, she said, anything you need– want to read in books, you can have it. She even had my father open credit in all the, bookstores in the city. So we went and we just took any book we wanted to read, read, read. Like my father had this rule.

I don’t mind you taking books. I only put one condition, and that is you buy it, you read it. One of the bookstores sent a bill for what, at that time was a ton of money. I’m talking about like the equivalent, like $1,500, then 150 pesos in books. And my father was screaming that this is too much money. How can that be? And my mother– that was the only time I heard them arguing openly in front of us. My mother just said, shut up. I’d rather have it from them a bill for 150 pesos for books than a bill from a blowing the money in prostitutes. This is books and they are learning and they don’t give you any problem because they’re always reading. So shut up and pay it.

I was born in the city of Santiago in the Dominican Republic. I’m the youngest of, believe it or not, 17 children. All from the same father and the same mother. Which is normal for a Dominican, Roman Catholic, Latin American family, as you maybe are aware. In my early childhood it was, how can I say, volatile. Coming out of , the fascist dictator, Trujillo– when he was assassinated which I do remember. And then you had coups and counter coups. And you have a new government today and then another new government next week and so on.

And then in 1965 there was this humongously big civil war, which we call the April Revolution. Since it happened in April, 1965. Political unrest was, very big. Daily, anyone that was suspected of being a communist or having communist sympathies — they were disappearing left and right. And they wouldn’t think it twice to blow somebody’s head. Oh, because he’s a communist. And that was the excuse of the day. Anyone who criticized the government and said, you know, this government is unbearable. Oh, he’s a communist. They, they simply killed him. 

AUDIO CLIP: Assassin’s Bullets put a bloody end to the 31 year dictatorship of Dominican strongman Raphael Trujillo here with his brother Hector. Even in death, Trujillo is a danger to the world. 

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: The cause began with the assassination of the fascist dictator, Rafael Trujillo. That when him and his family finally were kicked out of the country and they stole some $800 million in dollars of 1960. which was mucho dinero. The country was bankrupt. They had no money. So because of that, poverty, misery was a horrendous economical situation at that time.

In 1963, they had these elections where Juan Bosch became the president. And of course that started a civil war. On one side you have– you had the police, the people, and certain army battalions fighting against certain factions of the government and certain factions of the Navy. In a real civil war, the Dominican against Dominican. And in those days they were shootings practically all over the place.

The Air Force sending their fighters to strafe the people on the ground dropping bombs on the National Palace in Santo Domingo. The closest we ever got to that was, because we lived so close to the army fortress. We had in the corner of the house bullet hole. And when– and that was actually in the, in the backyard when that happened. And all I heard was a bang. And I look and holy cow, there was a hole over there. And my mother comes out and goes, get in house right now. Until the whole thing come down, we’re pretty much on the floor.

But that was pretty much it. As a matter of fact, I do remember, and my mother never found out about this, that I went up to the roof with a red towel. I started with a towel– I started like, flagging it. Up and down, up and down with the red towel, and I do remember that the plane came really low and then went on a loop so that the pilot was like looking at what I was doing. And flew upside down over my home. That I do remember.

At home we were speaking Spanish mostly, but since we had such a learned environment, some of my brothers spoke, besides English, French, Latin, Greek. So by the time I was like seven 10, I already knew Latin and how to read Greek and French. Even English. I never went for formal training, in English. I never went to an English school. I just learned with them. Listening to the movies in English. And so we were always reading, always, studying all learning.

What to me, were unheard of or unknown languages at that time, such as Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish. I simply wrote a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, of Norway, of Finland, Romania, and told them, listen, I’m interested in learning your language. Can you send me books? And they did send me the books and I started learning them.

In November, 1967, I saw a spread, a center spread of in Life Magazine of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union– of the Soviet Revolution. And the spread had on the Kremlin Walls, words that I could read more or less, but I did not understand what they meant. Except for the last word that was. Communism. I mean, that piqued my curiosity because then I wanted to know what was the rest. My interest in Russian came out of a plain curiosity since by the time I was seven I could handle Greek. And the Russian cyrillic alphabet came from the Greek alphabet.

I was curious about the language, and I was curious because I wanted to know how the Russian language sounded. So I wrote the letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, and they replied by sending me Two records of of Russian folkloric music and the other one of Russian Soviet music. And to this day, I still understand it’s a lot of communist trash that I don’t care about. But as a source of knowledge of the Russian language, it was really like a treasure trove.

I was having access to a sort of communistic propaganda from the Soviet Union but– and I knew somehow some way that it was propaganda, so I didn’t pay too much mind to it. But because it was in the form of music of all things. This is how I got to get in touch with so many people from the Soviet block. And it was that I sent a letter to a check stamp collecting magazine saying that I had stamps from Dominican Republic and that I was open for exchange with anyone interested.

And that like pretty much opened the floodgates. Because only from Russia, from Poland, Hungary, you name it, everybody, because it was a very well known and respected magazine in the Soviet block for stamp collectors. So everybody was writing to me. But because they wrote to me in dictionary Spanish, I told them, listen, I like Russian and I want to learn more. I’m sending you. The letters written in Russian, and if you find mistakes, correct them. In that way I was improving my knowledge of the Russian language through this correspondence with them.

My family was not opposed to that at all because like they were very open to such an exchange. They were a little bit concerned that it happened to be with the Soviet block. But they said since they knew it was just stamps, that I was not involved in anything. Politics or saying now, no, we gotta get rid of this government, or things like that. They did not oppose it at all. Plus at that time most of my brothers and sisters were already here in the US and since practically all of them, practically, American citizens, my family was pretty much pro-American. Always, always, always. But the Secret Service didn’t like it. I’m walking on the sidewalk in front of his home and he’s resting there.

So this gentleman, he calls me and he says listen, I hear you playing and Russian, Russian music. And I say, oh yeah, that’s Russian music play by the, the chorus of the Soviet army. And he goes, really? And you understand what they say. I say, yeah, of course I do. I can even sing the songs. And as a matter of fact, I even write to friends in the Soviet Union. All four corners of the Soviet Union from east to west and from north to south. And I mean, he’s like amazed. So you write, but you write in Spanish? No, no, no. I write to them in Russian.

You write to them in you. So you know Russian. Yes, I do know Russian. You blank blank, blank, blank. Do you know that? If you go study in the Soviet Union, you already have the first year because that’s what students that go there do the first year, they learn the language. But you already, you read it, you write it, you speak it, you translate everything. So you could go straight and take the first year to study whatever you want. So if you want, I can get you a scholarship to study in the Soviet Union. All expenses paid. All I knew was he was the neighbor. He’s a musician in the orchestra of the Monte Carlo Gentleman. That was it.

PRODUCER: Did he look different from anyone else?

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: No, he was just a regular Dominican who plays in an orchestra. That was it. I was jumping up and down. I was happy as a clam. When he told me that, I went home. Mama, mom, the neighbor just said that he can get me a scholarship to study in the Soviet Union. Because I already know Russian. I don’t even have to do that. My mother said, you shut up with those things. Keep quiet because if they get ahold of you that you are doing these things, you could be in a lot of trouble.

And sure enough, not even a month after that, I was detained by the secretaries. By the time the Secret Service got an interest in my writings to the Soviet Union and all that, they got a hold of it because they. Could see the volume of letters with stamps that I was getting from practically all the Soviet block. And then of course they opened them. They copied them. They translated them. And they saw that they were either in English or in French, or in Spanish or in Russian. And they were like astounded.

Hey, this guy is writing in Russian. English, we understand Spanish. We understand French. We understand. But where the hell did he pick the the Russian from? So they detain me for investigation. When did you go to the Soviet Union to learn Russian? And I said, look, I never been to the Soviet Union. Mind you, I have never even been out of the country.

So they started looking in the immigration list. I’m not there. They started looking in the passport list. I am not there. They kept saying, look, we do not hold that against you. We understand that you wanted to do it just because you wanted to learn. That’s fine. But all we need to know is who paid for this thing. Was it the Communist party? You know this guy who lives right next door to you?

The guy who plays in the Monte Carlo Orchestra, you know that he is the secretary, the general Secretary of the Communist Party of Santiago. I’m like, no. Now that you tell me, I found out I didn’t know. At that time, I had my second job because my first job at that time, it was in the summer of 74.

I was a receptionist at the local hotel. Hotel Matum in Santiago. But I wasn’t too keen because I didn’t pay a lot. Then a friend of mine had a languages institute in town. Which was closer to my home. I liked teaching English more than being a receptionist, and I was gonna get more money. So I quit my receptionist job at the hotel and went to teach English at this language institute.

And one of them, I remember his name, Lieutenant Novas Ferreras of the police. He was there, he was one of my students. Little I knew that he was the one gathering information on me. He sat there for like three days, and at the end of the three days, boom, I got detained by them. I just showed up to begin teaching the class.

When the director of the institute come and says, no, there are two gentlemen in my office, they want to talk to you. So they asked me, what’s your name? Can you identify yourself? I gave him my name, my national id. And they said we want you to come with us to our offices because we have a few questions for you. And when I got to the office, they said, we have orders to take you to Santo Domingo.

Okay, so you gonna spend the whole night with us. Then they say, oh, you gotta go to bed now because we gotta be on our way to Santo Domingo at 5:00 AM, so sleep. So I slept. Next day they woke me up and they took me to Santo Domingo. And that’s when I found out what exactly they were after. They showed me the copies of the letters that I sent to the, to all these people. They had ’em already translated. And they wanted to know where I learned Russian. And I said no, I learned singing songs and why I wrote to all these people in the Soviet block for the simple reason that I collect stamps.

They took me to the office of the head of the national police at that time. He even had a haircut in front of me. It blew my mind. You have this general of the police, of the whole national police. He has a a guard with a Uzi machine gun on this side and the Uzi machine gun on that side. I was a kid. I was very innocent of all of that politics and all of that nonsense. I didn’t know that’s why I would say they could see that.

They could see through me that I was not into communist, revolutionary things, none of that nonsense. Which I never belonged to. So they didn’t feel threatened by me. I didn’t feel threatened by them. So at the end of it all, he just said, Colonel, take this kid and give it back to his mother. And she was scared to death. She was, but I was not. Oh, they finally brought you back. What did they say to you? What did they do to you? I said, no, nothing.

They just asked me questions. But she knew better, so she prepared me. Next day, 7:00 AM I was at the American Consulate in Santo Domingo again to get the visa to come here. Because my mother was scared to death, saying if he stays here with all these Russian things, they’re gonna kill him. Which was later confirmed by my friends. They would have killed you. Because now you were in the radar.

Then this gentleman, he used to live across the street from home, and at that time he was my age and he really was into it. He really was a member of the communists. And he said, when you started spreading around the, the neighborhood that you write to the Soviet Union. That you like Russian music.

And that you like the Russian language and you can speak all of that. We thought you were a government infiltrate that you wanted to become part of our movement because you want to inform on us. And I tell you, had you done that, if you hadn’t left. Like your mother did and got you out of there. We will have killed you. If the government didn’t kill you, we will have killed you. Both sides. Yes.

PRODUCER: Can you just quickly say like what it means for the government to make someone disappear? 

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: Well, simply they just arrested this person in the middle of the night and put him in the car and take him, god knows where. Usually unknown location. Beat the, leaving something out of that person and finally shoot them and throw them to the sharks in the Caribbean sea. And that person was never seen again. Sad to say that no, I didn’t have much time. My mother just prepared a prepared one luggage when she. She saw, my initials on the socks, and I saw her doing that with tears in her eyes.

And when I ask her, why are you doing that? So your socks don’t get lost. And I still have that socks. I still have him to this day. I brought him from Dominican in 1974 and I still have him and I get emotional thinking about that. Because to me that was a tough, tough. Nothing at all as far as plan was concerned. I really didn’t know what the future was gonna hold since I had to come so quickly. In one day I was here already. When I arrived at Kennedy at 7:00 PM I called one of my sister Olga.

And I said, it’s me. I’m calling you to come pick me up. And she goes, and where are you? I’m oh, you’re calling, but I cannot go pick you up in Santiago. What do you mean? You want me to send you the money for a ticket? No, I am at Kennedy right now. Can you come to Kennedy Airport and pick me up? That’s how quick it was.

So I went, stayed with her for about a year. Seeing a big city like New York for the very first time, because when I left Santiago at that time, it was only 300,000 people. It was a very small town. Then I come to this humungously, big city. Hot like crazy, even hotter than Dominican. Goodness, it was like a whole new world open to me. Like when I found out that the gentleman who had the soda pop store in the corner, he was from Poland. He was a dude from Poland. And in that he escaped the World War II because he was smuggled out.

And asking, and where are you from? I’m from Yemen. And where are you from? I’m from Pakistan. And where are you from? Oh, we come from God knows we are Irish. And what do you speak the, we don’t speak even English. We speak Gaelic. I was like, wow, how is Gaelic? And the lady spoke to me in Gaelic again, I was amazed. But. It was– New York was affected of this cancer that was destroying the city. And Brooklyn was not an exception. The rest of the area was mostly empty shells of former factories. And it looked really creepy, especially at night.

I was in the mainly Dominican enclave of Washington Heights. That’s where all the Dominicans used to live. So my, my brother used to live there too. And when I came, that’s where I was. They supported me at the beginning, but of course they also said, you gotta do something. Either you work or you study. So my sister spoke with a friend of hers. They took me to the 37th Street, the fashion industry. To push rolls of material to make clothing. I lasted one day there. I said, I’m not gonna do this. I didn’t finish high school and all these languages to come to do this. More than my citizenship.

I think you’ll be more interested in how I got my green card. I could not stay here under a visitor’s visa. For a long time. And they say it’s gonna take forever. You’re gonna have to have a sponsorship. And they said, look, that is not a problem. Just let me apply for it. So I had my brother be my sponsor. But one thing that I did was that I sent the immigration a letter in Russian stating to them that I am here in America. I like Russian culture and all that. However, I paid a visit to this gentleman at the American Business Corporation called Amtorg on Fifth Avenue. Which from the days of the beginning of the Soviet Union, have been like the representative of commerce for the Soviets in the United States.

And that I spoke to this other gentleman called Nikolay. Nikolay Ryzhkov, and he said that he would be more predisposed to help me in anything that I want to do in the Soviet Union. That if even I want to study there, he could help me all that because I already knew Russian. And when they sent me the green card– together with the green card, they sent me the letter that I sent them with the Russian to English translation.

And the originally in Russian had the name Amtorg and the name Nikolay Nikolay Ryzhkov of the gentleman that I spoke with circled in red. So because they saw that I would be, I believe in an asset to the country rather than– that I was gonna be a good citizen. So they decided to give me the citizenship and they got it like in three months.

Should I say the company name? Because this company that I was working for, that I used to repair machines. And this gentleman comes and says to me, you know, we really don’t want you here. Why don’t you come back where you came from? You should leave. We don’t want you here. And I didn’t even know what he was talking about, namely because I had never seen or felt racism. And it was later when I spoke about that to some people that they told me he was a racist.

Telling you that he was better than you and that you should go back to where you came from. That was pretty much the very first case of racism that I encountered here. I never even thought about it. In the Dominican at the time wasn’t even a subject to think about. Black is black and so what? Because we saw everybody as Dominicans. You speak like we do. You eat like we do. You talk like we do. You celebrate like we do. And if you are black, white, green, red, we don’t care.

The only racism if you want, that at that time existed there. Was economic racism. If you had money, you could do whatever you want. If you didn’t have money, then it wasn’t good. Simple as that. But because of your, the color of your skin. Of your skin or your nationality? No, until I came to the United States. Yes. And then they started harassing, taking Krazy glue and taking my toolbox and pouring the whole crazy, the bottle, little bottle of Krazy glue all around the edge.

So I had to take a screwdriver and a hammer and pretty much break it all around. The second thing that they did was I had a combination lock. They took Krazy glue again, and the edge of the wheel. They also Krazy glued that, so it was solid like a rock. So again, I had to take a screwdriver and a hammer and break the clasp. It was either that or break the door.

Shortly after that, life became impossible in that place. I just left. I got my degree. And then when I finished, then I went to work for Eastman Kodak. And they also started offering, and I’m talking about the 1980-85, the first courses on computers. So by the nineties I already had a very good foundation on computers. So by 1991, I went on my own, as a computer repairman. And put my own little computer company called Cyclone Computers. And at that time I was covering practically the five boroughs, Westchester, long Island, New Jersey, and Staten Island. Mostly Hispanic or companies that the customers spoke Spanish.

So in areas of– In the Hispanic areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx I had a good, I would say, 60, 80 customers. Which wasn’t bad at that time for one person. But by 98 companies like Dell, Gateway came and I couldn’t compete against them. So that’s when I went as a IT manager to work for a company called Claritas. By the 98, 2000, it was good. I really can’t complain.

The economy was good. Everything was good in at that time. Because that also coincided with the end of the Cold War. So people had hopes. Now we’re not gonna die in a cloud of a nuclear explosion. People had hopes the economy was doing good. We didn’t have the terrorism problems and all the headaches that we had in the eighties. When people were scared of the Cold War. Until September 11th, 2001, and that’s when the cloud, the black cloud of terrorism came over us.

AUDIO CLIP: Kennedy Tower reports that there was a fire at the World Trade Center and that’s, that’s the area where we lost the airplane. Anybody know what that smoke is in Lower Manhattan? I’m sorry, say again? Lot of smoke in lower Manhattan. A lot of smoking lower in the Manhattan. Out of the top of the World Trade Center building, the major fire.

A major explosion from probably, it looks like about the 80th floor. It looks like it’s affected. I was dropping my daughter off from school riding along the bike path at Rolling River. And I saw a big airplane over my head, very low, and I looked up and I thought, what in the world is this plane doing here? It’s too low. And I looked up behind me and I saw this huge airplane crash to the side of the World Trade Center.

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: I’m getting off the subway, which that day took a– everything took a tremendously long time. So that by the time I got out of the subway I see people looking up and I was surprised. Why? Why all these people here, what’s going on? I get out of the subway station at 8th Street. And when I look up, because I see everybody pointing up and screaming, and when I look up, all I see is one of the towers on fire.

And maybe five minutes later I see another plane coming and I just couldn’t believe it, that it just flew straight into it. Then I realized that, uh, hey, no, this is not an accident. This is not an airplane that had an accident and crashed against the tower. This was intentional. Then I knew that. But we pretty much were at war.

AUDIO CLIP: So you have no idea right now. Other of another one. Another plane just hit right. Oh my God. Another plane has just hit it. Hit another building. Flew right into the middle of it. Explosion. Another one just hit the building. Wow. God. Another hit it hard. No one the worst. The whole building just came apart. Oh my God. Holy smokes. I was in shock, as was everyone, and we were standing there talking, how could something like this happen?

And then all of a sudden, a smaller airplane slammed right into the other tower. I saw both of them happen. It was horrible. My God, it’s right in the middle of the building. This one into the East Tower. Yes. Yes. Right in the middle of the building. And right now that, yes, that was definitely looked like it was on purpose. 

And the first thing that came to my mind, of course, was the Taliban. Seeing the towers collapse. I remember that when one of the– when the first tower collapsed, this lady, she was standing by the corner. And I have never seen people or someone fainting the way this lady fainted. She just went straight, like a tree going down. Fortunately, there was a cop behind her that grabbed her on her fall and, you know, gently guided her to the ground and put his own cap on under her head. And these are things that unless you see them, they’re hard to describe at the moment. Because to me, there was like watching a movie, but then I realized, but this is not a movie.

This is real life. This is the real thing. And I went haywire when that happened. I got full of anger, impotence, sadness. So many feelings together at the same time. Then I just run into the office and when they saw me in that state– I remember my boss, it was very gracious. He said that I know how you feel and look, if you want, go to my office, lock it, and if you wanna break a chair. Go ahead, do it.

And I started kicking things , and banging on doors and banging on the table and screaming loud that we have to do something to hurt these people back because it was really the impotence that I felt not being able to do anything about it. And going back a little bit, standing there and see these two buildings on fire and seeing papers and things falling from it. And sometimes you’ll say, but is that a person falling? And sometimes you could see arms and legs flailing. Or a red skirt, waving and as the person went down. It was really hard. It was really hard.

AUDIO CLIP: All I was thinking about at the time was I was worried about the people. You started seeing some really disturbing things. Some people trying to get out of the building and by jumping .You saw people jump. I did see people jump. I saw, I personally saw about six people and I think that’s when I was gone and I had to get away. What’s your name? Keith Goldstein.

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: So. I had to stay in the office. I sat down for like an hour and until I got calmed enough to be able to call my family here at home and let ’em know that everything was fine with me. I’m in the office and that I was trying to get home any which way I could. So I hung up the phone and they told me, really nothing you can do today here. So just go home and be safe and don’t show up until we call you. So I started walking towards the subway station but they told me , really there are no trains coming here. I started walking from eighth Street by , Broadway, but there was nothing. No subways, no, no buses, nothing.

It really blew my mind because I had never seen in the city of New York, an A an Abrams M1 tank parked right at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. And two soldiers, probably National Guard. I don’t know, but two soldiers there. And then that’s when I understood that this is the real thing. This is– we are at war. Finally at 42nd Street, I found that there was subway service. And the cop said just go in, the trains are stopping here at 42nd. And they go up north. Just get out of here. Get out of Manhattan, get out of the city. Don’t come back.

We don’t want you here. Just leave. It’s free. Just go in. And then I got home. I came– I guess my, my blood pressure and my tension were sky high because I could not rest. I could not sleep, I could not sit down. I was like pacing. So finally around 7:00 AM the next day. Doing the same thing, I could not sleep. I said, if I stay home, I’m going to go crazy. I can’t stay here. I took the express bus that took me to 23rd Street. And I said, I am going to just offer my services for whatever they need me to do. I don’t care what it is. That morning, that same morning before I went to 23rd Street, I heard that they were not like really needing people, but if you have if you wanted information about a lost relative. You could go to the Armory on 26th and Lexington. I said, well, at least I can offer my services to them there.

PRODUCER: Two more questions. Can you just tell us about like, just more of like the feeling and the atmosphere at the Armory, those first couple days?

MIGUEL VARGAS-CABA: Despair, sadness, A little bit like oppressive, but a lot of hope. People looking, looking for information. Looking to know about the relatives. Most than anything else, hope. Will I find them alive. None of them were thinking that we are going to find them dead. They will be found. Whether it’s at a hospital, whether it is on , a bubble under the rubble. But we will find them alive. You could see like– I’m not gonna say a black cloud, but like a mist, a gray mist.

That’s what you saw and a sort of silence. Outside you had this humongously long lines on both sides of the door. And you had cops at the entrance. And when I got to the, to this cop, he said, what you here for? And he said, I want to offer my services. What do you do? I’m a translator. We don’t need him. We have more than enough and you can go home really.

But with the so many people, they are asking for lost relatives. They said, well they might need some help. I don’t think this man, this cop knows what he’s talking about. So I saw what they were doing, and the very first thing that they were doing was giving forms for the relatives of the victims to fill out so that they gave a description of the person. And I said, I can do that. I can distribute the forms. And by the time they get inside, they are filled up. And one of the cops said, that’s a good idea. Give him some.

I got almost to the corner of 27th Street when I ran out of them. And on the way back, I, focused on this particular couple that was looking at the form as it was, if it was written in Chinese or in Sanskrit. Because they even had it upside down. So I said, okay, which country where you come from? Your country in Europe? And they go, no, Tajikistan, Baku. Oh, okay. I can help you translating this form into Russian. And then you translate to your wife in Tajik. So that’s how we started filling it up.

By the time I reached the door, this cop asks us, no, what are you here for? And I said, they come to inquire about a relative that they lost, and they want to know information about him. And then he says to me, are you related to them? And I said, no, I’m only,– I’m translating for them. He says, we have translators inside. They don’t need you. And I said, but unless you have Russian or Tajik translators inside. They said, okay, I don’t think we have Russian. So okay, go in. Go in. We go in and surprise, there are no translators. Exception made of an American sign language lady.

Basically what they had was a few Hispanic police officers translating Spanish. That was it. So the first thing I did was to talk to the liaison with the NYPD and tell them, first of all, the cops should– at the door, should tell the people that if they are coming to offer the services, if they can translate they’re welcome. That’s when they realized that yes, they had to have someone do that. They said, okay, let’s organize a translator’s desk. And then I had to tell the cops, when you have someone offering translator services, tell them to go to this corner here. Do you see that desk over there, tell them to go there? And we will process them from there.

But as it grew, of course we had many translators. They wanted to know who was the, like the head of the whole thing. So I just took a, piece of paper from a copy machine, wrote down, translators coordinators, and put it on my sleeve. And I just put it there with tape. And by the end of the day, we had organized more or less a good sizable amount of translators in several languages. And as the days were on, we got together some, a good list of some 400 translators. And inside we had approximately about 30, 40 translators in some 15 languages. And my kudos on that particular subject go to the Japanese.

Because first of all, we had no one that spoke Japanese. So we had to call the Japanese consulate. And they sent the own consoles to translate into that language. But we also found out a few days later, that because there were– I believe was one or two very large Japanese companies in the World Trade Center that the Japanese government arranged for all the relatives of all those Japanese employees to flight into the United States. In the 747 that Japan airline had like given them to come to the United States. To give more information about the employees and I even remember that actually that was the only aircraft, the only commercial aircraft that was allowed to fly into the United States at that time.

When you translate, you have to disassociate yourself from them. You will end up getting involved in their grief, and that’s something you don’t want to do. Case in point was this lady from my own area where I come from in Dominican. That her husband was a busboy at the Windows of the World restaurant. And while she’s telling me, describing him to me, and I’m translating, I ask, but tell me one thing. How are you so calm? By telling me these things about your husband, when you know that you might not even see him again. And she goes, I don’t have any more tears. I already cry them all. That’s why I’m like this.

Cause no matter what I do I might not bring him back by crying anymore. That killed me right there. And I had to swallow that and I had to show no emotions while she was there. But of course that doesn’t mean that as soon as she was gone, I didn’t take a walk and take some fresh air outside because inside I felt destroyed. So by the end of the second week, I was working in the translators lists that the Red Cross had. Because of that, even though on the third week I was already back at the office, they told me we still need translators to man the phones. However, this location was even closer to ground zero than before.

And it was actually so close to it that, although it was warm, we had to close the windows. Because the stench was unbearable. The stench of burnt everything. Burnt flesh and also decomposing flesh. And another, I would say tragic thing that happened there, was how often we heard the sirens. Of the either ambulance or firetruck. Meaning they have found another victim and they were taking it out and that was– goodness.

At the beginning was like every hour, every two hours, every three hours. And you knew knowing what it was, was really heart wrenching. The Hispanics, they were reluctant to talk to anybody and especially authorities. And I had to tell them, listen, I am an immigrant like you. I’m Dominican. Where you from, Guatemala. Don’t worry about it. We don’t care if you have papers or not. This is not the moment to think about that.

This is a national tragedy. Plus, in your family, you have an even bigger tragedy because you lost a relative. Don’t worry about it. All they want to know is all the data you can give us about this relative. Don’t even think about immigration. Don’t even think about documentation. Don’t worry about none of those things. Forget about that for the time being, you can speak freely.

I’m telling you as a Hispanic immigrant myself, don’t worry about it. Most unfortunately, yes, it would scare them because they are already scared because of what they have been seeing happening in the country with immigration. So I don’t see the openness that happened then happening now, especially with immigrants and illegal immigrants. Immigrants in general, and illegal immigrants specifically. Because then we didn’t have ICE. And all the other, in my opinion, semi fascist, organizations that we have now.

If something like that happened today in this present government and with the immigration turmoil in hate that the country is going through. Because of that I wouldn’t be surprised if I see people cheering that some of the dead are foreigners, as they call them. Even if they are born Americans, but they have a foreign last name like most of us do, except that Native Americans. Which shows the real. Sad state of that situation in this country right now that they would be cheering for the wrong side.