www.bilingualweekly.com post story on 9/10/2011
El Diario La Prensa, News Report, Zaira Cortes, translated by Suzanne Manneh
NEW YORK—When Henry Fernández was young, his father went to Spain with the promise to return soon to Ecuador to give his family a better life. But he never returned.
That experience had such a profound impact on him that as soon as he turned 16, he decided to leave his hometown of Biblián to immigrate to New York. "Since he was a child, he said that he wanted to go to New York, and wanted to fulfill the promise that my ex-husband never did," said his mother from Ecuador, Cecilia Hidrovo. As soon as he came to the Big Apple, Henry worked various jobs, until a friend found him work at the Windows on the World luxury restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
"He came to Windows on the World through a friend, and worked his way up from the bottom, until he become a pastry chef," recalled Mrs. Hidrovo, 60. Many times, when leaving work, Henry called his mother to talk about his day and ask what was happening with her and his brother. But his call on the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, would be their last. They parted without knowing it. At dawn on Sept. 11, Mrs. Hidrovo woke up with terrible news. Her old black-and-white television projected images of "fire and destruction" in the Twin Towers. She was sorry to hear it, but took a deep breath and thanked heaven that her son was not there. "Henry didn’t work on Tuesdays. He didn’t have to be there," she said.
But as fate would have it, Henry was in the restaurant on the day of the attacks. According to his uncle, Marco Calle, one of Henry’s colleagues called in sick and Henry was asked to come into work that day. Henry reported to work early that morning and when the first plane struck the North Tower, he was among those closest to the attack.
His uncle, who lives in New York, still remembers Henry’s last call. "He said there was a lot of fire and he couldn’t get out. He asked (me) to take care of his brother and mother. He said goodbye to the family at that time."
A week later, they found his lifeless body, only 23 years old, three blocks from the restaurant. That’s when the family called Mrs. Hidrovo in Ecuador to confirm the terrible news.
Ten years later, she is still not resigned to the idea that her son is dead. "I’ve lived 10 years thinking that my Henry is still alive and will one day come through the door that is never locked at our house. I have a large photo of him and when I see it, I think, I could have seen my grandchildren with a happy family," she said. "My only consolation is that I have the grave to go to and cry. Every Sunday I go with my sisters to see it. I bring flowers and tell him that one day we will meet again."
After Henry’s death, his relatives in New York and North Carolina created the Henry Fernandez Foundation in Ecuador. Mrs. Hidrovo gives gifts to the poor children of Biblián each year.
Lost Because of Responsibility
In her 43 years, the Ecuadorian Ana Beatriz Soria has spent 10 years in sadness since she lost her husband, Luis Alfonso Chimbo, 39, in the terrorist attacks.
She says Chimbo was the love of her life. She had been married to him for 20 years. Their son was 12 years old when the tragedy struck. "My husband was a good father, a good son, a good person. We were a happy family," recalled Soria in the living room of her Queens apartment, here she keeps a neatly folded American flag, the promise of a better future. Chimbo had been working for five years at the Windows on the World restaurant when the attacks took place and in the months before his death he was the servers’ manager.
Even though he was on vacation on the day of the attacks that Tuesday, he went to work because there was a convention at the restaurant for 500 guests. "He was very responsible with his work. He left that day at 5:00 am," Soria recalled. Their son, now 21, was one of nearly 100 children of the Windows on the World employees, who lost parents in the attacks. "It was hard for my son and me. We did not want to let go of Luis Alfonso. We refused to accept his death. He was only 39 years old. We spent a lifetime together. My son asked, ‘Why my dad?’" she said.
Through her tears, she confessed that she is still torn between living in the memories or living for the future. "It’s very difficult to live without him, but there are new joys to enjoy. My son graduated from college and I’m happy. His future awaits. He continues with his life and now there is a stronger closeness between mother and child. My husband would be proud of what we’ve achieved."