Rosa Hernández is alive, but she is half alive. That is what the Dominican woman says, who is part of the list of workers from the Twin Towers who survived the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to her, by “pure luck”; a luck that hurts.
The 55-year-old woman lost 70 of her friends she worked with at the famous restaurant ‘Windows on the World’, located in floors 106 and 107 of the North Tower, the first to be hit by one of the planes that the terrorists used to hit the heart of New York, and the second to collapse, leaving Rosa’s life “on the ground and shattered”.
It’s been 20 years since that fateful morning in which Rosa got up smiling and wanting to go to the Twin Towers, where she was one of the 4 tailors that had the restaurant ‘Windows on the World’, which was so luxurious that it even had its own dressmakers for the workers They will look impeccable and well placed, but the survivor of the tragedy does not overcome it.
“9/11 didn’t kill me, but it did destroy the heaven we lived in in ‘Windows of the World.’ We were all a family there. Never in my life have I had a job where I felt in glory and where one saw that same feeling among all the workers. We were happy and 9/11 killed us all. To some in body and soul and to others like me, it took away their joy “confesses the Dominican, with sad eyes, sitting in the living room of her house in an apartment located on a hill in Washington Heights; the same room from which he left that Tuesday of September 11, 2001, singing, as he used to, and wanting to get to work early.
“I was always late for all the jobs I had before, but in Windows I was never late and I always wanted to go, because it was wonderful to work there. It was like going up to heaven every day, not only because of the view but because of what we lived there, with such beautiful people, from all over the world, bosses who treated one with respect and a lot of life ”, says Rosa, who remembers that the morning of the attack put her to work an hour later than her usual schedule, which started at 9:00 in the morning.
“That day they told me to arrive at 10:00, if not, I would have been there and maybe I would have died,” says the Dominican, with regret and a lost look. “I woke up early and I remember that since the morning I told my youngest son to go to study quickly and not to cut class that day, because he always cut class on his birthday, and he was turning 16. He studied at side of the Towers. He went. Then I walked, I caught the train and almost arriving, the train stayed still. They said there was an attack and we all started running out of the station. We were all very scared, but I didn’t understand what was happening. Then i saw how that smoke that looked like a monster reached us all“Commented the former restaurant worker, who later experienced moments of panic.
“When I stopped at a business where people were watching what was happening on television, I realized that this was in the Towers. I was in shock. I started crying and couldn’t even move. Then I saw people jumping from above, where Windows was left and I despaired. That morning there was an early event there with 600 people. It was horrible and remembering it is still horrible, ”says the New Yorker, who did not have her cell phone, because it had been damaged and she did not know anything about her friends and her son Jeison, who she had pushed to go to school early.
“I thought of Manuel Petrocinio, who was the one who collected all the things in the tailor shop we had, and he died there. Clara, an African-American friend of mine, also died. Alta and I were saved, but I was never the same again. My son finally knew that he ignored me and cut class, so he never went down there, but stayed around here in Upper Manhattan and I calmed down. I had to walk six hours to get home, but it is nothing, compared to what I have felt all these years. I have not been the same again, “added Rosa.
“That was not my day to die”
“Today I think that was not my day to die. I know, because the management at Windows on the World hardly ever changed my work schedule. It was the saddest day of my life. I prayed and prayed all day. But it hurts me. I felt very close to my co-workers at Windows on the World; we were all like one big family. We shared drinks, music, dancing, and laughter with my co-workers before, during, and after work. I have not done anything of the kind since that September 11, “says the survivor, who spent 9 years in therapy, and who prefers not to see photos or memories of 9/11 in sight.
“Due to my traumatic experiences, even though I have precious memories of my Windows on the World days, I never worked in a restaurant again. I couldn’t go back … Now I’m a widow, my dad died too. My sister passed away a few weeks ago. It has been very difficult and I have health problems, “added Rosa, who in the midst of her sadness reveals that she did not appear again near the so-called Ground Zero.
“That place in my life was the best. But it was also like I had taken a piece of my soul. That’s why I’ve never been back there in 20 years, nor am I going to do it. Today I am bad, I am with something that was put in my heart four months ago, but more than the physical, it is the pain in him, the one that does not want to let go and I know this is how it will be until I die, I think“Added the Dominican.
But beyond the pain and the memories that don’t cease to resonate for a single night in Rosa’s mind, she also has a cry. He hopes that as a way to honor the 70 classmates of Windows on the World who died in the tragedy of 9/11, New York restaurant industry workers have greater protections, better deals, and living wages.
Rosa’s dream is that in all the restaurants of the Big Apple “the happiness that was to go to work every day to enjoy the respect and love” that reigned in floors 106 and 107 of the North Tower, From where “you could see the most beautiful of the sky and the best of the Earth and the water ”.
“Ours who died are gone. We can’t do anything with it. But in a city like this, there are many restaurant employees who are still mistreated and are not valued as they deserve, and I hope that the fight for them continues ”, said, with great enthusiasm, the former worker who is a member of ROC United, a union that was founded in the midst of the pain that followed 9/11 with survivors of Windows on the World, initially to support employees affected by the terrorist attack.
Other survivors of Windows on the World
And in a virtual conference to commemorate the twentieth September 11 anniversary, several survivors of Windows on the World also recalled the difficult moments they experienced firsthand with the catastrophe, and the way they have tried to move on with their lives, but begged for benefits for their former guild.
Albert Lee, who worked 15 years in the famous restaurant since 1986, also described it as a family and after the tragedy of 9/11, he did not feel able to go back to work in restaurants, because it was “reliving the pain”, and therefore asked let there be justice in the service industry.
“Reliving this makes me very sentimental. Although I am grateful to know that I am still here alive, each year is like repeating the trauma of having lost my friends in the 9/11 attack. I was saved because that day I entered at 5:00 in the afternoon, but later I had to dedicate myself to something else, to the real estate industry, ”said the 65-year-old man, originally from Hong Kong. “Today I want to ask for the people in the industry. Many don’t tip well, that’s why I hope they earn what they deserve, and that they have access to income protections, food, increased salaries ”.
Sekou Siby, survivor of Windows on the World and current President and CEO of ROC United (Restaurant Opportunities Centers), He also joined the call and after remembering that he managed to save his life in the 9/11 attacks, because one of his colleagues, who died there, worked for him that morning in the kitchen of the restaurant, asked that in view of the challenges that the pandemic has with restaurant employees, everyone is protected.
“I think a lot of people have been left behind and that’s not fair,” he said sadly.
Vulnerable restaurant workers
Now with a broader vision of the fight and defense of the rights of restaurant workers in various corners of the country, ROC United and its members insist that the 9/11 misfortune has a lot in common with the COVID pandemic, where vulnerable workers have borne the brunt, but at the same time have learned to come out stronger under the ashes.
“While the 9/11 tragedy displaced thousands of restaurant and service workers, it united New Yorkers and the entire country. Our restaurant industry also rebounded stronger than ever after September 11, 2001, two decades ago“, Assures that union, which urges there to be more effective leadership and policies to guarantee the well-being, health, safety and labor protection of restaurant workers.
“Since the beginning of March 2020, thousands of businesses have closed as the coronavirus spread rapidly in New York City and across the country. Millions of restaurant workers have become unemployed and still face lack of health care, evictions or foreclosures and mounting bills with no relief in sight, ”added ROC, which has helped more than 500,000 workers and has partnered with 860 employer companies in the fight for the rights of restaurant workers across the country.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.