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The Florida Tragedy Is Rippling Through Miami's Immigrant Communities


Miami is known as the capital city of Latin America. That's a nod to the large communities of Latinos that live there. And so this building collapse in Surfside has affected those communities in Miami, but also their family and friends in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Here's NPR's Jasmine Garsd.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: In the neighborhood near where the condo collapsed, the silence is almost as suffocating as the heat. Streets are cut off and nearly empty. The only sound is the purr of rescue team generators. A few blocks over, Orakamis Ruiz (ph) watches from within his deserted barbershop.

ORAKAMIS RUIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "You see that woman who just walked by, drying her tears? The thing is, this just makes you despair."

The store has been here since the 1950s, but this, he says, is a new sight - people walking by, crying. Business is slow, so he and barber Paola Encarnacion (ph) talk amongst themselves about their regulars - who survived, who is missing, who died. The body of one of their customers was found Tuesday in the rubble. Others were luckier.

PAOLA ENCARNACION: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "You know who survived? The Brazilian, the one Lazarus (ph) shaves."

A customer who they call El Tigre texted them to let them know he's OK. Encarnacion says her family back home in the Dominican Republic has been worried. The collapse is all over the news there. Across the street, Roman Cantilo (ph) trembles as he speaks from behind the counter.

ROMAN CANTILO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "It's impacted me. It's impacted me a lot."

Originally from Cuba, Cantilo is one of the owners of Rolling Pin Bakery, which specializes in kosher baked goods, challah and also kosher pastelitos de guayaba, Caribbean fruit-filled pastries.

The day before the collapse, one of his regulars came in with her young daughter.

CANTILO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "On Wednesday, we were talking. She came every morning with her daughter. She'd asked for three challah rolls, and her daughter would ask for a bagel with seeds."

But Cantilo just found out she and her daughter are among those who are missing.

CANTILO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "I had to keep working because if I sat down, I would have started crying - kept making bread."

But if this town is reeling with sadness a week after the tragedy, another feeling is bubbling up - frustration over reports of negligence regarding building maintenance. Samuel Aravena (ph), the other owner of the bakery, comes out of the kitchen to chime in.

SAMUEL ARAVENA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "How do you explain to a family in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay or Venezuela or Colombia that their son, daughter, relative died due to negligence? It's inexcusable."

EVELINA LOWENTHAL: It wasn't supposed to be like this at all.

GARSD: Evelina Lowenthal is originally from Paraguay. She knows several people in that building, including the family of Paraguay's first lady. But it was someone she'd never met who haunted her, 23-year-old Leidy Luna Villalba, who is now missing. She had left Paraguay for the first time in her life to be a nanny for the first lady's sister in the condo building.

LOWENTHAL: She just captured all of us, not just me - and captured all of the Paraguayan community in Florida, in Miami, in New York.

GARSD: Evelina started a GoFundMe to help the Lunas back in Paraguay. She contacted an airline to bring Luna's family to Miami. In the days that followed the collapse, it seemed all of Paraguay started talking about Leidy Luna Villalba. Evelina says people could relate to her.

LOWENTHAL: We're all the same. We came because of a purpose. They came because they had to come to help their families.

GARSD: Luna represents what connects Latin Americans to Miami. It's often the first place they arrive in when immigrating to the U.S., the beginning of a journey that can be beautiful, it can be promising, and, at times like these, can break your heart.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Surfside, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.
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