My father always reminds me that no one is a prophet in their own country.
Come to think of it, he might actually be an authority figure in this matter, just like everyone else in my family. Although I was born in different corners of the world, when my parents and grandparents were my age, they had abandoned their homeland.
My maternal grandparents were Basque survivors of the Spanish Civil War. As a child, my grandfather was sent to an orphanage in France while his older siblings stayed behind to fight General Francisco Franco who overthrew the government. My paternal grandparents were first generation Cubans, their parents had traveled to the Caribbean island some time after World War I.
My mother was born in Spain but grew up in Venezuela. My father is a Sephardic “Jew” and a former political prisoner. In 1979 he was exiled twice, once to Europe and then to the United States.
I am Romina Ruiz-Goiriena (yes, that’s a mouthful), a national correspondent at USA TODAY.
As a child and grandchild of immigrants, I did not inherit silver family heirlooms. Instead, I grew up with a special virtue of freedom, it’s something you can put in a suitcase. Writer Adam Gopnik describes this gift as one that won’t make you “richer and more powerful, but gives you more time to understand what it means to be alive.” Or rather: with a certain responsibility because I had survived.
But like many other “so-called” Miami natives, it wasn’t something we chose or some random geographic event. Everyone’s life here began as a result of various seismic political events that have shaped the past 100 years.
When they got here, Miami was still nascent; much younger than other American cities, born of a major rail expansion project. He was also part of the Jim Crow South where black and Jewish residents (and later Cubans) were the targets of segregationist practices, economic displacement, and systemic oppression. Its location on the map also helped shape its fate: it was the target of heavy regional burdens such as drug trafficking, immigration, natural disasters and rampant poverty. Under these conditions, the city is growing. I did it too.
But first, the race and justice news we’re watching:
All roads lead to South Florida
I left Miami after high school. Abroad, I became a journalist for more than a decade working in all areas of information: news agencies, newspapers, TV and the web. I continued to tell stories from France, Israel and Latin America, mostly about ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges. I did not parachute; I have lived in these countries, I have been part of these communities, I have sometimes reunited with long-lost relatives and learned a language along the way, gaining an intimate perspective on the stories I share. was telling. Some places, Israel, Cuba, and Paris felt more like home, or pieces of it – when you’re like me, no place is ever home. Others, like Guatemala and Central America, were completely new. Reporting on the failure of a drug war, migration, trafficking and genocide, first for the Associated Press and later for CNN, changed my approach the report.
And like a good prodigal girl, I finally made it back to Magic City Strait.
Fast forward to June 24 at 1:30 a.m. when part of the Champlain South Towers in Surfside, Florida collapsed, killing at least 97 people as they slept soundly in their beds.
The images of the pancake building sent the world shivering. At 6:30 a.m. one of our editors called. I knew it couldn’t be good.
“There was a building collapse in Surfside, how far are you?” She asked.
“It’s about 40 minutes according to Waze, 25 if I do my thing in Miami,” I told him as I strapped on my sneakers, poured black coffee into a mug, grabbed some batteries and headed for my car. . My adrenaline rush for the latest news has started.
The editor read me while I was driving on I-95. I started calling municipal sources and learned that there was a family reunification center about 10 blocks north of the towers. I texted some friends to see if I could park my car in their garage knowing all too well the police were going to cordon off the perimeter. I walked right past each officer until I was on Collins Avenue, past the horrible site. I immediately looked for survivors, spectators, officers, neighbors – there is certainly an MO to cover any disaster I have experienced due to my earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and suicide bombings and war.
Report on the Surfside Community Center
It was when I arrived at the makeshift family reunion site at the Surfside Community Center that I realized this event was unlike any other event I had ever covered.
Crowds of people were moving from side to side. Some children slept on gymnastic mats. I heard some Spanish notes with a strong Argentinian accent. I have heard from Venezuelans, Colombians and Cubans. Others spoke Haitian Creole.
Members of the Orthodox synagogue up the street were setting tables with coffee, juice, a kosher breakfast of fruit and bagels for everyone. Along with county police officers, paramedics from Hatzalah, an Israeli volunteer-based organization, were on hand to care for families in shock. Some wore a kippa and tzitzit, ritual fringes.
The press was not allowed in, but I melted away.
“Bo bevakasha, ” come here please i hear in hebrew. I look up and see the Israeli consul Maor Elbaz-Starinsky.
“Slicha, ani kotevet mi USA TODAY, I’m a USA TODAY reporter, ”I said, throwing myself at him to ask if there were any Israelis missing and if the country would send rescue teams to Miami.
I put my mini flux on my cell phone and sent it.
I spent the day interviewing survivors, their families and other displaced people. Those who were ready to speak told me their life stories, sometimes sharing other traumas.
I spoke with Moshe Candiotti, a 67 year old collapse survivor who was a soldier during the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel and told me how the sounds of that night brought him back to the desert of Sinai. A mother awaiting news of her missing son told me she was in Buenos Aires during the AMIA bombing in 1994, when a suicide bomber drove a truck bomb into the Jewish community center killing 85 people.
Everybody knows someone in Miami
Everywhere I turned, I found people I knew intuitively in one way or another. Or rather, knew their country of origin, understood their history and could speak to them in their mother tongue. Every person I met had a story about something I had learned as a journalist in the Middle East and Latin America. There was also a geist, a I do not know what of accumulated experiences that accompany that eternal longing that you can never get rid of as a child of immigrants, as a Jew, as a journalist – especially of color.
And that was before I too realized that I had a connection to the building. My father told me that one of the survivors, Ileana Monteagudo, had gone out with my uncle in Cuba. His brother served a political prison sentence with my father. The Kleiman family who perished had deep roots in Havana’s Jewish community before leaving forPuerto Rico after Fidel Castro’s revolution. Three of the victims were all recent graduates of the Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik of Venezuela, founded by my friend’s grandparents in Caracas.
As Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald beautifully related, everyone in Miami knew someone from this building; “inside the” condo des abuelas “a stroll down any hallway was a feast for the senses. The smells of fried plantain, challah bread and roasted brisket mingled with the sounds of salsa hits from Willy Chirino and the operatic dialogue of the actors of the telenovela. ”
I was standing before the disaster of a lifetime in my hometown
What would otherwise have been a hyperlocal story touched all of my adopted cities. It allowed me to navigate each account with deep empathy and respect; any of them could have been my cousins, grandparents, tíos and tías. But it also sowed the seeds of stories of responsibility and exclusivity before other national outlets.
When people share their feelings with you, they can trust you with their documents. The best stories go after the truth as fairly as they empathize.
This is why I will never forget Pablo Rodriguez, 40, who lost his mother and grandmother in the collapse. It was the worst day of his life and yet he chose to speak to us.
He too is originally from Miami, Westchester, a neighborhood in southwest Miami-Dade County. We got together around the small cinema that was talked about when it opened in the 90s, baseball and our abuelas.
I told him that my 92 year old grandmother passed away in May. When I asked him what he would miss the most, he replied that his black beans, “nobody does black frijoles like it does, ”he said.
I totally understood what he meant. I had spent all of COVID-19 promising my grandmother that I would come for her infamous chicharos or Cuban split pea soup, after I got the vaccine, but I didn’t do it in time.
He told me that his grandmother, Elena Chávez, always showed up with a batch of freshly cooked beans. It was then that I knew how to ask her if he had any and where she was storing them. If she was a Cuban grandmother, there was no way they were stored in a fancy Tupperware container. I wanted this detail in the story.
He let out a laugh amid the sea of tears, “qué tupper ni qué tupper, what tupperware? “
That’s when he told me there was still a plastic margarine jar in her fridge with the last beans she had cooked for her beloved grandson.
Follow Romina Ruiz-Goiriena on Twitter: @RominaAdi
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