Born and Raised
Anthony and I both grew up in Staten Island. That’s a large reason why I like living here. Our history is here: the houses in which we turned from children into adults, the schools where we got the foundations of our education, and those at which I received my post secondary degrees.
This is where we made friends, went to our proms, and played sports. It was here that we both began our careers. We met here; we fell in love here. This island is where we had our first date. It contains the steps on which we shared our first kiss, the church in which we were married, and the home where we began our life together.
And, yet, since I became a mother, I sometimes doubt our plan of raising our daughter here. I will not go into the details about this because I refuse to kick Staten Island while she’s down.
Instead, I’d like to talk about the reasons that keep me here. The reasons that have become even more apparent since Hurricane Sandy tore through our community on Monday night.
It is not only our history that lives on this island, but our families as well: our mothers, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, the friends who have turned into family in the past 20 years.
During a time of crisis like this, what’s more important than that?
We were all extremely lucky. With only a fallen fence and loss of power, we have no complaints and know how blessed we are to be so unharmed.
But, still, we leaned on each other during this entire week. Since Anthony needed to work, I chose not to stay home alone during the storm. Since family is so close, it was that easy. I decided not to stay alone, so I didn’t have to.
I went instead to stay with my mother, sister, and nephew. Before losing power, we entertained each other. We watched scary movies and painted Halloween crafts.
Once the power was gone, we stayed together around the candles and lanterns. At bedtime, we made a train of flashlights as we walked upstairs. My mother and sister helped me prepare Rosie’s crib while my nephew held a lantern overhead.
The next night once darkness fell, my mother cooked and we shared a candlelit meal. We played cards and passed the time. (We did not yet know the devastation that was happening mere minutes from us.)
On Halloween, my cousin’s power was restored, so we brought all the children to her house in their costumes. We did not disrespect the families whose lives had been ravaged by this storm. We spent most of the day talking about their suffering, discussing what we had that would be useful to donate and whether or not we could volunteer. But the kids were able to celebrate the holiday together with smiles, candy, and pictures. And we were able to share our thoughts of fear and sympathy with each other.
As I said, we were lucky. We weren’t truly affected by this storm. But I imagine for those that were, who lost homes, cars, and most tragically love ones, family was indescribably important. I needed my family during this storm, but if I were really hit by Sandy and her aftermath, I would have needed them so much more. For me, that is a reason to stay on Staten Island with my husband and daughter: to be where our families are, to know that when we really need them, they are only a few minutes away.
Love Thy Neighbor
People say a lot of negative things about Staten Island. Supposedly everyone here is materialistic with poor manners, bad mouths, and misplaced arrogance. I’m not going to say none of these things are true or that no one on Staten Island fits that description.
But you know what else the people of Staten Island are? Determined, resilient, loyal, generous, and kind. I know this is true because of the two life-changing events that have devastated this island in the past twelve years.
The first was 9/11. Staten Island lost more people than any other community; my father was one of them. My family and I were completely overwhelmed by the community support we received after that day. It may seem cliche to use the word overwhelmed, but that’s exactly what we were. Strangers arrived at our doorstep with hot meals, enough each time to feed the thirty or more people at my house each day. Neighbors sent cards with kind words of encouragement. Store owners hung my father’s picture in their windows and praised him to anyone who would listen. When we held candle vigils on our front lawn, passing drivers pulled their cars over, forgetting their destinations and joining us in prayer instead. Angels’ Circle was started by Wendy Pellegrino, a woman who I believe had no direct ties to 9/11. She and other Staten Islanders have donated their time and money in keeping the memorial standing and beautiful for the past 12 years. As a “victim” of 9/11, I saw firsthand how incredible the people of Staten Island can be.
And, now, on the other side of the fence, I see the same thing happening for those in need after Hurricane Sandy. Staten Islanders immediately responded to their neighbors’ needs in the aftermath of this storm. By Thursday, some shelters needed to turn donations away because they were already at capacity on certain items. Droves of people showed up at these shelters in the two days following Sandy with bags of clothes, boxes of food, cases of water, and more. My Facebook stream has been filled with people’s questions about what and where to donate. Beyond that, volunteers have shown up at those communities most damaged by the storm ready and willing to help clean out others’ destroyed homes. Some set up tables on these same streets to give out fresh-cooked meals and warming drinks of coffee and hot chocolate.
Every single person to whom I have spoken since the storm has done something to help out and plans to do more. My family and I are doing our best to repay the kindness that was given to us twelve years ago by helping as much as we can during this crisis.
At the end of the day, the point is that there is so much good on this island and at a time like this, I want to raise Rosemarie here and let her grow up around people who are so giving and generous. I don’t know what the future will bring but, today, I’m proud to be a Staten Islander and proud that my daughter is one as well.