NEW YORK – The New York neighborhood of Corona in Queens paid tribute on Thursday to the thousands of people who have died from COVID-19 with candles forming a heart, along with the names of dozens of the deceased written on paper butterfly wings and masks.
At the vigil, organized by the NGO “Haciendo Camino” (Make the Road), authorities were asked to help the city’s most vulnerable population, such as the one living in this multi-cultural district, where the largest Latin American community in the Big Apple resides.
The NGO chose the names of 67 of their activists that died from the pandemic and projected them one by one on the wall of a nearby building.
Brenda Mendoza, Jose Maqueda, Fotios Angelopoulos, Siriaco Vazquez … one by one their names and surnames lit up the dark brick wall.
Next to the candles commemorating the dead, the organization also placed several protest messages, which were repeated on three posters hanging on the subway tracks: funds for excluded workers, annulment of rent and freedom for all prisoners.
“Aside from paying tribute to the people who have died, we also have three demands at State level since we haven’t received any support at federal level,” said Julissa Bisono, a member of “Haciendo Camino” and one of the organizers of the evening.
“We want the government of (Governor Andrew) Cuomo to create a fund of 3.5 billion for immigrant workers who have been excluded from unemployment insurance and from any financial support (…) We are also pushing for them to cancel the rents because we know that several families were unable to pay in April and May and will not be able to pay in June … because the reality is that there are no jobs,” she said.
Marta Morales has been living in this immigrant working-class neighborhood for 14 years and with the economic standstill decreed to stop the spread of the epidemic, lost her job as a cleaner, as did her son, who worked in a restaurant.
Both remain unemployed and have not paid rent for their home since April. Although she currently benefits from the temporary suspension of evictions decreed by the New York authorities, Morales fears what will happen from Aug. 20, the date on which the moratorium ends.
“Like my family, there are thousands of families who are stuck in the same situation. Rents were already expensive for New Yorkers and as the months go by, they are accumulating for those of us who cannot pay, leaving us sunk in debt,” said Morales during an event held prior to the vigil.
With more than 4,800 deaths, Queens is the second district with the most deaths due to coronavirus in the United States, where more than 93,800 people have died.
More than a quarter of the total deaths in the country have been registered in New York, where more than 28,600 people have perished, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University.
Haciendo Camino called Morales and three local politicians, councilor Francisco Moya, state senator Jessica Ramos and assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, to demand that Cuomo support measures for the residents of Corona and the most disadvantaged, especially the large undocumented population, who do not have access to the incentives of the federal and state governments.
The NGO estimates that more than a thousand people have lost their lives in Corona, which neighbors Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, two other neighborhoods which have been hit hard by the infectious disease.
In addition to requesting a $3.5 billion aid package and the waiver of rent payments of people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, they also request that access to health care for undocumented immigrants be guaranteed and that density is reduced in prisons to prevent the spread of the disease among the incarcerated.
“The best way to continue honoring those we have lost their lives in our neighborhood is to fight hard for those who are still alive. That is why I have introduced a new bill within the state Senate that is a tax for the 112 millionaires who live here in New York state,” said Senator Ramos, who has also proposed paying $3,300 per month for people without access to help while the state of emergency lasts.