Celebrating the lives lost in 9/11

Ramon Grijalvo

By Cristina DC Pastor

Nenita Grijalvo walked up the stage and began to wipe a tear even before she could utter a word.

“9/11 is the day that changed our lives forever,” began the widow of Ramon Grijalvo, the devoted Ilonggo husband who worked as a computer analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield, which occupied 10 floors at One World Trade Center.

Ramon did not die instantly when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001. First, he suffered severe burns, and then humiliation. He was mistakenly turned over to a Chinese family, recalled Nenita. “He died on September 15; we buried my husband after 10 days.”

Ramon and 20 other Filipinos were among the nearly 3,000 people who perished in 9/11. Their lives were remembered in nuggets of narratives read in a solemn ceremony marked by music and spoken word performances. The Tenth Anniversary Tribute for Filipino American Families was a collaboration by 15 community organizations led by the Filipino American National Historical Society of Metro New York.

“This time of the year is never easy for any of us,” intoned Dr. Kevin Nadal, president of the FANHS-Metro NY, who lost an uncle to the historic tragedy. It is a time, he said, when Filipinos saw their homes crumble and their dreams crushed. “Many of them immigrated to this country in search of a better life. Many of them were young professionals who were just getting their lives started.”


Grace Alegre Cua was one of them. She applied for an accounting job at Metropolitan Bank & Trust, but did not get the position in part because the hiring manager had a crush on her, and they married shortly after. “She didn’t get the job but found a husband,” the husband Ildefons Cua told The New York Times. She eventually found a job at another bank with offices at Two World Trade Center.

Another fatality was Marsh & McLennan accountant Cesar Alviar, a lover of ballroom dancing who always kissed his wife of 28 years before leaving the house to go to work. On September 11, he paused after the kiss “like he wanted to say something,” said his wife. But she was rushing, and did not find the time to listen to what he had to say.

Two families from New Jersey lost cousins Judy Fernandez and Ma. Theresa Santillan. They were among the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees whose lives were cut short in the horrific attacks. Ma. Theresa was planning her wedding for the following year, and Judy was to be her maid of honor.


Julian Tamayo recalled the music-filled life of his father, Hector, a civil engineer who worked at Two World Trade Center. His favorite song, “Today” by John Denver, was played during the ceremony. Julian said the song speaks so much of what his father’s life was about – relishing each day with friends and family “like it was always today.”

A video message of widower Rudy Abad paying tribute to his wife, Marie Rose, was aired. Rudy is back in the Philippines continuing the charity work begun by his wife. Marie Rose survived the 1993 attack on the WTC by walking down 110 stories, but stood no chance in 2001 when her building collapsed. Rudy has donated money to build homes for squatter families.

He said, “There are now thousands of families whose lives have changed because my wife died.”

The 21 Filipino victims of 9/11 are: Marie Rose Abad, Grace Alegre-Cua, Cesar Alviar, Marlyn Bautista, Cecile Caguicla, Jayceryll deChavez, Benilda Domingo, Judy Fernandez, Ronald Gamboa (who died with partner Daniel Brandhorst and their adopted son David Gamboa-Brandhorst), Ramon Grijalvo, Frederick Kuo Jr., Arnold Lim, Manuel Lopez, Ruben Ornedo, Carl Allen Peralta, Maria Theresa Santillan, Rufino Conrado Santos, David Marc Sullins, Larry Sumaya, Hector Tamayo, and Cynthia Betita Motus Wilson.

Cristina DC is the founding editor of The FilAm.


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