Building Service Workers Award Honoree Carmen Cecilio Hernandez: In the Shadow of 9/11

It was hard, but Carmen Cecilio Hernandez found the strength to carry on after losing a brother on that terrible day

08 Nov 2019 | 04:44

Carmen Cecilio Hernandez lost her brother in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He was a manager at Euro Brokers, and had helped Hernandez get a job at the World Trade Center as well - as a replacement cleaner. She on vacation the day the planes hit. But she had a family to support, so when they called her in to help clean up debris at Ground Zero, the site where her brother died, she stepped up and answered the call. She was assigned to work at Century 21, 25 Church St. and, finally, 200 Vesey St. She’s been at 200 Vesey ever since.

“It was really hard. I couldn’t be around here. It was very hard for me and my mom, cause my mom works here with me. It was too hard to be around here, but I had to do it, and then he gave me the strength,” she says. It took four years for her brother Jose Merraro’s remains to be discovered.

Hernandez, 57, was born in Puerto Rico but came to New York when she was five. She has had all kinds of jobs, from after-school teacher to working in factories. She and her kids lived in Florida for a while, but when they came back to New York her brother got her her first job in cleaning. She loves it. “I like to be busy. I like moving stuff around, breaking stuff down. I was raised with five boys, so I like heavy jobs. I can’t sit in the office - that’s not me,” she says.

Hernandez has lived in Queens for 20 years and enjoys doing arts and crafts. She sews, does interior decorating, prepares gift bags for weddings and christenings. She dreamed of being a doctor when she was young, but had to drop out of school to help her mother support her six siblings. She and her mom have worked together for a long time. Hernandez was her mom’s supervisor for a time in Florida, then they worked in the World Trade Center together, and now they have the same shift at 200 Vesey St. Her daughter is a cleaner at a building nearby.

“I like to help people. When people are in trouble they know how to come to me. If they call me, I'm there for them,” she says.

"I like moving stuff around, breaking stuff down. I was raised with five boys, so I like heavy jobs." Carmen Cecilio Hernandez