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Queens residents who want to commemorate the friends and loved ones who perished in a tragedy 1,500 miles away in Haiti will soon have a place to go in the borough.
A Kew Gardens cemetery wants to make it easier for Haitian immigrants in Queens to remember those who died in the deadly 2008 earthquake that struck the impoverished Caribbean nation.
“I think that it’s important for people to have a place to go to celebrate and reflect on people’s lives,” said Bonnie Dixon, executive director of Maple Grove Cemetery. “It will be a permanent memorial for the residents of Queens.”
The exact structure for the memorial has not yet been envisioned, since part of the planning process is collecting names from the community, Dixon said.
“If we get 50 names or 750 names, its going to be a different thing,” Dixon said.
Ideally, any resident who lost a friend or relative in the disaster could provide the cemetery with as much information as possible, like their name, age, a photo and possibly a little bit of biographical information.
“They could give a synopsis of either why that person is special in this world, or write something clever or wonderful about them,” Dixon said. “We’re all not historical figures, but we all have our unique qualities.”
Dixon would like to have the structure built in time for the second anniversary and aims to have everything completed in 2012.
And according to a Haitian activist in the area, the memorial will help give closure to many Haitian families.
“Many family members got buried in mass graves and we never found out what happened,” said Elsie Accilien, executive director of the nonprofit Haitian Americans United for Progress. “It would be nice to have a place where they are named and given the proper respect.”
Accilien said that Haitians are very religious, and are observant about paying respect to the dead, which is why the memorial is a perfect fit for the community.
“A lot of families have a lot of people who were buried in Haiti, but those people don’t have the option to visit the cemetery,” she said. “They can feel there is a place to go to honor that person.”
In addition, it might even become a place where Haitians who have moved to Queens would like to be buried.
In Haiti, families are often buried together, according to Accilien, but since many died in Haiti the memorial might be the next best thing.
The Haitian earthquake devastated the island nation in January 2010 and destroyed parts of Port-au-Prince, the capital city.
The death toll was initially estimated at around 325,000, but an American survey released late last month put the death toll at roughly 50,000.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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