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Baltimore bridge worker came to the U.S. to help family, community in Honduras

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All six people who went missing after the collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge are from Mexico or Central America. They were part of a construction crew fixing potholes on the bridge when it was hit by a cargo ship early Tuesday. Yesterday authorities recovered two bodies from the Patapsco River. One man was from Mexico, and the other was from Guatemala. Not all of the missing workers have been officially named, but we are starting to learn more about some of the victims. NPR's Sergio Martinez Beltran brings us the story of one of the men working on the bridge that night, who was originally from Honduras.

SERGIO MARTINEZ BELTRAN, BYLINE: Maynor Suazo Sandoval had a vision for a better future for the U.S. and for his home country in Honduras. The 38-year-old man left rural Azacualpa nearly two decades ago and settled in Maryland, where he had a series of odd jobs. He was a mason in construction. Then he was a package carrier, dreaming of establishing his own company.

MARTIN SUAZO: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTINEZ BELTRAN: Martin Suazo says his little brother, Maynor Suazo, was a generous, hardworking man. Talking to us from Azacualpa, Martin Suazo has spent the last two days talking to local and international news media about his brother. The tragedy in Maryland is bringing pain to this town of about 12,000 people. Maynor Suazo built a hotel here that provided jobs and supported his family. He also helped his community, paying for people's medicines and doctor's visits, assisting people with disabilities and even sponsoring the youth soccer league.

SUAZO: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTINEZ BELTRAN: Martin Suazo says his brother always said that if kids had a healthy mind, teenagers would prosper, and that meant Honduras was going to be better. Earlier on Tuesday, Maynor Suazo was part of a crew filling potholes on Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge when a cargo ship crashed into it. He had been in this job for about two years. He had established roots in Maryland. He had a wife and two kids. Two of his siblings live nearby. But Maynor Suazo is presumed dead. Suazo was a member of CASA, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for immigrants.

GUSTAVO TORRES: These construction workers are absolutely essential. They work on the night shifts to repair a bridge that 30,000 people and cars use every day to get to work through the city.

MARTINEZ BELTRAN: Gustavo Torres is CASA's executive director. He says the tragedy serves as an example of how immigrants often perform risky jobs that keep the country running. In the U.S., about 1 in 4 construction workers are foreign-born, according to the census. The majority of them are Hispanic.

TORRES: And I really hope that people, the American people, the policymakers understand and value the amazing contribution of the workers, the families, men and women in this society.

MARTINEZ BELTRAN: Their labor not only supports the U.S. but also supports the economies of countries abroad. Money sent by workers in the U.S. represents one of the main income sources for countries like El Salvador and Honduras. Maynor Suazo was one of the people sending money back to his country. By all accounts, he had become a successful provider for his family and his larger binational community. Since the accident, people in his community went on social media, praying for him and honoring his legacy. Photos of kids wearing brand-new soccer uniforms and shiny trophies provided by Maynor Suazo adorn people's Facebook pages. One person wrote, thank you, brother, for loving your hometown and your people. Martin Suazo says his family has been in contact with authorities. They want to bring Maynor Suazo back to Azacualpa, the place where it all started. Sergio Martinez Beltran, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIEVERY CORPORATION SONG, "SATYAM SHIVAM SUNDARAM (FEAT. GUNYAN)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán