For Victim's Family, a Sorrowful Reunion

By N.C. Aizenman and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 29, 2009

For more than 20 years after Ana Fernandez left her hardscrabble home town in rural El Salvador and a baby son for the sprawl of suburban Maryland, she longed to bring over the boy and her parents for a family reunion. Yesterday, the wish that had so stubbornly eluded her was finally granted in death.

At an all-night wake at a Hyattsville church to mourn Fernandez's passing in last week's Metro Red Line crash, her parents, Fidelina Fernandez and Victor Napoleon Bautista, wiped away tears and hugged mourners who were passing by the coffin.

Nearby, Ana Fernandez's son, now 21, and her husband, Oscar Flores, shook hands with her friends. One woman collapsed in the church, packed with hundreds of people, and had to be helped to a pew.

"My parents tried so many times to get a visa so they could visit, but they never could get permission," said Fernandez's younger sister, Judith Fernandez, 35, of the District. "I feel so sad seeing them here now because I know how much Ana would have liked to see us all together."

Still, like others in the close-knit family, she said she was trying to console herself by remembering all that the vivacious 40-year-old mother of six had managed to achieve. Raised in a mud hut and able to study only through middle school, Ana Fernandez had sneaked into the United States illegally at 19 in hopes of finding better-paying work.

For the next 21 years, she toiled tirelessly, often working double shifts, first at a nursing home and then at the office-cleaning job in the District to which she was headed on the Metro train. Although the wages were low, she managed to send home enough to help her father buy some land, and for her mother, who is separated from him, money to build a brick house. She also had five more children, who are ages 1 to 18.

Several years ago, Fernandez became a legal permanent resident, which allowed her to travel home for the first time in years.

"She filled up her suitcases with presents to give all her old neighbors and friends," Judith said. "The thing she most enjoyed was giving people gifts."

Most gratifying, said her eldest brother, Nelson Fernandez, 42, of Wheaton, was the fact that Ana finally succeeded in sponsoring her son Antonio for a visa. He arrived just 18 days before her death.

"That was her biggest dream in life. She really worked day and night for it," her brother said. "I think she left this world satisfied to have at least reunited her children."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company