BAYONNE, N.J. (PIX11) — When Filipino lawyer Jonathan Suarez founded Manhattan Allied Network, Inc. in 2006, he never thought he would be able to bring his family to the United States.
But after six years, he was able to make the seemingly impossible dream happen. His wife, Cecilia, and children, Carina and John, got their papers and their one-way tickets — ready to board their flight from Manila to the United States on Oct. 28, 2012, toward a new life.
What should have been a momentous occasion was clouded by a tumultuous time. Superstorm Sandy befell the tri-state area, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
“I was on my way to work, closed: Lincoln Tunnel, Hudson Tunnel, George Washington Bridge. They were all shut,” Suarez, 50, said in his native Tagalog. “That time, I had to get money from my clients directly because banks were shut down.”
Suarez recalled seeing cars swept away in the flooding as he watched the news. He said that for almost three days after Sandy, there was no electricity both in his home in Bayonne, New Jersey, and his office near Madison Square Park in Manhattan. However, Sandy’s devastation was unbeknownst to his family landing in Hawaii for their layover — their first time on American soil.
“When we landed in Hawaii, we checked where we were going to board for our connecting flight, but all the New York flights were canceled,” daughter Carina Suarez, 23, said in Tagalog.
Carina said they tried to call her dad, but they had no service, Wi-Fi or SIM cards, so they had to improvise.
“The only way we could have communicated with my dad was through the payphone in the Hawaii airport,” she said.
Carina, her mom and her brother only had $100 on hand. They had to wait for Suarez to send them money to get a hotel room. In the meantime, they had to spend the night on the benches of the Honolulu International Airport.
“It was scary, considering we had all that luggage,” she said. “We didn’t know if we were going to get robbed.”
After borrowing some money, Suarez was able to help his family stay in a hotel, where they spent almost two days. He then had to pay for his family’s tickets from Honolulu to San Francisco, then from there to Newark, totaling over $6,000.
His wife and kids finally landed in Newark on Nov. 3, 2012. Carina said they were fortunate enough to have missed the worst effects of Sandy.
Suarez said in the days after the storm, access to gasoline was limited. He had to scour through the state and wait in line for three hours. Nevertheless, Suarez was happy to be finally reunited with his family after several years.
Facing the devastation of Superstorm Sandy while dealing with his family’s needs during their trip was taxing both financially and emotionally. He said it took three months for his business to recuperate.
Difficult as it was, Suarez said overcoming Sandy’s aftermath prepared him — and the tri-state area — for future cataclysmic events, particularly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We learned slowly what to do during calamities,” he said. “America is learning.”
Suarez and his family are now naturalized American citizens. They live in a new home just blocks away from their old one. Suarez’s business is booming and his kids’ futures are burning bright: the “American Dream” realized.