A Good Samaritan Room
Back in the day when I was single and living with my roommate Angel in an unusually spacious apartment in Hamilton Heights (aka West Harlem), we had a “Good Samaritan room”. This Good Samaritan room was an empty room we reserved for the transient visitor to New York City. As immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico who had traveled extensively, Angel and I had a deep appreciation for those seeking harbor and wandering through life.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I have vivid images of my grandmother filling out U.S. immigration forms for family and friends, often by candlelight due to the rolling blackouts that plagued the island. She would be hunched over what would now be considered a vintage typewriter, every so often carefully applying white-out to correct a mistake. Fluent in English and having worked as an Executive Assistant in New York City, my grandmother had impeccable communication and presentation skills. I would watch her advise nervous and wishful adults, and sometimes entire families. Some anxiously seeking to be reunited with loved ones, and others painfully willing to part with their young children so they could attain a good education and advance beyond what was possible for them in the island. In the Dominican Republic, going to “the United States”, often meant landing in New York City. I didn’t realize it then but her acts of kindness and service, her Good Samaritan deeds, were building out the blueprint of my life.
The folks who came through our Good Samaritan room were often friends of friends and extended family who needed short term, soft landings. All had great stories and aspirations. There once was a German student who loved music and would stand idly in the hallway as he shared his day’s discoveries. There were the distant “cousins” who would marvel at the spaciousness of our apartment with lingering hopes they could find similar dwellings. And some did stay longer. My husband, pre-“us”, was one of those occupants. New to New York City, he initially couch camped with friends while he settled in. As we often did when the room was available, Angel asked me to consider having this new photographer friend stay with us for a bit while he found his footing. Not knowing he would become my life partner, I quickly agreed while feeling butterflies in my stomach — deep down knowing THIS wayward traveler was different. A month later, we were dating. Two months after, having a steady income, he moved out to an apartment in a nearby building. A year later we were engaged and once again living in the same apartment, sharing our living space with others.
I am the result of many Good Samaritan deeds. Mentors like Fred Terrell, Walter Stafford, Luis Miranda, Rossana Rosado, Ella Bell, Roz Hudnell, and Lisa Quiroz who have made introductions, advised me, praised me, and even scolded me when I most needed it. I honor their acts of kindness, and the service I learned from my grandmother, by opening the door wider for others. My Good Samaritan deeds may be different now but the intent and impact remain. One of our current home purchasing requirements is to have a third bedroom or at least a comfy couch. The notion of creating space to help others remains an active part of my life and my career, and one of the values I hope my daughter carries on.