Refugee adjusts to new life in Laurelton

Laurelton resident Sylvia Cothia (l.) has taken in her niece, Alexandra, who survived the earthquake in Haiti. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Howard Koplowitz

A year after a vicious 7.3-magnitude earthquake decimated Haiti and upended her world, Alexandra Cothia has learned to adapt.

Alexandra, 26, was taken in by her Laurelton aunt, Sylvia Cothia, Jan. 20.

“It’s been an ever-changing life experience,” Sylvia Cothia, a clinical nurse reviewer specialist at a managed health-care company, said in a phone interview Monday.

The Laurelton resident said her niece has had to adjust to a host of lifestyle changes, including the weather, learning English and how to use public transportation.

Alexandra, who was a lawyer in Haiti, now works as a receptionist in Brooklyn and is taking advanced ESL classes at York College in Jamaica, Sylvia Cothia said.

She is sending some of her wages back home to her mother and sister, who survived the earthquake.

While Alexandra was able to get on one of the first planes out of Haiti because she was in the process of getting her green card and had a valid passport, the rest of her family is still working on moving to the United States.

“She’s trying to adapt to the American lifestyle,” Sylvia Cothia said. “She’s learning how to navigate the city on her own. It’s a very different change. The weather, the lifestyle. You really have to adapt quickly.”

Alexandra Cothia has done that, her aunt said, noting she enjoys shopping at nearby Green Acres Mall, going to movies, reading and calling her Haitian friends.

Sylvia Cothia said her niece has a work permit but is trying to attain temporary protected status so she can continue to live in southeast Queens.

She said Alexandra and other Haitians living in the United States are not getting the assistance they need.

“There’s been a lot of entanglement as far as our people getting help,” Sylvia Cothia said.

Although Alexandra’s mother and sister came through the earthquake with her, she had co-workers and close friends who died.

Sylvia Cothia said occasionally her niece brings up memories from the temblor.

“She has periods where she has nostalgia of home and she has concern for her people. She has periods where she cries,” Sylvia Cothia said. “She wants the country to be stable politically.”

Cothia was referring to the upcoming runoff election for president of Haiti, which will be occuring as hundreds of thousands of Haitians are living in tent cities and thousands have died since the start of a cholera outbreak in October.

Sylvia Cothia said the experience of taking in her niece changed how she views life.

“I cherish life much more,” she said. “I appreciate the life we have here.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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