by Andrea Corona
Wrenches and screwdrivers in all shapes and sizes cover one wall, adhesives and wires cover the other, and tool boxes share the last one with a Puerto Rican flag, a few pictures and a table. Behind concealed doors, tucked away on the back of the laundry room by building P of the Commons, Angel Marrero shares the best part about his job, “I don't have a single boring day.”
Sometimes titles can be limiting and this is the case for, Angel, who is officially the general mechanic of the Commons, but has spent the last 32 years solving problems and fixing up the entire campus, one broken sink or flooded apartment at a time. “I do it all; electricity, carpentry, plumbing, and heating,” he says, swaying from side to side. Marrero is one of the six general mechanics who are in charge of all maintenance and repairs for over 500,000 square feet of residential space. His days consist of tackling the work orders students place when something goes wrong in their living areas.
“Whatever I need him to do, he will do. He is so helpful,” says his supervisor Corey Dawkins, Director of Residential Facilities Management. “One time I asked Angel to go check out a roof and I didn't hear from him all day. When I went to check on him at the end of the day, I found him covered in black gunk, smiling from ear to ear, saying ‘I fixed it, I fixed it’,” he says, “that’s just who Angel is, so engaged and proud of what he does, and always getting things done as quickly as possible.” The issue that day was a clogged gutter, that Angel cleaned out by hand in a matter of hours.
Residents agree with how quick Marrero is to take care of issues. “He knocked on my door, handed me a piece of paper, and within two minutes he had fixed my kitchen cabinet,” says Commons resident Rain Haluska. Resident Jared Gauthier-Snipe shared a similar experience, “He gave me the work order, looked at the issues, went to get some tools and when he came back it didn’t take him long at all to fix it.”
His youthful face and active mind conceal the timeline of his story, and the number of obstacles he’s faced through the decades. Marrero is a Puerto Rican born and raised in the county of Ciales. One of seven siblings, he came to New York shortly after graduating from high school, where he learned everything he knows of mechanics and maintenance. Angel admits, his journey has not been an easy one. “Yo vine aquí por el American Dream,” he shares, “Mi inglés no es muy bueno, pero me defiendo,”.
He arrived at Brooklyn and learned English through a small handbook he bought at a supermarket. After two years in Brooklyn, he went back to Puerto Rico for a few years before coming back and settling with his late wife of 27 years in Port Chester. He has since remarried, but admits losing the mother of his children was an incomparable loss. But Marrero is from a generation of men who grew up with strong family values, “My dad was my best friend and he always told me to keep working and thinking about the tomorrows, to always be prepared and working towards my future.”
That same positive outlook is the one he keeps in mind when talking about the current situation in Puerto Rico. Three of his siblings still live on the island, and are suffering the dire reality of having unreliable sources of power and water in the wake of Hurricane Maria. “Puerto Ricans are hardworking. It won't be easy but we will recover,” he says.
Despite usually working 15 hour days, it seems as though his job is the easiest aspect of his life. After coming to Purchase between 8am to 4pm, he then reports as a maintenance person to a nearby hospital in Port Chester for the remainder of the evening. “I like working and staying busy because it keeps you young,” he says, “I love helping and making a difference; through my job I can see immediate improvements to situations,”.
His passion to repair things goes beyond his work shifts. “On my free time I like working on cars and reading,” he says “you can find me watching a Yankees game or listening to some salsa gorda.” Marrero plans to retire in the next five years, “I want to move to Florida or Puerto Rico and just have time to read, fix my car, and enjoy my family,” he says.