Death of a Day Laborer

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On November 23, 1999, a young man named Eduardo Daniel Gutiérrez was drowned by a building. Gutiérrez, a 21-year old day laborer from San Matías, Mexico, was working at a Williamsburg construction site when the floor he was standing on collapsed and sent him plunging three stories into a bog of wet concrete.

The builder, Eugene Ostreicher, was no stranger to sudden collapses: According to Fire Department records, the site Gutiérrez was working on had collapsed once before the accident that killed him. In 1996, one of Ostreicher’s other buildings collapsed three times before it was finally finished.

In a new book, The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutíerrez, Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin reconstructs the series of journeys, accidents and dreams that ended with the death of Eduardo Gutiérrez. Painstakingly researching Ostreicher’s past building mishaps, Breslin shows how official incompetence, corruption and apathy contributed to Gutiérrez’s death.

But Breslin’s book is also about Gutiérrez’s life. Gutiérrez was one of at least half a million undocumented workers in New York City, men and women whose lives are rarely, if ever, seen this closely. Talking to Gutiérrez’s family, friends and co-workers, Breslin reconstructs his days in Brooklyn–living in Brighton Beach with other expatriates from San Matías, learning how to use the subway, talking on the phone with his girlfriend, Silvia. Traveling all the way to San Matías, Breslin tells the story of how Gutiérrez ended up in Brooklyn working for Ostreicher–his life in Mexico, his passage here and his search for the job that ultimately killed him.

Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post this book excerpt online. To order a copy of this issue, send $5 and a note indicating that you would like a copy of the April 2002 issue to: City Limits, 120 Wall Street, 20th floor, NYC 10005.

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