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NYTimes: Immigrants Helping Oklahoma Rebuild After Tornado

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A New York Times reporter and staff photographer — Damien Cave and Todd Heisler — are traveling up Interstate 35 from Texas to Minnesota, and writing about how the middle of America is being changed by immigration.  Read their latest chronicle here, about how immigrants are helping Moore, Oklahoma rebuild after last year’s tornado.

Day 17: Getting Back on Their Feet

The tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20, 2013, flattened nearly every home on Kings Manor and the neighboring streets, shearing structures off their foundations, killing seven children at a school nearby and pushing hundreds of families from their homes.

But ever since, this Oklahoma City suburb has been a worksite — full of plywood, drywall and construction workers speaking Spanish. It is no secret that many of the carpenters putting up new homes come from Mexico, some illegally, a source of resentment in other places where people say immigrants take jobs from citizens. But here in a subdivision almost destroyed by the storm, those moving back in do not seem to care where the workers have come from or how they got here.

“I don’t think it’s made any difference,” said Tony McGee, 52, a part-time worker at a nearby zoo, whose home was recently rebuilt. “Most people were in shock and they’re just grateful people were coming to help.”

All over the neighborhood, just a few blocks west of I-35, residents shrugged off the issue of immigration. A few residents estimated that around 70 percent of the workers hired by families or insurance companies appeared to be Hispanic. Many worked from dawn until dusk, residents said, pulling away homes torn to bits and framing new homes on the cleared lots with rapid-fire efficiency.

The frantic rush that followed the storm did lead to a few problems. “One guy tried to tell me he’d clear my lot for $2,500 less than everyone else and that he’d have it cleared by morning,” said Summer Roberts, standing outside her new home. “We hadn’t even pulled the permits yet, so we knew that wasn’t right.”

But the most serious threats, she said, have come from members of a suspicious-looking work crew down the block who occasionally wandered into half-built homes, claiming they had a right to be there.

“They’re not Hispanic, though,” said her husband, Michael Roberts. “It’s a bunch of white dudes.”

A few blocks away, near the edge of the park that backs up to the neighborhood, a lone chimney rose up from an empty slab where a home used to sit. It was a visible reminder, a shrine almost, to what blew through here just over a year ago. But slowly, the destruction is being surrounded: New homes have arisen next door and across the street, some finished, with brick exteriors and bright green lawns, others still revealing their bones and ligaments of wood frames and drywall.

A few of the people walking by on a trail through the park that goes right past the lonely chimney told me they had emerged on the other side of their tragic experience with a new appreciation, for life, for their neighbors and for immigrants.

“Sometimes I feel like if it wasn’t for the Mexicans, we wouldn’t get much work done,” said Cindy Henderson, taking a break from a walk on the recently refinished trail. Her husband, Louis, agreed, noting that when it comes to both local reconstruction and national attitudes about immigration, “it’s a work in progress.”