Heroes on our shores

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

“The problem in this city is anything that happens, they say, ‘It’s Muslims.’ I am a Muslim,” said Tarek Ahmed, who called 911 for a man fleeing the Marathon bombing suspects. “They could have killed me. After everything finished, no one protected me.”

I’m a sucker for nuns and people who are kind to the less fortunate, so Lena Deevy is a two-fer.

I call her Sister Lena, because she’s a nun, and that’s what I call nuns, but most people just call her Lena. I love nuns because they devote their lives to the poor, and are usually poor themselves, but only in a material sense, because nuns like Sister Lena are richer in other ways because of what they do with their lives. I love Sister Lena because of what she has done with her life.


What Sister Lena has done with her life is dedicate it to helping newcomers, immigrants, and helping the old comers, like me, remember our own roots, so that we never forget where we came from, and for most of us it was not from these shores. She runs the Boston Irish International Immigrant Center, which is sort of a misnomer because Sister Lena has helped as many Africans as she has Irish.

Sister Lena is retiring this week, and so it is a good time to consider the issue and cause to which she has dedicated her life.

Because we were attacked by a pair of immigrants, because those immigrants killed and maimed our people, because some other immigrants helped dispose of evidence that implicated the bombers, some people have used that atrocity to lump all immigrants in a pile, point to it as a problem. Some people have reduced the attack on us to some ridiculous, politically inspired rant against immigrants and welfare, because the immigrant family of the men who attacked us got welfare benefits.


I’m as angry as anybody that a pair of brothers repaid this country’s generosity by spitting in our faces with bombs that murdered and maimed. I’m furious that some kids from Kazakhstan would take advantage of our university system and then try to help one of the bombers by destroying evidence.


But using that atrocity to score cheap, partisan political points is more than tawdry. It exploits a national tragedy, and local suffering, to the point that it dishonors the dead. It dishonors the wounded and our heroic first responders and our marvelous medical community who saved so many lives, many of whom are the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

For all you who think that what happened on Patriots Day means we should seal up our borders and turn inward and look at foreigners with suspicion, congratulations, because you are doing exactly what the bombers wanted.

They wanted to divide us.

They wanted us to turn on each other.

But we didn’t do that. We didn’t turn on each other. We turned, as Governor Patrick put it, toward each other. The firefighters from Engine 7, the police officers from District 4, the EMTs and paramedics from the city’s Emergency Medical Services, ran toward the explosions. They didn’t check people’s identification before they decided whose life to save. They didn’t save Americans first, and foreigners second.

The doctors and nurses and all the great medical people who triaged the wounded in the tent on Boylston Street didn’t ask the wounded for their passports before they saved their lives. The people who received the wounded at our hospitals didn’t ask the nationality of their patients before sticking an IV in their arms.


Remember that iconic photo of the guy in the cowboy hat, pinching Jeff Bauman’s femoral artery shut so he wouldn’t bleed to death? That guy in the cowboy hat is named Carlos Arredondo. When I saw him at the Celtics game on Sunday I gave him a hug. When they put Carlos’s image up on the jumbotron, the Garden went crazy.

Carlos Arredondo was an illegal immigrant from Costa Rica. After his son, a Marine, was killed in action in Iraq, Carlos was granted American citizenship. That’s a high price to pay for legal residency. And I guess there are some people in this world who think Carlos should have been deported.

I’m glad he wasn’t deported. Jeff Bauman is alive because he wasn’t deported.

The Chechen brothers who killed and maimed so many would have had a much better chance of killing and maiming others with their stockpiled bombs if not for the actions of Danny, the 26-year-old immigrant from China whose SUV the bombers carjacked, and an Egyptian immigrant who sheltered him.

Danny made a bold escape from the bombers, running zig zag lest they shoot him as he fled. Danny was sheltered by a 45-year-old immigrant from Egypt named Tarek Ahmed, who was working the cash register at the Mobil station on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Tarek was working his usual 12-hour shift, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., when Danny burst in, afraid that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was about to follow and kill him.

“They want to kill me!” Danny told Tarek.

Tarek Ahmed calmly dialed 911. He did not look out at the man with the gun. Tarek told my colleague Maria Sacchetti that he feared death but he stayed calm.

Lives were saved because Danny was brave and because Tarek Ahmed was brave.

It hurt Tarek to hear people later disparage all Muslims because the bombers were Muslim.

“The problem in this city is anything that happens, they say, ‘It’s Muslims.’ I am a Muslim,” Tarek Ahmed said. “I protected him. They could have killed me. After everything finished, no one protected me.”

Dan Linskey, the chief of the Boston Police, who should get a medal but will instead be second-guessed by armchair cops, told me a few days after it was all over that he was immensely proud of both Danny and Tarek Ahmed.

“Heroes,” he said. “Absolute heroes.”

Dan Linskey, a former Marine who is very close to Carlos Arredondo, and I hope to someday attend the citizenship ceremonies for Danny and Tarek Ahmed. They are exactly the sort of people we should want to become Americans.

The immigrants who carried out the Patriots Day bombing personified the worst of human nature. And the response to that attack, on the streets, in the hospitals, showcased the best of human nature. Our wounded are recovering in hospitals that are kept clean and operating by workers who are mostly immigrants.

A fitting tribute to the likes of Carlos Arredondo and Danny and Tarek Ahmed would be to finally pass some meaningful immigration reform, to give a path to citizenship to immigrants here and not yet here. Contrary to the xenophobic, small-minded prattling of tabloids and talk shows, most immigrants come here to work, to have a better life, to breathe in the freedom and the opportunity that is at the root of this nation’s greatness. The vast majority are not here to mooch off the rest of us. They want the same life we have. They are, no matter where they come from, aspirational Americans.

We are a nation of immigrants, and we have allowed our immigration system to descend into a shambles. A fine legacy to the attack on us by immigrants who spurned our tolerance and generosity would be to make life better for the vast majority of immigrants who love this country as much as the native born.

And, finally, to Sister Lena, on her retirement from a life of helping immigrants from everywhere make Boston their home, as they say back on your native island: Good on ye, Sister. Good on ye.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist He can be reached at
Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.