The lives we've lost

Roxana Flores

When she was 17, Roxana Flores left behind everything she knew in Costa Rica for a new life in New York. She had come to the East End on a work visa, cleaning houses to make ends meet as she got married and started a family in 1998.

“When my sister was born, my mom would take us with her,” her son, Cesar, recalled in an interview Friday. “I’d be pushing my little sister around in a stroller, making sure she wouldn’t cry.”

Nearly a decade ago, Ms. Flores began a job as an interpreter for the Southampton Town Justice Court. Whether it be the judges, stenographers or court clerks, Ms. Flores was “loved by all in the court.”

The Flanders resident died Tuesday of complications caused by COVID-19, her son said. She was 47.

“My mom — both my parents, honestly, are the embodiment of the American dream,” said Cesar, 21, a Riverhead graduate currently double majoring in math and music at SUNY Geneseo.

“My family and I, we’re in shock at how people have been showing support. It really does warm our hearts and reinforces the fact that my mom was such a positive influence on who she met,” he said.

Ms. Flores was born June 16, 1972 in Aserri, Costa Rica, and immigrated to the United States in 1990. She married her husband, whose name is also Cesar, in 1997.

News of her sudden passing has rocked those affiliated with the Southampton Justice Court and prompted local defense attorney Melissa Aguanno-Walker to start a GoFundMe page to help the Flores family.

Ms. Aguanno-Walker said she’s experienced loss in her own family due to the coronavirus. “It’s really touched a lot of my life,” she said. “I feel for her children.”

“We’re all devastated,” said Southampton Town Justice Deborah Kooperstein in an interview Friday. “She just radiated goodness.”

Judge Kooperstein hired Ms. Flores as a second interpreter nine years ago and said she’d embraced the job, helping thousands in the Latino community over her tenure. Each week, after a lengthy court session where hundreds of vehicle and traffic violations were processed, Judge Kooperstein would thank Ms. Flores. “I’d say, ‘Roxana, I couldn’t do it without you.’ And it was the truth.”

Religion was incredibly important in his mother’s life, Cesar said. She was an active member of the Luz En Tu Senda church in Riverhead.

“Members of the church would come to her if they’d get speeding tickets. They’d be worried if it was their first time going to court,” he said. “And my mom would always help ease their nerves.”

Cesar described his mother as loving and caring. “She always put family first,” he said. “She told us we had to push ourselves to be the best people we could be and pursue education to take advantage of the opportunities they didn’t have.”

Ever since Cesar returned from college in mid-March, he said he grew concerned for both of his parents, since his mom had underlying health issues and his father works in food service at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.

In April, both parents tested positive for the coronavirus, but while his father began to recover, his mother’s condition worsened.

She was hospitalized on April 28 after having trouble breathing, Cesar said. Oxygen tubes impeded her ability to speak, but nurses helped her FaceTime with family. 

They last spoke Tuesday afternoon, as Cesar took a break from completing finals week assignments for school. “I told her I loved her a lot, and that the schoolwork was really getting to me, but I’d try my best to make her proud. Had I known that was the last time I would talk to her, I would have said more.”

Cesar said the outpouring support and stories they’ve heard about their mom in the past few days have meant the world to them. “It’s inspiring to us, to keep her legacy going.”

Ms. Aguanno-Walker, who intends to raise funds on the GoFundMe through Tuesday, said Ms. Flores’ death is a “big loss” for the courts, her church and community. “She made a beautiful life for her and her family and had so much more life and love to give,” she said. “I’m sad this took her life so quickly.”

In addition to her husband, Cesar, and son, Cesar Eli, Roxana is survived by two daughters Jasmine, 16, and Angela, 12. She will be laid to rest in a private ceremony at Riverhead Cemetery on Monday that may be streamed on Facebook Live for those who are not permitted to attend, her son said.