Sunday, September 11, 2011

Notes on Sept. 11th – A 10 Year Anniversary

A photo I took at Ground Zero in 2005
It's mind boggling how insignificant this date was 10 years ago. September 11 might as well have been March 19, or February 5th, dates that would have maybe meant something if it were your birthday.

By now September 11th has become a symbol of so many things, so many memories and so much pain. It has become much more than a date. It has been made into a justification for war, for hate, for division. I wish that the memory of Sept. 11 would have been used for unity,  but 10 years later I cannot make that assertion.
Blonde highlights...never again
 On that September 11, 2001, I was a senior in high school in a small town in the middle of Pennsylvania.  I had blonde highlights and ironically, was probably wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. It was during the end of 1st period Biology class that an announcement was made over the loudspeaker about planes hitting building in New York. I have similar memories that other have, memories of confusion, unanswered questions and no idea as to what the hell was going on. Terrorist attacks were initially so far from my mind, that kind of scenario was something I saw in Die Hard, not in real life.

But this was real life, by my next class the towers were still there..then I saw them fall. It was like a dream, I felt like someone was making this up. I had visited the towers just about a week before, with my tourist minded relatives from Cali who had wanted to visit the WTC. Now it was dust, I saw it become dust right there, it was absurd, it wasn't real..but of course it was real. all of it.
I am grateful that after that day, teachers pulled me aside to tell me that if anyone said anything negative to me about my religious background (this was a small town with little diversity in middle America after all) to let them know, because it would not be tolerated. I luckily did not face such backlash, though so many others did around the US. I was thankful that teachers showed their concern to me, I did not expect that.

Now 10 years later,  I am an activist and have witnessed the ripples of change that have radiated from 9/11;  Not just the hate crimes but the groupthink mentality of us "Americans" against them "terrorists".  Government policy became openly and enthusiastically racist and Islampahobic. So many of suffered for this, both here and abroad.

Congressman Mike Honda speaking at the hearing, to left is Commissioner Nitasha Sawhney, California Commission on API Affairs, to his right: Assembly Member Paul Fong, Zahra Billoo from CAIR, and Amardeep Singh from The Sikh Coalition.
There have been different events lately that are pushing issues of Islamaphobia to the forefront. I attended a 9/11 Community Hearing in Mountain View, CA sponsored by the Unheard Voices of 9/11 project, where political leaders and community members came together to discuss and share stories that have impacted South Asian and Muslim communities in the years since 9/11. There were many speakers who faced harassment, discrimination and bullying in their lives due to the color of their skin or the prominence of their faith apparel. There was so much to stay; the meeting ran long as we were hungry to hear and to speak more about these issues.
speakers at the hearing
I am sometimes overwhelmed with emotion as I see the tireless efforts that organizations and people put forth to fight for their rights. To fight for equality and their right to live as Americans in environments that repeatably label them as the 'other'. I also feel some slight sense of victory as mainstream publications like the Washington Post mention the hearings and books are published on these issues. I wanted to give a particularly heartfelt plug for the book "Patriot Acts: A Narrative of Post 9/11 Justice".  The book is a collection of first hand narratives of different people who have had their human rights and civil rights violated during the "War on Terror". I am so grateful to someone like Dave Eggers, who is a famous writer, for establishing a publishing company and series that enabled the publishing of this book. Please read it, it made me tear up as I read it, the stories were so poignant, infuriating and relateable. Especially for me.

I wanted to include a quick passage from the book:
"Dehumanizing, or in this case, de-Americanizing individuals is often the first step toward justifying policies, laws and treatment that would otherwise offend our sensibilities"

On 9/11 I feel somber, sad and a little depressed as I think about the emotions I had watching the city I love suffer and buidings I admired and literally looked up to come crashing down.

It's traumatic for us, but healing does not consist of spreading hate, and we still have a lot of work to do.

I hope we can work together and grow as country because revenge has not all. Let's try to educate, communicate and speak up, and see if healing, instead of revenge, can drive our communities forward.

And I will end with a quote from a participant, Gurinder Ahluwahlia, at the 9/11 hearing.

"It does get better, it does."

simple but poignant.