I remember standing at the top of the World Trade Center the morning of Aug.18, 2001. The Top of the World observation deck, in the South Tower, held tourists from around the world. The visitors lined the surrounding glass walls to see the beauty of New York City. The majority of the workers in the observation deck were Hispanic, a drastic contrast to the predominantly Caucasian financial types I had seen on the first floor. A 19-year old from a small town in Pennsylvania, I soaked in the imagery, people, and sounds of the city. There was a bigger world outside of college that I was excited to get to. Reaching into my purse, I handed the souvenir vendor 10 dollars for my “I Love New York” t-shirt. I didn’t know then what that shirt would symbolize in just 2 weeks.
September 11, 2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy in 2001. A tragedy where over 2000 people died due to the acts of radical religious/political extremists. 78% of the victims were men, and 48% of them had children under the age of 18. New York City had become the front line, and civilians, not soldiers, became the victims of war. War, money, power has left it’s devastating impact on human history since the dawn of man, but for my generation, Sept. 11 would be the defining event that would change the trajectory of our lives.
Fear. That’s what I saw in their eyes. It was the first Indian Subcontinent Students Association meeting of the 2001 school year. The backlash against Muslim-looking minorities had begun and many students, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, were afraid to leave their dorms. Stories of harassment and physical abuse were running rampant. I was on the executive board that year, and the room was packed with students, school officials, even university reporters. We came together to be heard and be protected. The students were scared and angry, angry that because of their heritage they were somehow less American.Â It is a strange feeling, not being able to grieve because someone is saying, “you are not one of us.” My whole life, I only knew how to be American, but now the American flag, a symbol of my freedom, was being used as a symbol in hate crimes against Muslims.
The third largest ethnic group killed in the destruction of the twin Towers was that of South Asians.Â In April 2002, the New York Department of Health put the figure at 34 dead coming from India and 7 from Pakistan. Six Bangladeshis were also killed as well as several Indian- origin victims from Guyana and Trinidad. These are just the documented citizens. South Asians often reference this statistic to make the point, “we should be allowed to grieve, we are still American, this happened to us.”Â That insecurity exists because there are still so many questions that we can not yet answer. Has the majority of America accepted us back? Can South Asians that don’t change their name or convert to Christianity hold political offices? Can a woman in traditional Islamic garb board a plane without suspicion and looks? Or will South Asians and Muslims be the equivalent of what the Japanese were to the Pearl Harbor generation? How far have we come in 10 years?
The events of Sept. 11 created a ripple whose effects are still being felt. The families that lost loved ones will always grieve every moment that wasÂ stolen from them. The war that grew from the tragedy continues to cause heartbreak on a daily basis. The South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Muslim Americans that want to live the American dream, are still shaking that feeling of being second class citizens.
â€” NATASHA KHAN KAZI