While enrolled at THINK Global School, students are encouraged to be creative during the course of their studies and travels. When the students document these thoughts, we are often delighted with the results. In her student reflection, “9/11: Recognize,” 10th grade student Hannah C. recalls the immediate impact that the attacks on the World Trade Center had on her life, even though she was halfway around the world in Singapore. Time and a visit to NYC’s Ground Zero has also helped Hannah realize that the Muslim American’s character, an invisible victim, has also undergone irreparable damage due to the attacks.
9/11 MARKS THE DATE WHEN TWO PLANES were hijacked and used in an attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. It struck a ripple of fear and horror through Americans all around the world and led to America’s “War on Terror.” My memory of this day has been lost as memories often collapse. It was exactly a week before my fifth birthday, but what I can remember is the aftermath which, even though I was living across the world in Singapore at the time, directly impacted my life in the strangest ways. The day after 9/11 in Singapore, which would’ve still been nighttime on the 11th because of the time zone lapse, was one full of questions for a curious child like myself. My life was very much inside the “Expat Bubble,” where I happily attended Singapore American School, took swimming lessons and played at the Kids’ Club of The American Club and lived within a very sealed community. But an incident as monumental as 9/11 pierced through this little world as surely as it might’ve had I been in California. Over night, quite literally, our red, white and blue school buses were painted over an understated yellow, the entrance to the American Club was switched to the backdoor and Gurkhas, a specialized guard unit in the Singapore Police Force, were placed all around the gates of my school and the Club. The atmosphere of the American Embassy was unbearably tense and on high alert. All of these places, proudly emblazoned as hotspots of Americans were now labeled as potential terrorist targets.
I remember two moments. The first was walking into school on September 12 and noticing something missing within the scenes that were normally so familiar and uniform: teachers and other staff members who were Americans and whose families were still in the US. The second was a flight attendant telling me, on my first flight alone years later, that if anything were to happen – her vagueness did not disrupt my understanding of her meaning – I was to “pretend I did not speak English and insist that I was not American, but that I was Korean.” The events of 9/11 changed so much: US foreign policy, airport security, life abroad, stereotypes of Muslims, a false understanding of jihadists and racial profiling.
At the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, we met with John Buschling who was an active EMT and firefighter on 9/11. His story of being stuck for hours under rubble after going in to save people was played out in the Hollywood film, World Trade Center. We walked the part of the memorial that had been completed – two large squares of waterfalls, made naturally from what had been the foundations of the Twin Towers. Engraved into the metal that surrounded the perimeters of each were the names of all the victims. John told us, in his gentle New Yorker voice, of his difficulties seeing the names of his friends and comrades inscribed on the cold, dark iron. This is a man who lived every alarm-blaring minute of 9/11 and felt every second of it.
I learned about this day from what I’ve been told and from what I’ve read. I don’t think I ever realized what this changed about the subtle workings of American society in terms of stereotypes and the way people treat and make assumptions about Muslims. That part of the story never reached my ears. The story I learned was about the tragedy of the city of New York, but not about the tragedy of Muslim Americans. That in itself is a tragedy.
There’s an inexplicable shame that comes with ignorance, of not recognizing a silent attack upon a people. Let one of the most incredible slam poets in the world tell it like it is:
Recognize that for the victims and their families, what matters about this day is that policemen and firemen were heroes and the community came together with love and hope gathered in their hands. Recognize that the victims we see aren’t necessarily the only ones who’ve been broken. Recognize a single story when you see one and understand that reasons cannot always be understood.
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