I vividly remember sitting in my third grade classroom when my teacher’s cell phone rang and she excused herself to take the call in a corner of the room. My classmates and I were completely stunned, this was something we’d never seen before. Then, the unthinkable happened: Our teacher sank down to her knees and started sobbing. She finished up the phone call shortly thereafter and with tears still welling up in her eyes she told us someone had bombed the Twin Towers.
I was only 7 years old on 9/11 and while I don’t remember everything from that age, that morning is one I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I had no idea what the World Trade Center was and the scariness of what had happened didn’t make sense in my mind until it was lunchtime and my grandmother came scrambling into the cafeteria, frantically trying to find my sister and me to take us home.
I remember watching the news that day, seeing the damage that had happened downtown in the city that I called home and an overwhelming sense of fear took over my body. Being so young I couldn’t quite grasp the whole picture and the weeks, months -- and eventually years -- following 9/11 were injected with a sometimes-immense sense of paranoia. The word “terrorist” caused me to freeze up and there were nights I couldn’t sleep or I was awoken by nightmares of masked men breaking into our apartment to shoot us dead.
To my elementary school kid eyes, everything seemed hushed after 9/11. A shadow of sadness seemed to loom over the city’s skies. At school, because of my brown skin and South Asian features it wasn’t uncommon for a classmate to single me out and call me a terrorist. Everyone seemed scared and hurt and so was I.
I remember the summer before 9th grade, in 2007, a Muslim friend of mine was almost assaulted on the subway: A man saw her wearing her hijab, accused her of being a terrorist and pulled a knife on her. She was no more than 14 at the time.
Thankfully, the New York I live in today is not that same city. It’s true that time heals all wounds and the past 11 years have helped us all come to terms with what happened here on that day.
I love New York and it will forever be where I call home because here, there is a place for everyone. Personal differences are welcomed and the constant intermingling of vastly different people on such a large scale – and the breadth of peoples represented in this city – is what makes this city what it is.
There’s a sense of unity amongst New Yorkers. It’s a fortifying feeling, knowing you’re a part of this ever-expanding quilt of all facets of humanity. No tragedy can ever truly take that away from any of us.