Never Forget…or actively remembering the forgotten: a 9/11 reflection

Today’s theme: Never forget. I hear this and somehow wonder if we truly remember…

Like many of you, I remember exactly where I was 10 years ago when the planes hit the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and the crash in the fields of Pennsylvania. I remember sitting in front of my tiny TV in my studio apartment in LA watching the news coverage and the endless replay of the towers crashing down to the ground. I remember receiving a call from my father, a SFPD police officer at the time –telling me that if anything happened in LA I should travel east and out of the city. I remember the eerie silence that fell over LA and walking on the USC campus wondering what we should do and if we’d ever be the same. I remember regretting being so far away from my family. I remember praying that my friends living in New York and DC were safe.
Today, I find myself thinking about what we’ve forgotten as we’ve moved forward from that fateful day.

Do we remember the immigrants –documented and undocumented that lost their lives that day(1). From day one, many of their names eluded the lists of the missing. Do we remember the 27 foreign nationals who died in the towers that day –making this an international day of mourning? Do we remember the fact that 21% (568) of the people confirmed dead that day were immigrants?

While we commemorate the lives of those lost this day 10 years ago, what goes unspoken has been the long term effects of prolonged exposure to the toxins at both sites. Multiple studies have shown that the surviving 9/11 first-responders have higher incidents of cancer and overall health illnesses than is normal. Yet it wasn’t until January that President Obama signed a bill into law that helped provide financial help for the medical needs of 9/11 recovery workers. For almost ten years, these individuals racked up huge debts and had their medical needs unanswered .(2)

I also think about the lives that were changed through no fault of their own. While we’ve written about the children of 9/11,who will never know their parents, we’ve forgotten to talk about victims of the increased hate violence all over the country. Racial profiling, hate speech, religious intolerance became acceptable in the most heinous of ways. In recent writings, we see what the post-9/11 realities look like for Arab and Muslim youth (See Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to be a Problem: Being Young and Arab in America). These issues aren’t localized. In her recent article, Monster (3), for the New Yorker, Zadie Smith writes about implications across the world in London. She says, “

For some, the basic political insights of adolescence arrived with an extra jolt: your people over here were hurting your people over there; your home was attacking your home. Then came the cataclysm. The end of the world for nearly three thousand innocent people. The beginning of a different sort of world for the rest of us. From the epicenter in Manhattan, shock waves rippled across Europe. In North West London, a small but significant change: the stereotype of the Muslim boy was transformed. From quiet, sexless, studious child—sitting in the back of class and destined for an engineering degree—to Public Enemy No. 1”

It seems that part of what we need to remember is that we’ve been a country built on advocating for change and fairness for all workers. In one of the many inspiring stories that came out of 9/11 –we’ve seen the former workers of Windows of the World ban together to create both a training center for immigrant restaurant workers and for workplace standards. What started in New York is now present in 5 other cities. In the face of great tragedy, they created positive change.(4) The story of Mrs. Bingham(5) –who in the aftermath of her son’ heroic actions became a tremendous supporter and advocate in the LGBT community. Working tirelessly to support the causes that were important to her son’s heart. Working in his memory has made the world a better place.

Part of what I struggle with today –is not just with the memory of the horrible act of terrorism that took over 2,996 deaths that day, but the immense amount of death we’ve witnessed. To date there have been 6,028 deaths of US Military in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also estimate that Iraqi civilian death tolls range between 102,000 and 112,000. What scares me most is that we are living in a time where war and national vitriol seemingly take precedence over building community and finding spaces and places of healing.

So today, I remember, by actively thinking about the forgotten, the unnamed, and the work we must do to both address their needs and to act in communion with the world they might want to see. I think it’s time we take positive action to provide for those who’s lives we’ve forgotten despite their service, then and now, to our country. Today, I say a prayer that we can become a country that values life, works for peace, and creates an inclusive community.