19 years…

We will never forget. Some of us for more reasons than just that one.

19 years ago at around 6 am I woke up to get ready for school- 6th grade – like I always did. A few minutes later, I made my way out to the living room where my father’s face was glued to the television in horror. I turned around to face the tv, just in time to see a plane crash into a very tall building, and watched in horror as it came crashing down. I silently joined my father on the sofa, stricken, not sure of what I was seeing… only that something horrible had happened to my beloved country. My heart broke, even at such a tender age, my heart sank at the number of people who must have died. My heart felt anger towards the people who had done this… to my beloved country. To my beloved people.

With a heavy heart I went to school. I figured we were all in this together. Till that day I had only seen nationality. Only acknowledged ethnicity… this very interaction between different ethnicities, a melting pot, that made us all American. I figured we would all mourn together.

As I took my seat, the white girl in front of me looked at me in disgust. I brushed it off, not sure if she meant it towards me. She was probably sad just like everyone else. A few seconds later I heard a voice, seething with a hatred that could kill, “Your people did this, you should just GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY”. I was shocked. Wasn’t this my country?! It was the only country I knew as home. I too, like her, was a born and raised American! So what did “my people” have to do with this?! And at 11 years old I thought to myself, that even if she was talking about Indians, about Hindus… WHAT HAD “MY PEOPLE” – by any definition – DONE?! That was the first time I realized there was a distinct difference between “you” and “the rest of us”. That was the moment I was rudely awakened and forced to understand the white man’s superiority complex… how many of them (yes, I know not all, but yes MANY) think. Perhaps living in California had saved me from reaching this realization earlier.

My heart also broke – with my first terrifying realization about 9/11 – for my American Muslim brothers and sisters. If I was facing this… I couldn’t even begin to imagine what they were going to face in the upcoming days… and my fear materialized with every brown person, Muslim or not, who was pursued and murdered for no reason.

And just like that… 9/11/2001… I grew up. I feel deeply by nature. In this case, even more so. I wept for the people who died, I wept for the people who lost their lives saving lives. I felt anger towards those who hurt us. I also felt confused and hurt for the way I was being treated inside my own country… a country I loved very much, just as much as those self-proclaimed “real Americans” did. But somehow because they said so, my love for my country didn’t mean anything … and theirs did.

And unfortunately – instead of focusing on the tragedy that had happened to ALL of us… This became about the “Them” vs everyone else. This became the new face of 9/11 (an insult to all who lost their lives). This became the new America – only for me to later realize…

This had always been America.

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