Today is September 11. It is the eighteenth anniversary of the attacks in 2001. Only eleven of our students had been born when the twin towers in Manhattan were hit by two jet planes and collapsed, while a third plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth was prevented from crashing anywhere by the heroics of the passengers who wrestled in back from the hijackers. The hijackers were Al Qaeda terrorists and that event sent the United States into a new mode of existence.
For most adults you know, there is the “before” and “after” of September 11, and it is very individual and personal. We are now a nation on alert about terrorists, though we seem to worry more about foreign than domestic terrorists. Domestic terrorism is a far bigger problem for the United States than foreign terrorism.
I think it’s important to say and repeat that, no matter what you hear, no matter what insinuations or implications are expressed, immigrants are not terrorists. Immigrants are people looking for a better life. They are people fleeing dangerous and impossible situations at home. They are people who want to raise their children in safety and happiness. They are my grandmother and grandfather fleeing, separately, the Soviet invasion and domination of their beloved country, Estonia (they met each other after arriving in New York). They are your parents or grandparents, or perhaps ancestors longer ago than that. For some of us, our immigrant ancestors were forced to come here as slaves. For others, our immigrant ancestors escaped death camps to be safe here. For still others, our immigrant ancestors wanted freedom and opportunity unavailable to them at home.
Whatever your family’s history, today is a good day to ask the people around you, “Do you have immigrant ancestors?” and “Tell me your family’s story.” Eighteen years ago, this was a day of death, destruction, tragedy, and division. Today, let’s make it a day of togetherness and sharing our stories.