Remembering 9/11 Ten Years Later
By Jennie Wood
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a few Americans reflect back on that day and how it affected them.
Like the generation that experienced Kennedy's assassination, Americans who lived through the 9/11 attacks will never forget where they were when the terrorists struck. Cara Campanelli, a jazz musician, was a freshman at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York, on September 11, 2001. Asked what she remembered about that morning, she said, "I remember walking between my fourth and fifth period classes, and seeing the news being broadcast on the TVs in the senior lounge by the gym and in the cafeteria. It was not until we all saw the footage that we realized the scale of the tragedy. For the rest of the day students had their cell phones out, which was typically forbidden, and were periodically leaving class to call family and friends. Occasionally you would see a student crying in the hallway and getting led away by a faculty member."
On August 13th, less than a month before the attacks, Staci Farris started a new job at a non-profit in Manhattan, on 34th and 8th. When asked to describe the morning of September 11, she said: "We started at 8:30 a.m. so I was already at my desk working. It was a beautiful fall day. The controller came by and said that a commuter plane had hit the World Trade Center. Everyone thought it was a commuter plane because the idea of a jet hitting the towers was just inconceivable to anyone. I had just gone through a round of interviews at a securities company at World Financial Center, but I didn't get the job. I remember thinking as the day progressed that I was so lucky that I didn't get that job. I would have been right in the middle of all of that destruction."
As the day went on, the impact of the attack was immediate for many people. Farris explained, "I remember walking home and not wanting to be in a closed space like a train. Immediately, flyers were posted at Madison Square Garden and you were now seeing the faces of people who had lost their lives by simply going to work that day or running an errand to those buildings." The urgency and fear of the attacks spread quickly to other cities. In Chicago, Lauren Cumbia had a similar reaction. "It was a beautiful day in Chicago, and in front of where I worked there was a lovely farmers market happening. We got dismissed from work early because there was a belief that the Sears Tower would get hit too. I took the lakefront path home. So many people were walking home, everyone stunned by what happened," Cumbia said. Hanah Diab, a Palestinian-American artist based in Chicago, immediately feared a backlash against Arab Americans, "I remember watching the news, and hoping that Arabs did not do this."
Being age 14 at the time, Campanelli admits that she didn't immediately grasp the scope of the disaster, "I didn't fully process the fact that I, too, should be concerned. I waited until the afternoon to call my mom and ask if 'everything was ok'—meaning instead—'is Dad ok'? He was. He had been at a meeting two blocks away from the World Trade Center, when he typically worked farther downtown. My father has always been a lover of ancient Greek and Roman history. I'll never forget that he came home that night and said that he thought he was reliving The Last Days of Pompeii."
Feeling the Affects in the Days After
Farris described New Yorkers in the days after the attacks as more helpful and softening a little bit. She remembered, "Over the days and weeks following, people really couldn't talk about it and then after months go by, your friends start to tell you what they experienced. One friend saw people jumping from the buildings. How do you recover and reconcile that? It profoundly affects how you look at the world and how much we take for granted."
Diab was directly affected by the immediate racist backlash against Arabs in the United States. She explained, "I have a small tattoo on my ankle that says 'My Sisters' in Arabic and I would see people staring at my feet and glaring at me on the train. I had to have some very long and difficult discussions with other artists who became very fearful after 9/11 and began saying some things that made me very uncomfortable. I remember a good friend and fellow painter telling me that she could definitely understand racial profiling in airports. I had to talk to her for two hours before she began to see what kind of slippery slope that was and why racial profiling is never a good policy or even effective."
Campanelli described how life for her as a teenager changed after September 11. "My parents were even more reluctant than they typically would be in allowing me to go to Manhattan without them. I remember my mother forbidding me to ride the subway. I was also not allowed to go into NYC on any major holidays that attract large groups of people, since that would be a prime opportunity for a terrorist attack." Campanelli remembered how New York City changed after September 11, "Most importantly; I noticed a major difference in Penn Station. To this day, there is a noticeable police/armed military presence." Tim Grimes, who lived in Brooklyn at the time, remembers the increased military presence as well. "It was frightening seeing the National Guard everywhere holding machine guns. I felt like I was in a war zone. I was working at a now defunct rock club called The Bottom Line. There was so much dust in the air from the debris of the Twin Towers that people were walking around with gas masks on. We had to cover up the voice box in the ticket booth to keep the dust out," Grimes said.
Seeking and Finding Solace in Art
Grimes, an actor and writer, performed in a New York-based comedy group. He faced the struggle of being entertaining and funny at such a trying time. "We were putting together a show about communist sharks that were being sent by Castro to attack America. We were just about ready to put on the show when 9/11 happened. We thought putting on that show would be in poor taste. We eventually put on a show a couple months after 9/11 that made fun of jingoism and consumerism. Even in liberal NYC, we had people angry at us for daring to make fun of America at all," he said.
Diab found solace in her art in the days after 9/11. "My work has always had to do with my family, my Palestinian heritage, and the injustice the Palestinian people continue to face. After 9/11, I felt a greater need to show images that were personal and goofy and loving rather than mostly political. I felt the best political statement I could make was to show our everyday family life—to show our humanity. I started my series of sister drawings, which led to a whole family series that was showcased in my first solo exhibition, Recreating Home: Kisses and Borders," she said. Not only did Diab express what she was feeling after 9/11 in her art, she also reached out in her community. "I realized the importance of arts in reaching people in a way that protests can't. I joined the committee of the Chicago Palestine Film Festival and began collaborating with a group of artists called Piece Process. Piece Process is a group of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Israeli, American, and Jewish artists that collaborate together to create shows on the theme of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict," Diab said.
Are We Safer Ten Years Later
Farris left New York in 2005, but said that 9/11 didn't have much of an effect on her decision to leave. Now based in Chicago, Farris works as a Senior Computer Software Consultant at CedarCrestone. For work she constantly flies to other cities. When asked about traveling so much post-9/11, she said, "Traveling is completely different post-9/11 although things seem to be a bit more relaxed than five years ago. Everything still takes twice as long, but it's a small price to pay for a safe trip."
Cumbia, who moved to New York City in 2004 to attend law school, is now back in Chicago working as a lawyer. When asked if the laws that have been passed since 2001 have made us safer, Cumbia responded, "I sincerely doubt that the Patriot Act has made us more secure. I think it was an extreme measure to restrict civil liberties in this country and it was the right time to get it passed for those who believe that certain fundamental rights should be restricted." When asked if she thinks we are safer now than ten years ago, Cumbia said, "I'm not sure. I think there are certainly things we have learned from 9/11 to help with security, but a lot of these things seem more like common sense. I hope we are safer now, but I really can't evaluate that in a real way." When asked if she thinks we're safer now, Campanelli echoed a similar feeling, "Yes and no. I think that in a sense we're safer in that we're aware, but we're not safer in that if someone really wants to accomplish something terrible, they'll find a way. I almost feel safer as a New Yorker, but maybe not as an American. I think that New York is still pretty raw from 9/11, and always noticeably increases its security at major transportation and tourist spots. I don't necessarily think that the entire country is at this level of concern and awareness. All in all, I think that maybe we're safer, but we'll never be entirely free from worry."