THANK YOU so much for the article "Spreading racist fear about the 'Muslim threat.'" It's enraging to see Donald Trump openly lie about what was going on in the Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities in New Jersey during September 11, 2001. We need to set the story straight and stand up for these immigrant communities in the face of hate and racism.
As someone who was living in New Jersey and working in New York City at the time–and who was raised in New Jersey suburb, not far from New York, by South Asian parents who still live there–I can tell you that what happened was completely the opposite. No one was cheering in the streets. Rather, people were fearful, putting up American flags as shields against the hatred and racism of people like Trump.
Imagine people living in the U.S. for most of their lives who felt like they needed to put U.S. flags in their front yard, in their grocery store windows, on their cars–all because of their accents and their race.
Arabs, Muslims and South Asians had to deal with two terrors at the time: The event itself, which affected many of us very deeply, and the fear of how our neighbors and co-workers might see us. Having a beard, wearing a turban or having an accent became the sign for "Obama Bin Laden"–"terrorist" became the favorite slur any time you got into the slightest altercation. So many people were deported, so many were beaten up, so many were subject to surveillance. This is what the dawn of the 21st century looked like for us.
Does Trump even know the pain we endured along with everyone else as people living in the New Jersey-New York City area? Does he know that we are completely part of the fabric of the place? Its sports teams are our sports teams. Its streets are our streets. Its achievements and setbacks are our achievements and setbacks.
Its skylines are our skylines.
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WHEN YOU go into New York City from New Jersey using the Lincoln Tunnel, you get an incredible view of the city skyline on your left. You look at it automatically–the scene is so incredible and gets burned into your brain.
So for weeks after 9/11, once the bridges and tunnels opened up again, I would look left–do a double take. I guess my brain was so used to a certain scene that it filled in the gap where the WTC was, and I would have to look again to realize, no, the towers were gone and this city had changed forever.
How dare Trump slander us like this! Our people were killed in the towers, were escaping when they fell. A South Asian doctor was the first to respond to the scene, according to the documentary Divided We Fall by Valarie Kaur.
I remember like it was yesterday calling the home of my friend who had a new job on the 51st floor of the towers. I expected to hear from his parents that he died. Tardiness to work saved his lazy ass that day–bless him–but so many others were not so lucky.
Trump has gone too far–but he should know that he's picked on a crowd that's not going anywhere.
Arabs, Muslims, South Asians–we have dealt with far worse than this. We've dealt with their wars and their colonial empires and their racism. We know that whatever we do in this country, we'll be seen by some as outsiders anyway, and we're prepared for that. We've seen so many versions of bullies and racists, and stood up to them, that we're not surprised one bit.
The New Jersey where I grew up is a place where you sometimes see trucks go by with slogans written in Spanish and translations below…in Arabic. You think a place like that, with a population so diverse, is just going to be cowed and go away?
Trump and his kind are the reaction to a country that is undergoing massive changes. We're here to stay, and the things we want are those that most Americans want. The vast majority of us are just trying to get by in the best way we can. The country needs our labor–manual and mental–but some people can't deal with the fact that we bring our lives, too.
We're not just bodies and brains, but people with music, language, food, clothing and history that most Americans–in fact–appreciate. That's 21st century America. Trump should love it–or leave it.
This article originally appeared in Socialistworker.org