On September 11 2001 a reporter in her late 20s prepared to take her first step away from journalism toward a career in the law. What we have come refer to as 9/11 made taking that step impossible. It was immediately clear that I would abandon well-laid plan to return to Texas and a waiting job. I chose instead New York City, and all the uncertainty that lay ahead, compelled solely by an inexplicable sense of duty to stay and witness the aftermath. Over the weeks and years that followed that clear autumn day, many life-changing decisions were made–in people’s hearts and by the U.S. government.
Arnulfo Chino chose uncertainity. I met him while producing a public radio report about the flourishing Mexican population in New York City. Like many other Mexican immigrants, he took the lowliest job in a restaurant– at the World Trade Center–and worked his way up to become a waiter. With a microphone and recorder in hand, I followed Chino: through the subway tunnel, through the massive walkways of the Twin Towers and into the restaurant kitchen where he greeted his friends, the prep cooks. Chino was on his way to work when the planes hit; when we spoke, he didnt know what had become of his friends. In this report for NPR’s Latino USA, I followed Chino’s journey to work, his experience of that day and his decision to stay in New York City despite his mother’s pleas that he return to Mexico. All these years later, it was good to see Chino is still a New Yorker.
In late 2002, a little over 150 young men and women in a huge gymnasium at Fort Dix, an Army base in New Jersey, began drafting a Last Will and Testament as part of ‘soldier readiness processing,’ the last stop before deploying to fight the nation’s wars. Many had signed up with the Army Reserves after 9/11 and they explained the reasons for their choices and the decisions that they now confronted–what to include in their Will and who to leave ‘everything’ to; all that a 19 year old values. For one reservist, her dog-eared Bible was her most prized possession, for another, his baseball cap, and yet another, with a tattoo of a ‘guardian angel’ he had inked on after 9/11 said, his little brother. Theirs are reflections about choices and what we ‘leave behind.’
Over the last decade the choices made by our political leaders have changed the face of this city, the way we define and discuss security and our images of the ‘enemy.’ Earlier this week, I looked back at the last decade and the far reaching effects of what was been done “In the name of National Security” and I invite you to take a look. Excerpt: Less obvious in the calculus of the ‘post 9/11’ world that emerged is the 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, the unmanned drones that cruise into Mexico on the hunt for drug traffickers, an unprecedented level of immigrant deportations and one baggy-pant wearing baby-faced Mexican kid known as ‘Puebla’—New York state’s first and only convicted terrorist.
In looking back and listening to early reports, I’m taken by, well first, the youthfulness and pained sound in my voice. I believed I was living through a momentous period in history, a time of overwhelming change. I have come to understand, though, that to bring about ‘overwhelming change’ we must scrutinize and reflect on our choices, the ones we make from the core sense of who we are, our beliefs. The tragedy of that day served to accentuate and to heighten what was already there for me, for them and as a nation. A decade later, that ‘momentous day’ should now encourage a reflection on our beliefs and choices, writ small to large.
When the subject of 9/11 comes up is people often ask: Where were you? It is a question I avoid because in thinking about September 11 2001, the questions I think that beg reflection, as individuals and as a nation: What choices did we make? What did we do?