Today is 9/11
I originally wrote this piece in 2005. It seems as appropriate as ever. This is the first time I have shared it.
Nearly four years ago, I was in Italy visiting family, enjoying great food and relaxing in a warm, friendly country. Then came an interruption to my afternoon siesta as my good friend, returning from his afternoon gelato run, stated simply, “We’re under attack.” September 11, 2001 was a much different experience for my family and me abroad than it was for many glued to the television at home. As most of us did not speak the local language, we were relegated to waiting for the daily paper in English each morning to get our news. But amidst this struggle to understand what had happened and the ramifications that we continue to feel today, we were lucky enough to find our way into a small chapel in the seaside town in which we were staying. As person after person offered prayers for Americans (translated by my mother), each of us was moved to tears by the outpouring of empathy and support that this country, an ocean away, was lending to our countrymen. Countless locals approached us and offered their condolences. We all realized we were part of the world community, a real community.
This experience led me to ask myself a serious question: what do I contribute to my community to make it better and how can I improve that contribution? As the American media amplified the anti-foreigner sentiment that has always brewed in this country and our legislature passed the USA PATRIOT ACT that is a sure sign of the deterioration of both our community and understanding of it, my answer to this important question was clear — I would try and teach people about who they are and from where they come. I would convey knowledge and let the learned make our country and world a better place. I would become a teacher.
Having earned my MA and feeling more committed than ever to continuing my journey of contribution, I have landed at the University of Texas to pursue my PhD in history. With this path clear, I am constantly touched by my opportunity to build community and thereby a better life for my neighbors and myself. Tragedy, such as hurricane Katrina, makes one’s contribution more important but also more palpable. In these dire times, the true fabric of who we are as a society, a community, is on stage. It’s easy to hide ones feelings in times of ease. Under stress, the opportunity to see the best and worst of our fellow citizens presents itself. We find out who we really are. The mass destruction and violence following the storm has been interspersed with real effort to help one another. But we are seeing that America has real problems that a war in Iraq and a blind eye to the impoverished has exacerbated. By writing about and teaching history, I intend to see that people comprehend the opportunity they have to value the country in which we live. I help them understand who they are and, hopefully, help them make more informed decisions about where we will go as a nation. Only by taking this journey collectively can we live in a place where we care about our neighbors, near and far, and where honesty and justice is more important than the color of one’s car. By promoting our understanding of history, I am building this community. And the next time disaster strikes, because we live in this better place, everyone will care just a bit more about helping their neighbor.
I earned my PhD in history with a specialization in American legal history from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009, studying under Dr. David Oshinsky.