Every New Yorker can tell you where they were when the planes hit the Twin Towers. My husband and I lived downtown about two miles directly north of the World Trade Center and had one of those spectacular views of the two towers right out our living room window. On the morning of September 11th I was home but the window blinds were down. My husband had left for work early so that he could vote in the primary election that morning. Suddenly he charged into our apartment and shouted that one of the towers was on fire. He had been walking to the bus when the plane hit and everyone outside froze. We opened the blinds and saw the smoke rising from the first tower. We turned on the TV as the second plane hit and then, well, we watched in disbelief, our eyes darting between the horror unfolding right out our window and the simultaneous broadcasting of it on TV.
For that day, and the few months that followed, New Yorkers found themselves in a very strange position. We were suddenly a symbol of America for the rest of America. Now, New Yorkers are used to being symbols of America to foreigners. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Broadway – all of that iconography travels well. But, lets face it, to most of the Good Ol’ US of A New York has always been an “other”; a sea of immigrant faces, of ethnic brashness, of liberal politics and upended morals. And trust me, New Yorkers take pride in being part of a true melting pot that occasionally boils over. To be the epicenter of national pride, now that is not a position New Yorkers feel comfortable with. But, we went with it. New Yorkers opened their homes and hearts to rescue workers from all over the country. People congregated in diners and parks, held vigils, donated blood, helped friends and strangers try to find loved ones, and offered condolences and comfort to those who needed it. There was a small town feeling in New York City, and a bit of New York City in every small town.
Seven years later it is incredibly depressing to be staring at those two gaping holes at Ground Zero. The lack of rebuilding and revitalization reminds New Yorkers every day that nothing has changed. Even more distressing, is the fact that New York City is once again the “other.” The pundits are out telling us that the Republicans have reignited the Culture War. As all New Yorkers know, this is code for us against them. Yet again, “We” are the liberal, intellectual, media-centered elite and “they” are the family values, apple pie eating, down to earth small town USA. Yet, we are the ones staring at the scars left from their national policies. So, almost a decade after the World Trade Center was attacked I am wondering when New York will stop being used to stir up both patriotic anger towards some undefinable foreign threat and conservative anger towards some undefinable liberal way of life.
On September 11th, 2001 the papers reported that the people who died represented over 90 countries. I would bet that the victims also represented all 50 states, and that somehow every small town in America was touched by a death just a few degrees removed at most. That’s the thing about New York City – it is not some “other”- it is everyone. On the seventh anniversary of 9/11 I am trying to be an optimistic New Yorker and hope the people of America will refuse to be drafted into the Culture War and come to the Big Apple for some apple pie instead.
This is an original nycmomsblog post.