Attacks 9/11: The Metamorphosis of New York

September 12, 2021 by archyde

“No day shall erase you from memory of time”. The interior walls of the 9/11 Memorial Museum impressively display the English translation of the Latin verses of the Roman poet Virgil in his famous epic The Aeneid. Tribute to the victims with the message that says that there is no day that will erase their memory. Although, analyzed in depth by The New York Times when the enclosure soon opened in 2014, Virgilio’s words did not evoke citizens, but Niso and Eurylus, Trojan soldiers of little and no innocence. For some experts in classical literature, not the best quote chosen.

It is spinning fine. Controversy aside, it is true that the steel letters that form the message suggest the transformative potential of memory and are a clear metaphor for New York conversion, from the brutalities of destruction and chaos, through the healing process, to the neat and solemn reminiscence: the iron of the work was collected from among the 1.8 tons of rubble that for months rested in Ground Zero after the collapse of the Twin Towers, the emblems of the financier New York that in Lower Manhattan exhibits a thriving renovation. The metal was cast and shaped so that today it is one of the many symbols of the city’s resilience.

Ladder Company 3 fire truck on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York. Photo: Ximena Nahmías

In the corners of the museum, each object tells a story or pays a distinctive tribute to the heroes and heroines of that Tuesday, September 11, 2001, of bright and celestial awakening, with a black and tragic ending. A semi-destroyed fire engine and the huge metal tridents, now rusted, that were part of the exterior structure of one of the fallen buildings, are among the greatest pieces in a collection of 70,000 collected artifacts. The museum is full of people. The interest in reliving history gains strength due to the round commemorative date and because New York almost no longer places restrictions due to the pandemic.

There are interesting contrasts in the various icons of the Big Apple. The typical Times Square that is the photo of the chaotic Manhattan is also the extreme: the lights of the advertising screens make the eyes sting like nowhere else in the world, and make the night seem like day, the street shows gather enthusiastic crowds , and drivers hang on the horn in front of crossing pedestrians when the traffic light does not give permission. The place is dirty, with many masks on the floor like old fashioned scrap, and at times disgusting. His stimuli are infinite. An excess.

The opposite pole is four miles to the south, the new oasis that the New York recovery patiently made after the devastation caused by the largest terrorist attack in history. Two huge fountains, right where the demolished towers stood, recall the names of the nearly 3,000 deceased. The water that runs from the four walls weaves a silence in the New York style, with the noises that are felt in the distance.

Attacks 9/11: The Metamorphosis of New York

View of the 9/11 memorial in New York. Photo: Ximena Nahmías

The journalist Sebastián Fest told the DPA agency 20 years ago, the sensations of walking through New York the day after the disaster through the thin and ghostly layer of dust, which carried a smell of burning so characteristic, that no one who has sense, you will easily forget. Tides of people tried to get closer to the scene, but the wide perimeter did not allow them to continue. Today tourists arrive at the emblematic site, important and sacred point for family and friends of those who died there. Security controls that respect is not disregarded, that no one messes or does nonsense. There is no lack of selfies with the stick, ridiculous for a place like that. The air you breathe now is fresh, a touch of sea breeze, but mainly because of the filter of the trees that dominate the block and fill it with shade. There are beautiful monuments around it. Some color, with street art and spaces to enjoy a beer. The mall, in the basement of the World Trade Center, of course is not missing.

The text message asks to gather under the Survivor Tree, the only tree found in the rubble 20 years ago that still showed signs of life. It was transferred for its recovery and in 2010 it was replanted in its place of origin. Manuel Chea (57) is the sender of the message, who returns once again to the place where he avoided death: “I like this place, because it pays a beautiful tribute, especially for the families of the victims whose remains were never found. It is like a cemetery, a sacred place … and this tree, a very important symbol for me. We both survived, and today you see it growing, with its strong branches, it blooms every spring. It is very nice to associate it with our reality: how we have been able to continue, very resilient, we recover from difficult moments, and now we smile, vibrant like this tree ”.

Chea, a Peruvian of Chinese parents, came to the United States at the age of 11. Some speak Spanish, but prefer to communicate in English. He wears glasses and wears a mask, although in New York it is allowed to do without it outdoors. He seems like a nice guy. He laughs a lot during the conversation, sitting in the shade in the park that honors the memory. On the morning of 9/11 he was sitting at his desk on the 49th floor of the North Tower, the first to be hit. While he was carrying out programmatic tasks in front of the computer, which did not motivate him much, he felt the crash of the plane like a strong earthquake. Today, he says that when the floor moves for whatever reason, his adrenaline rises abruptly. By then he quickly made his way to the stairs and before completing the evacuation, he passed the lifeguards who were bravely going up.

Attacks 9/11: The Metamorphosis of New York

On the morning of 9/11, Manuel Chea was sitting at his desk on the 49th floor of the North Tower, the first to be hit. Photo: Sebastián Varela

“I will never forget the moment when I saw the towers collapse. Instantly I thought of the firefighters who helped me and so many others out, and that was why they lost their lives. For several months the guilt afflicted me, but then I only thought of making a change of course to be able to pay tribute to them, ”says Chea, who took advantage of the fact that the banking company reduced its staff and fired him with pay for a year, to study a Master in Emergency Management. To this day, it honors the lives of those first responders, avoiding tragedies in the lives of others by working in public service. He had apologized a couple of times for postponing the interview with LT Domingo, given the intense week that it had thanks to the Ida storm that left 16 dead in the city and several excesses.

When the anniversary date arrives, Chea’s feelings differ from those of several survivors she knows. Anxiety begins to take hold of many in August, and the desire for the calendar to mark September 12 is uncontrollable. “They get very nervous and their traumas intensify. Personally, I don’t go through that. On the contrary, I want to get more involved, attend the ceremony and connect with other survivors, ”she explains smiling. He says 9/11 showed him that life is too short to be bitter. Even with a chinstrap you can see that he says it happily. That network formed by those who were saved, Chea describes that it has a special electricity, with a very great affection and complicity among those who understand each other 100%. The paradox, he says, is that he wished they had never met. It has also spread to those affected by other terrorist acts, such as those of the London Underground, or those of the Boston Marathon. “We do not want more members,” he clarifies.

Attacks 9/11: The Metamorphosis of New York

A man walks with the name of a family member lost in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in front of the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. Photo: AFP

After 20 years, what does it mean to Chea to have survived the deadliest and most shocking terrorist attack on record? It’s a question that no one asked him before: “We are living history. It’s like for me finding someone who has overcome the holocaust in a concentration camp. I was born 18 years after the end of World War II and to hear the word of one of them is to directly visualize that pain and that strength. I feel like I carry a similar legacy. I cannot ignore that duty. Twenty years later I have become living history ”.

The phone lines of the Arab-American Association of New York were very busy. Visits to his South Brooklyn compound were a cry for help. Following the Al Qaeda attacks, the Arab community residing in the United States, with its epicenter in the Bay Bridge neighborhood, was (and continues to be) the target of a kind of unrequited revenge. In September 2001, the entity began to receive the warnings from the middle-eastern citizens themselves, who were suffering discrimination, violence and harassment. To this day, he fights against stigmas to protect himself from the hatred that continues to fall, with a downward trend, in those who wear a turban or hiyab through the streets of the great metropolis and the rest of the country.

“After 9/11, the persecution was very high. It happened a lot that we were spied on by the NYPD, the CIA and the FBI. They came here, they went to the mosques. Our people were persecuted, especially young men. People said that they suffered humiliation at work, or that a police car followed them on the street every day. Some who did not have papers were heavily manipulated given their situation. It has been a disgrace and it has happened very often ”, says Yafa Dias, social leader. The organization has been in charge of bringing the feelings of its community to the powers of the State, in order to end another of the consequences of 9/11: the animosity towards the Muslim community that had nothing to do with the disaster.

Attacks 9/11: The Metamorphosis of New York

A person cries at the 9/11 Memorial on the 20th anniversary of the 2001 attacks in New York. Photo: Reuters

In the months following the attacks, law enforcement agencies detained 762 people on suspicion of supporting terrorist groups, in several cases, arrests solely based on nothing more than anonymous complaints on a hotline set up by the FBI. In 2003, a Justice Department inspection found that an “overwhelming” majority led on immigration charges, which had nothing to do with the reason for the arrest.

In 2011, a brilliant investigation by The Associated Press revealed the racist and prejudicial moves of the CIA, which wore the mask of the New York police, due to the constitutional impossibility of investigating American citizens. Espionage operations were carried out in religious temples, study groups and restaurants of the Muslim community since 2002. Fifteen years later the law began to prohibit these practices that violated civil rights. Newspaper work, by the way, won a Pulitzer.

Dias claims that many Muslims avoid going to the city every 9/11 anniversary, including her: “While there has been some progress, there is still a lot of fear, aggression and hatred towards Arabs. It is not so much the fear of being attacked as it was before, nor feeling that many white Americans will be racist against us, but we are aware of the fact that there will be some legitimately racist subjects out there, who will blame our own for the attacks. 20 years ago ”. In recent times, in addition, based on the anti-Muslim experience, they have worked side by side with their Asian-American counterpart, burdened by hatred towards the eastern community, once the Covid-19 pandemic was unleashed.

Dias shows a pamphlet in different languages ​​that identifies migrant groups with information on how to act if they witness harassment: “The levels of hate and racism move like a roller coaster. American society is always looking for someone to blame instead of working together to determine the real problem. “

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my