This week, we mark 20 years since one of the most tragic events in U.S. history—an event that forever changed this country: four coordinated terrorist attacks carried out by Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda. Most Moraine students grew up in a post-9/11 world. Here, four editors of The Glacier reflect on what that has meant in their lives and their families. Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Growing up as a Muslim in America post-9/11, my identity always felt like something I had to hide. Not out of being embarrassed, but to protect myself. To avoid being targeted.
Not only am I Muslim, but I’m also Arab-Palestinian. Non-Arabs see this identity as political, but the name itself is engraved into my soul.
Hiding my heritage and identity is something I’ve known my whole life. When I was younger, I got used to the uncomfortable reactions that met me when I answered questions about where I was from or which faith I followed.
Once in middle school, a girl in my gym class who was twice my size towered over me, face filled with fury, stomping forward and told me, “I’m going to kill you like my dad killed Osama Bin Laden.” I’ve never been able to get my mind around how someone so young could think in this way.
I remember times I would go straight to the grocery story from the Mosque, still wearing my hijab, and I would find people just staring at me. I would turn around from picking fruit and a white middle-aged man would be looking at me awkwardly, eyes wide, like he was trying to figure me out.
The only thing I could do was smile, because once I have my hijab on, I’m representing all Muslim women. Most of the time, the smiles wouldn’t be returned. Being able to wear the hijab and publicly displaying being a proud Muslim is a beautiful thing. But in America, it is dangerous. There is this stereotype that Islam makes hijabis oppressed, when in reality, America has done that to us.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Half of U.S. Muslim adults (50%) say that in recent years it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S…In general, nearly a quarter of U.S. Muslim adults (23%) view discrimination, racism or prejudice as the most important problem facing American Muslims today.”
To clear it up, the true meaning of hijab is to modestly dress for the sake of God, just as nuns do for the sake of Christianity. The idea is for us to not be judged on our beauty but instead on our intelligence and character.
After 9/11, the news media and Hollywood have constantly linked Muslims and Arabs to some stereotypical identity that hurts the safety of our lives and the very image of our existence. We are portrayed as evil. Islamobphobes won’t take the time to study what Islam truly is: a religion of peace.
But in the end, being a Palestinian Muslim in America has shaped me into someone who has the strength to hold onto my culture, values, character and pride. It has shown me how important it is to publicly and profoundly use my voice.
Feeling united –for a while
Since I was less than a year old at the time of the 9/11 attacks, I cannot remember what life was like before that tragic day.
My parents, on the other hand, remember the catastrophic events like they were yesterday.
“I was getting ready for work,” my dad, Bob Holesha, said. “My father gave me a call, told me to turn on the TV. He said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center and I asked him, ‘Was it a small plane?’ He wasn’t sure, it had just happened.”
The whole country was at a standstill. At first, no one was sure what was even going on. It didn’t make sense.
“I was at Jewel-Osco buying baby formula,” my mom, Michelle Holesha, said. “The cashier had the TV on and I saw the first plane hit the tower and I was in shock. It was horrible.”
Life ever since has not been the same in this country. Growing up, I’ve seen terrorist attacks constantly being compared to 9/11, and I’ve watched as our country makes it a point to never forget what happened on this day.
My parents saw the aftereffects of these attacks through a different lens.
“There was more patriotism,” my father said. “Politics went out the door for a while. People were at least saying that we need to have a united America because we’re stronger together.”
America made the best out of a horrible situation. Instead of panicking, people united and became a stronger community.
“It definitely seemed to bring Americans together more,” my mom said. “Especially everyone coming to help out with all the people that were injured and hurt.”
Although unity in this country has drastically faded in the last 20 years, America’s reaction to 9/11 is a prime example of the pride our people take in being citizens here. While the United States is far from perfect, it’s reassuring knowing we can come together with our neighbors in times of need.
Questioning family ideals
Growing up, I remember my family always playing “Proud to Be an American,” around the 4th of July. That song is a very cheesy, ultra-patriotic look at America, and to my mind, it sums up how my family reacted to 9/11 perfectly.
I think there are two camps of people and two ways people reacted to the attacks —disillusionment or idealism. My family members embraced the over-idealizing of America that arose after the events of September 11, 2001, and their feelings have only grown stronger with what has recently happened in this country.
Since a very young age, I have been bombarded with this kind of patriotism. Only recently have I begun to question it.
The reaction to a national tragedy should not be to cling so hard to your country being “right” that your judgment is affected.
Being proud of your country is not in and of itself a bad thing, but the nationalism some of my family members display is harmful and distorts their way of looking at the world. They get sucked into conspiracy theories such as voter fraud and parts of QAnon, are xenophobic towards others, supported the raid on the Capitol, and spew hate speech without even recognizing that it’s hate speech. They don’t seem to recognize that all their extremist views do is tear America apart more.
The events of 9/11 brought out people’s patriotism. But like all things, being proud of your country is best when moderated. When taken to extremes, it can be dangerous.
Born into a new world
Before 9/11, the United States appeared untouchable, protected, and even, some would say, undefeated.
My grandmother, Beatrice Trujillo, couldn’t tell the story of that day without tears in her eyes and a tremble in her throat. William H. Seward Elementary had begun its daily schedule after news broke that a plane had accidentally flown into the World Trade Center. My grandmother went on as usual, submitting files at her secretary’s desk and running papers throughout the building.
But as she went back into the office, she realized the background noise of the television was no longer background noise at all. She heard the cries and the fear of people finally understanding the truth of that day: a second plane had flown just beside the burning of the first.
Immediately, she wondered how to make the announcement. Before 9/11, the school had no need to create a protocol for that kind of incident, and she hadn’t the slightest clue how to move forward upon finding out the country was in chaos. She hadn’t believed it was ever possible; she said nobody ever did.
Nearly 20 years later, I am 19 years old. I was born a little more than three months after that horrific day, and the way I grew up was entirely different compared to the generation before me.
Every day on Sept. 11, school was held solely to recall history, and my days were filled with documentaries. I didn’t live through 9/11, but I can’t begin to count how many times I have lived it through the eyes and hearts of other people.
I grew up in a world where going to the airport meant you had to leave three hours in advance so you didn’t miss your flight, even if you were only traveling a few states away. It was normal to me to take off my shoes and have my belongings rummaged through, to not be able to wear a jacket or jewelry, to always expect additional screenings.
I grew up knowing our country has its flaws and never once believed we were untouchable.
Hearing that it was ever anything different feels like a description of an entirely different world. Maybe that’s because I was, in fact, born into a new world.