Never before was I so conscious of my ‘foreigner’ status
I touched the American
shores 26 years ago, and called it home. Since then my admiration for
this great country and its beautiful cities has grown immensely. New
York is one of my favourite cities. September 11 is seared in our
memories. It forever changed the psyche of the nation. Americans as a
rule are very open and friendly and accepting of different cultures and
traditions. They also live very comfortable lives and imagine the rest
of the world to be doing the same. Therefore, this senseless act of
violence by foreigners shook them to their core and made them question
the validity of foreigners among them. An intense wave of patriotism
engulfed the nation. A rush of similar patriotism ran through us for our
wounded adopted country. Not once did we imagine that we would be called
upon to prove ourselves as Americans. In all the years that I've lived
here, I've never been so conscious of my 'foreigner' status. Suddenly,
everybody who appeared different was looked at askance. However, enough
African-American neighbours showed complete solidarity with us. Their
'Caucasian' counterparts were a little aggrieved until they were
convinced that our loyalties lay with them. We thought it was wise to
put American flags on our mail boxes and cars to overtly profess our
patriotism that we felt deeply in our hearts. However, that still did
not protect us from an occasional rude gesture from the bigoted element
when they spotted my husband in his turban. At that point, I did fear
for our safety. Some of our friends were subjected to far more uglier
incidents by misguided people. Despite all this, not once did I feel any
animosity towards the American people who were betrayed by the very
people who lived amongst them. An important lesson was learnt by the
vast immigrant population that their loyalty should be with the country
that has been so good to them and with its people who have become their
US society has not turned cynical
On September 11, 2001, watching the planes slam into the World Trade Center, feelings of shock, disbelief and anger buffeted us. Some of us had grown up in India, and were inured to a steady dose of terrorism and violence. But America had changed us. Assassinations and bomb blasts occurred only on television or in newspapers. Earning a living and chasing the 'American Dream' occupied most of our time. So, the scenes unfolding on the television were, literally, a blast from the past. A vague sense of unease soon followed. Would we be caught up in an American backlash against the 'browns'? Were our lives about to change drastically? One year later these questions can be answered with an emphatic No. There have been incidents of violence and intimidation against Asians, and one tragic killing. But these have been isolated acts. Life at work and at home goes on as usual. Sure, there is increased security at airports and other vulnerable places; there is increased scrutiny of visitors and students from middle-eastern countries; there is increased anger against terrorists and what they represent; and there is an increased feeling of patriotism. But what do you expect? These are normal acts of a nation under attack. In the process, a few racial or religious feathers are bound to get ruffled. This should not lead anyone to the conclusion that the American society has turned callous and cynical.
There is fear in the
Now, for the first time, I'm fearful of the INS and the fact that it can haul up anybody on the pretext of being a ‘terrorist’ and justify any action saying that it is ‘war on terror.’ There is a feeling among the immigrants that the USA is slowly changing into a police state. The reason September 11 happened is because of the (still) flawed and hypocritical policies of the US administration. Most of the people feel more unsure and less free than they did prior to 9/ 11. To basically sum things up, the greatest change for me is this feeling of fear, which I had never felt before.
I realised I was an outsider and always will be one
When I first looked at the visuals of the Twin Towers on TV on September 11, I wondered if people's attitudes would change towards us. I was expecting a baby in a few days and I wondered if the doctors would still be nice to me. Of course, everything went well, I had the baby and the doctors and nurses were really nice. The doctor did ask me if I was a Hindu or Muslim and what was the difference between Muslims and Sikhs. I realised for the first time that very few people know what our religion is. They think that we all are Muslims. I did realise that I was an outsider and will always be one. After September 11, a friend's boss told her to stay home for a week till things calmed down. Some friends were asked by colleagues in office what religion they practised and if they were Muslims. I was stopped at the airport and my shoes were X-rayed and a lady checked all my clothes with a metal detector. Other than that, nothing really has changed. The economy is down— that is true— but the recession has the same impact on everyone. Personally I haven't had a single bad experience and nothing much has changed for us.
— Nalini Sharma, Chicago
I was careful not to make jokes in public
I watched the smoke arise from one of the towers of the World Trade Center from the window in my office. We did not know then the extent of the disaster or even what had happened. For the next several days I noticed that I was one of the few people with a turban walking about town. Usually a Sikh is not hard to find on New York City streets.
I usually like to talk to strangers and in my 42 years in this country have had little trouble eliciting smiles from strangers or engaging them in conversation. Now things were different all of a sudden. For a few days, when I took the early morning 6:15 suburban train to New York, people that I saw every morning would look at me with cold unsmiling eyes and an appraising look. The banter wasn't there but there was a palpable coldness and grief in the air. Some would catch my eye and look away. I hadn't felt quite this alone while in a crowd since the early 1960s. I became conscious of not making jokes in public because people would look askance at me. I don't know if they thought that I was enjoying their distress, but I was afraid they might think so.
Yes, post 9/11 in America at times I feel insecure and threatened in America but the government acts swiftly to allay these fears.
—Dr I.J Singh, New York
The INS now closely watches records of alien students
September 11, 2001, was a beautiful, bright morning and I was on my way to work. My office is very close to the world trade center area. When I came out of the subway station I saw the south tower in flames. Then I saw the second plane crashing into the north tower. I just froze.
New York has not been quite the same since that day. New Yorkers are very strong people. It’s true that in the first few weeks after the attack there were some incidents where some Sikhs were targeted. At work and in my social circle nothing changed. A few weeks ago, a drunk white woman started verbally abusing an old Pakistani couple and told them to go back to their own country. At first, I avoided the woman since she was so drunk but when her abuses didn't stop, I had to intervene and gave her a piece of my mind. But, by and large, Americans are fair minded.
Yes, the INS has become very strict about the number of F1 visas issued now and is very closely watching the documentation and records of alien students applying for F1.
For some time, I felt
"A few days after 9/11 a friend of mine was hassled by some youths while he was walking home, because they thought he was a Muslim, I did not walk home for months after that. A Sikh friend stopped wearing his turban after some Sikhs were hassled for the sole reason that they wore a turban like Osama bin Laden! I felt very insecure as rumours about FBI officials rounding aliens grew. But no Indian I know was hassled by any official. One week after 9/11 Grand Central looked like Chandigarh Railway station during the Punjab turmoil days with cops and army all over - yes, I was scared then!! Now, while travelling, I am very cautious about what I carry in my baggage and make it a point not to speak in Hindi, lest I arouse suspicion. The other thing apart from security is the fact that 9/11 hit a falling economy so hard that it is taking longer to resurrect. The jobs are almost non-existent and if you are a not a US citizen then the situation is worse as H1 visas are hard to come by. Nowadays, the number of Indians working at gas stations and daily need stores has increased drastically. The trust is missing.
One feels as if one is in a police state
The 9/11 attack aroused feelings of anger and outrage. Some overzealous men took the law in their own hands . They branded some South Asians as Afghan terrorists and beat them up or evem shot them fatally. It was a double dilemma for the turbaned Sikhs. Soon after the attack, some were taken for interrogation. At the airports they were being asked to remove their turbans to show if there was anything hidden under their turbans. Some refused to do so and cancelled their travel plans. Sikhs realised that their identity and Sikhism needs to be displayed openly for self protection as a distinct religion and to let the world know that it is against any kind of ' terrorism'.That the Sikhs pray daily for the 'welfare of all humanity'. Rracial profiling is a big issue at the moment. The organization for human rights and civil rights have taken up the cases of hundreds of South Asian
Wire tapping by federal agencies is another worrisome development in a country where individual privacy is guarded like a holy cow. No more.
At times one feels as if one is in a police state. Again the civil liberties organisations are working on this issue. We did not feel any discrimination in our daily lives on the job or socially. On the contrary, people were more sympathetic to us in the face of unprovoked innuendoes.
— Dr Satwant Kaur Dhamoon, New York
Indians enjoy a lot
of goodwill in the USA
I was in New Jersey, when the September 11 attack took place. I had crossed WTC at 4 am while returning from Manhattan, and it was very hard to believe that America had been attacked.
Initially, there was a sense of disbelief but soon it changed to anger. We were all angry. At one point, there was anger against turbaned people by some individuals, but there are a lot of Sikhs in New York and they are thus visible. Some people also took to wearing caps over their patkas. Business was very down for a long time, but New York is a resilient city and it picked up in time. People who you meet normally interact with you according to how you behave with them and long-standing ties are not affected by such events, though there was a sense of uncertainty for a while. On the whole, everyone has been affected by the business slowdown and people are just not spending so much any longer. But there is a lot of goodwill that Indians enjoy and life is going on as normally.
We face a new set of
The events of September 11 have transformed the nation and affected our priorities in almost every arena, be it national security, civil rights and liberties, or foreign policy. Initially, for couple of months, we were faced with a new set of challenges and opportunities. The security everywhere increased, the economy slowed down, and as foreigners a few of us also faced some minor problems. I heard and read in papers that some fellow Sikh Indians were beaten to death because of their identity crisis but none of my Sikh friends faced this. I don’t know what kind of a war the US is in the midst of today. It could be the beginning of World War III, or it could be another foreign adventure to protect a source of foreign oil. US war on terrorism could be legit (and, hopefully, successful) — or it could be the rationale for a further crackdown on its civil liberties. The United States is a great, even if tragically flawed, nation. But it is my home, and I have chosen a career here because, in a sense, it has made me a professional and gives me satisfaction. After 9/11, the Americans stayed focused; they remembered that there are many things about this country to be proud of.
A degree of
polarisation has set in
Since September 11, I have been on an emotional voyage that is at once profoundly personal, and yet shared by all. It's a voyage of reflection, pain, fear, and hope. I think September 11 has given me a renewed love for life, family and friends, and a heightened sense of compassion and tolerance. But hate crimes and racial profiling against Sikh Americans has left me disturbed. Sikh Americans were profoundly affected by 9/11 since Sikhs were singled out disproportionately for violence. Unfortunately these incidents are severely under-reported. Hence, the overwhelming number of discrimination cases go unchallenged and without any redress for the victims.
One cannot help but perceive a certain degree of polarisation in community relations.