SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2012       Personal Memory Ethnographies


A Day Like No Other

September 12th, 2001: This significant day started unlike others, it was a day after the terrorist attack, and two days after we received news that my godfather had passed; he was more important to me than my own parents were at the time. Unfortunately, I had to go to school; I considered feigning sick to avoid the relentless pestering I received at school. At this time in my life, I was only eight years old and lived in Arizona. Regrettably, I got up and prepared myself for the day to come. Yesterday’s pestering was not as distressing as the previous ones, just the occasional rock throwing, slander, as well as the wish for me to be dead, something I had already become accustomed to. However, I am wearing my moon and star necklace, knowing the panic caused by 9/11, parents have already thought their children the Islamic symbols and clothing. The wait for the bus was highly abnormal, the children and several mothers waited there situated 10-feet away, avoiding me. Which was nice, I would have to admit, I would rather be invisible and ignored than invisible and harassed. I couldn’t help but notice that there were more parents than usual, it seemed as though everyone’s mom was there waiting for an event to transpire. When I got on the bus, the bus driver would not allow me to sit behind him, as I always do. Instead, he pointed towards the back where all the malicious students sit, the ones I struggle to avoid on a day-to-day basis. From there my day started as one of the worst days at school ever. I sat down, they began to torture me with terms I had not heard, like jihad, and terrorist. I was positive they said something about killing myself, however, I attempted to block out their insults.

September 12, 2001: It was a day after I received news that my uncle had died trying to save some civilians at the World Trade Center. I did not look forward to school. The night before my mother had spoken of the Muslims and their acts against the American society. She told my father that he should have gone to the school to make sure there are no Muslims in my class. Afterwards, she even took a moment to educate me on the Muslim culture and what they choose to wear.

When we arrived at school, I immediately ran off the bus towards the classroom. Once I entered the classroom, it was silent; the teacher instructed me to take my seat, I held my breath waiting to see if gum or dead bugs would be on my desk. To my surprise, the classmates paid no attention. I was ready to jump for joy, this day must turn out to be a good day, a day when I could consider being a part of the world. The teacher solemnly turned the TV on to the news; it was odd, the TV was rarely turned on except when we were scheduled to watch a movie. Over the intercom, the principal requested a moment of silence for the fallen victims. I had little knowledge of what that signified. I had been preoccupied with my family life, speculating on the thought of death, whether or not my sister would be next. Coincidentally, my older sister had been diagnosed only a few months ago with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that has a low survival rate for children. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a loud explosion, I looked up at the screen to see the two buildings crash and tumble in a cloud of dust. Following the image, a few classmates blamed me for somehow destroying the buildings; I did not have the slightest idea why. The teacher added in, “Muslims are to blame for killing your uncles, fathers, mothers, sisters and family.”

When I arrived at school, I did not bother to put dead bugs on the desk of this strange girl that I like. I watched her when she came in the classroom and noticed she was wearing a moon and star necklace. She was a Muslim; she was the enemy of my family and of this country. When the teacher turned on the TV, I was fixated on this Muslim girl and thinking how can she do this to my family. Seeing the two towers crash down on the television had made me furious. A few students started to harass the girl saying she had destroyed the buildings. I agreed, but I would never say it in front of the teacher. Instantly after, the teacher explained that Muslims were responsible for the death of our loved ones. This assertion had me more enraged against the Muslims.

Like a tidal wave, I placed the pieces together: my family is Muslim. Prior to 9/11 there had been years of escalating tension between the U.S. and the Middle East. Ten years before, the United States had reached a new level of tension during the Gulf War in 1990. Following the Gulf War there had been a series of major incidents that were no more or less than two years apart from each other. Many were bombings or attempted bombings in the U.S performed by extremist groups who disliked the United States, mainly Al-Qaeda. Months after 9/11, the United States of America did go to war with Afghanistan and two years after announced the war with Iraq, however, there are numerous dead ends and confusing excuses backing up their reasoning. One that stuck with me for all these years was the idea of going there and “saving the people from their daily life.” Yet, when speaking of “saving the people,” the U.S targeted people of the Islamic faith, not the extremist groups who took over their country years ago. Today we are still at war with the Middle East, many in the government, and the civilians of the US, still to this day have no idea why. A horrid fact about the war that is supposed to “save the people” is the number of civilian casualties caused by the war. They outnumber the casualties of U.S. and Taliban soldiers combined.

Lunch was chaos. When I stepped away from the table, I spotted a few students spitting in my milk. As I went to throw away the cup, one of the students stopped me and struggled to force me to drink it. Astonishingly, he got in trouble; I was usually the one to be punished for the students torturing me. I threw away the untouched lunch to avoid more damage to my wellbeing.

During lunch, I spit in her milk and passed it around when she had stepped away from the table. She noticed and attempted to throw the cup away. I would not let her; she needed to suffer for what she had done to my family. When I struggled to force her to drink the milk, one of the school aides stopped me. The aide sent me to the corner to think about what I did. All I was thinking at the time was how the girl must hate me. I wanted to apologize before lunch ended, but then I thought of my uncle’s death and the rage built up inside me.

I ran to the playground doors, along the path a sixth grader tried to stab me with her pen, yelling, “You killed my dad!” One of the school counselors saved me by stopping her. I escaped to the tree I usually sit under, hidden away from everyone. I spent most of my childhood under the biggest tree on the elementary school campus. I viewed the tree as a symbol of safety and seclusion from everyone at the school who had given me strife. I used to think it would protect me from harm, although that was silly of me; I was just a kid trying to find a sense of place in the world. On the way there, a few kids yelled I should have never been born and my family should die. Once I got to the tree, my safe zone, I failed to catch my breath, and sobbed as a result. Instantly a few students push me down the steep hill cheering “we killed her, we killed her!” I viewed the tree as a damnation to the world. I did not feel safe and protected after being pushed down the hill; I felt lost, as though I had nowhere to go to be in peace.

The last few hours of school that day were painful, I failed my test despite having the same answers as the answer key. A few students chucked pencils and books at me, yelling slanderous terms. The last event I remember is that the same kid who received punishment at lunch threw away my homework that was due that day. Consequently, I received a slip saying I “didn’t make my day.”

I did not get my reccess due to being instructed to stay in the corner for the duration of the lunch period. After I returned to class, I wanted to apologize to the girl. She was always nice to everyone in the school even though we all teased her. However, my reputation with my peers would not allow me. As I stood up, I casually walked over to the girl’s desk and threw away her homework before the teacher could check it. That should teach that dirty Muslim to mess with my family. She did not make her day because of what I had done with her homework. I was surprisingly ecstatic; I had begun the process of avenging my uncle.

As I stepped inside my home, tattered with dirt stained clothes, my mother walked up to me and didn’t question the way I looked. She ignored the fact that her daughter had been a victim of others’ misguided intentions. She screamed at me for not making my day and commanded that I take off my moon and star necklace I had received as a gift from my godfather when I was born. Along with everything else, that day I lost the final memento that connected me to my godfather. At that time, I viewed the necklace as my identity, since my whole life up until that point had been defined by being a part of Islam. Seeing the necklace reminded me of my godfather. I felt as though he was trying to watch over me and teach me a life lesson, although I could not understand what it was.

Now the tree had no significance in my life, I looked at it as a tree that exists just like the others. In other words, that tree has had no meaning to me since the incident. However, the necklace brings me back to that day, which was the last day I wore the necklace. The necklace represents a wrongful identity that was pushed upon me. Up until that time, I had been defined by what my family wanted and not by my own personal choices. No longer do I see it as just a gift that my godfather gave me, but as a rebirth to my identity and awareness of others. I became free from the clutches of religion and produced my own outlook on life’s events through the eyes of my own and not of my elders.

The most difficult part of evaluating a situation is answering the question “why is it significant enough to talk about?” My whole life I have had trouble discussing why I choose to talk about certain aspects and events in my life. However, I have had no problem explaining myself with this incident. This is significant enough to talk about because it gives someone on the outside, looking in, an idea of how external affairs in the world affect each individual. The main focus is on the Islamic groups, since I am Muslim; I have been affected by the external events socially. Once the US invaded Iraq, I noticed the tension getting stronger between the rest of society and me. The tension was built from the U.S. media feeding the people ideals of Islamic intentions. Instead of saying “terrorist groups,” every web site and timeline I have looked at, including the news, have said Islamic groups or Islamic terrorists, rarely have they said extremist groups. The problem lies within what people are reading and taking in; very few choose to treat the Islamic life as a religious path not a cultural path. Nor do they understand there are many branches within that path, not all Muslims are the same, just like in any other religion.

I bring this to attention because I just like many others have been a victim of this sort of ignorant discrimination. I believe if one story can be told then many others will step up to the plate and develop courage to speak on their behalf. This could potentially change the point of view of others who see what the media speaks. Giving the discriminated people a voice is an important part of society, everyone needs to be heard, not just the attacked but the accused as well. Speaking an individual’s story can ease tension. If enough stories or incidents are told it could ease the tension around the nation. However, speaking will not solve the problem of discrimination, for it will always be around.

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