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There are only a handful of childhood memories I remember as clearly as I do the one of 9/11. There’s the birth of my siblings, family trips and a handful of birthdays that I can remember, but none live so vividly in my mind as the morning of September 11, 2001.
I was just 11 years old when two planes struck the Twin Towers in New York City. Growing up on Long Island, we would visit the city on special occasions or whenever my parents had to visit immigration. The city always felt incredibly far away, but on that day, it was like NYC’s financial district was right in my backyard.
My classmates and I were in the middle of switching classrooms when a faculty member came running down the stairs to speak to our teacher. They hurriedly whispered among themselves as their faces got paler with worry. My class was quickly shuffled into our homeroom and told we would have to head home. There was no explanation, just a tense order to pack our things.
As we hopped up on the bus, I remember my 6-year-old sister asking me why we were being sent home so early. I had no clue, but we would soon find out.
When we got home, my abuelita had the TV on and was watching the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on loop as journalists delivered the latest developments. Later, we watched in stunned silence as the first and then the second tower came crumbling down, killing thousands of Americans. My abuelita made the sign of the cross and began to pray.
I didn’t pray. I panicked. Convinced my parents were in the city for an immigration appointment, I didn’t really settle down until I managed to reach both of them on the phone. They were at work, trying to comfort their co-workers who had friends and family in the city.
The days after 9/11 play in my mind like a movie. Classmates worried about their dads, uncles, and brothers who were firefighters or police officers in the city. My dad’s coworker, who anxiously looked for her son who worked in or around the Towers, only to find him days later alive but uptown. My family and teachers who tried to help us understand what had happened.
Life in the U.S. drastically changed after 9/11. The events of that day ingrained themselves in the soul of this country. We were suddenly all New Yorkers mourning the loss of thousands of innocent Americans. As a white Latina, I didn’t experience the racism and discrimination that our Middle Eastern neighbors endured following the attacks. I only experienced intense patriotism and togetherness.
Travel also became dramatically different in the wake of 9/11. I still remember a time when you didn’t have to take off your shoes to get through airport security. But in the last two years I spent traveling the world, I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t my instinct to take off my shoes and wear clothes that didn’t set off any machines at security. It is just the way we do things now.
There was a sense of togetherness in the country in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. At home, we were all New Yorkers. We all had some sort of connection, big or small, to the events that day. This feeling of unity appeared to have a tight grip on all Americans, but it didn’t last long.
As an adult, it makes me sad that the only time that ever happens anymore is when we’re struck by another mass shooting or terrorist attack. Even then, we’re a nation divided. We’re a country that can’t truly come together — in good times or bad.
Despite now calling Boston home, I will never forget my New York roots and the devastating attack that binds all New Yorkers together.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.