When I was in the fourth grade, attending Our Lady of Victory Catholic School, in Ft. Worth, Texas, President Kennedy was assassinated in nearby Dallas. Our teachers told us the sad news; they cried, we prayed the Rosary. On September 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists, and I sat in my own classroom, watching the destruction in New York and Washington via TV, memories of that November 1963 came back to me. I feel I witnessed another important moment in my country's history because our nation's vulnerability was again revealed.
Even though the attacks happened early that September morning, I had no idea of the horror until my son, David walked into my class before fourth period.
He said, "Don't you know the U.S. is getting attacked by terrorists? New York is being bombed."
I told him he shouldn't be kidding like that, but he just shrugged and left to his class. I thought he was trying to tell a bad joke. A couple of my students overheard us, and told me it was true because they had been watching TV in their other classes. I turned on my set as the first tower collapsed. I saw the panicking crowds running through Manhattan. I could not believe what I was seeing, but I could not turn away. So the rest of the morning, I stayed transfixed by the images of destruction on CNN.
The attacks caused contrasting responses across the county. Our strength and our weakness came out. Displays of patriotism bloomed all around, vivid reminders that we are a union; indivisible. Especially here in Duval, where it is easy to forget that we are part of the United States, flags, slogans, pins, and anthems proclaiming our loyalty were a welcome sign of stability and strength. By donations of time, blood, and money, we hoped to reach out and help. However, a dark side to patriotism also surfaced in news stories from all around the country. Even in our little community, Arabs, or people who looked like Arabs, were victims of witch hunt type attacks. When people fear the unknown, they can express that fear through hate. Did our acts of charity and displays of unity cancel out the hate crimes and suspicions directed against "foreigners"?
9/11 continues to affect us. Those first few weeks after, I cried every morning as I read the newspaper accounts of both victims and survivors. I felt sad, afraid, and helpless. The San Antonio paper ran short biographies of the victims of that day; I still cry when I read them. The war in Iraq has dealt a very real and very horrible blow to our people. Sadly, we continue to lose American lives, and Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered too. We remain unsure about the perpetrators of the crime of 9/11. The aftermath of the September atrocity includes an emotionally scarred people and a war.
In my mind, the murder of John F. Kennedy and the deadly September 11 attack on two powerful symbols of our country's strength are connected by where I was when I heard the news; classrooms. The two events are also tied together by the response of our nation: a wounded psyche, a loss of our sense of security, and a certain death of innocence. But, in the end, what's important is that we will prevail; just like kids will still be in classrooms, and teachers will still teach.
As America confronts these tragic circumstances, it is imperative that the situation is not compounded by expressions of religious or ethnic intolerance. The greatness of our nation rests on the exceptional diversity of religions, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds which characterize its people.
Statement of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights