New York is and will always be my home. I've lived in many places in Europe and Asia. I unconsciously compare every place I go to the melting pot of cultures and cuisines that we fondly call "The City." If you asked me twenty years ago, whether I would ever leave, I would tell you flatly "No, why? The world comes to NYC."
But during this time of year, my love of NYC changes to anxiety.
My body knows when September 11th approaches. I am not my usual ebullient self. I am irritable. I am uneasy. I find it hard to breathe. My eyes burn.
Needless to say, I know UBL and his followers do not represent Islam. Just as I know Trump and his coterie do not represent all white people. They are simply opportunists capitalizing on division and fear for their own twisted logic and self-benefit.
I witnessed the attack with millions of others in Manhattan. I was at Ground Zero during the initial relief effort after the Twin Towers came down. I saw things that no human being should ever see. The memories are indelible. I spent the last 17 years trying to find peace. I will probably spend 17 years more in that search.
That being said, I treat each day a gift.
The attack on September 11th forced me to look beyond America’s borders and what it meant to be an American. As an Asian American, I know very well the dangers of nativism in America. My race, particularly my skin and eyes, are cause for some to doubt my citizenship, loyalty, and patriotism. I wondered how American-centric I was. How do people around the world really see American beyond what I saw on TV. I realized the only way to find out was to leave my comfort zone.
I am fortunate to have lived and worked in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The world outside of America is beautiful, exciting and filled with opportunity. Dubai shines brighter than Vegas. China is the Wild Wild East. London and Singapore are orderly but with a counter-culture bubbles beneath. The people all share one thing in common. From Saudi Arabia to San Francisco, everyone shares the same dream: life, liberty, equality and a better future for their children and community.
So when I come back to the US, it scares me to see how our country has transformed over the last two years. A new threat has arisen, a threat from within, something that has gone unchecked since 9/11: nativism and elitism - the fundamental causes of two world wars. This is coupled with the refusal to recognize the objective truth and opportunism. I have not felt this kind of fear in my heart since standing at the wreckage of the Twin Towers.
A segment of America has lost their way and they need help. We, as Americans, have forgotten our ideals and collective responsibility to each other and to future generations - not just at home, but abroad. I understand why my parents, grandparents and their siblings all worked so hard to immigrate. Despots and governments demand loyalty from its citizens. In American, loyalty is earned. Free speech and the right to protest fundamental to your rights as a citizen.
Our global commonality for a better future is what we must build on to create a common peace. Peace does not happen by proclamation. Breaking bread, not blustering, creates lasting change and peace. Fortunately, I know American has a self-correcting function, the power of the vote. I also know that New Yorkers are hungrier and scrappier than anyone else on the planet. Despite the scars of 9/11, New York City always renews itself by celebrating the diverse cultures and humanity that make up boroughs. We all know we are all immigrants to this country we call home.
So today, my thoughts are with those we have lost and their families. My thoughts are with those I worked with at Ground Zero. God bless you all.
God bless America.
As a strategic consultant, I manage chaos for a living. So travel is easy for me. Heh. I travel to understand people and culture more deeply than a newspaper or tv show could ever tell me. I break bread to build bridges across political and social boundaries. Travel inspires me, teaches me and humbles me such that I appreciate my part of the world more deeply.