IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS
A few days ago we celebrated 240th year of Independence. This land of Native Americans “in the course of human events” became a democratic country of Europeans, and later, Africans, Asians and other immigrants.
In a few months, it will be the fifteenth anniversary of the devastating tragedy– 9/11. That attack “in the course of human events” changed the perception of some Americans about their fellow citizens.
On September 11, 2001, as we watched televised reruns of planes attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, our hearts ached for the victims and their families. After the attacks, our local, US-born friends called to see if our relatives in New York State were okay. (Yes, they were.) In the following days we shared articles, lit candles to honor the victims, donated to the Red Cross, wore red, white and blue ribbons, and displayed Old Glory.
A few days later, a nephew who had arrived from India that year, phoned that his fellow students viewed all brown-skinned, black-haired people, even Hindus–themselves the targets of Islamic militants–as enemies. Since we hadn’t experienced such hostility in our small town, we attributed his fears to homesickness. Then our Indian friends in Seattle told us about strangers staring at them.
If Hindus were facing this, what about Muslims? We heard on the news that they suffered verbal and physical abuse and their mosques were vandalized. Several followers of Sikh religion were attacked, and a Sikh man was fatally shot because “his turban and beard made him look like Osama bin Laden.”
It was ironic that while many South-Asians had died in the terrorist attack, in the aftermath, some were beaten and a few murdered by their fellow citizens. On a television interview, a Muslim girl when asked about her feelings replied, “I feel just like other Americans.”
I nodded to myself. Americans of South-Asian origin are the same as Americans from other cultural backgrounds: they serve in the armed forces or join peace rallies, work for industries, heal the wounded, care for their families and raise their children.
As I struggled with these issues, my friend called. She had heard about the assaults on Indians and wanted to know if our Indian friends in Seattle were affected. A neighbor came over and offered to accompany me on errands to avoid problems from strangers. I was overwhelmed by their concern. The terrorist attacks resulted in mass fear of some ethnic groups, but our friends demonstrated that human relations are above racial and cultural divisions.
Our friends care about us neither because, nor in spite of our Indian heritage. We worry about similar problems and laugh at the same situations. We have shared carpools, babysitting, Fourth-of-July picnics and Thanksgiving dinners.
In my forty-eight years in the United States, I have grown very fond of my adopted country. As to my loyalties–I have left India, but a part of me belongs to it. I love Hindi music and Indian food, and often join Indian-Americans for traditional celebrations and fundraising for the Indian underprivileged. I wasn’t born in the United States, but I’m a part of it I love pizza and apple pie, and try to conserve energy, recycle and volunteer in the community when possible.
I get a lump in my throat when I hear “Jan Gan Man,” the Indian national anthem. And I get a lump in my throat when I hear the “Star Spangled Banner.” In the course of my human events, I have fond memories of growing up in India, and bountiful experiences in America.
* * *