Sunday, September 12, 2010

"We Have To Remember What Happened Here"

(Visitors looking out at Ground Zero)

Today, one day and nine years after the tragic events of September 11th 2001, I thought it would be timely and relevant to blog on the recent controversy surrounding the building of an Islamic Center near Ground Zero.

(Here: a New York Times Article on the heated debate:

But after a visit to Ground Zero today, it seems completely inappropriate to do just that.

I hopped on the Downtown 1 and took a visit to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, which is less of an institution and more of a memorial. A documentary video that plays inside the center reminds us that the towers were icons: both symbols of the American dream of financial success and unity, as well as a home-away-from-home for all those who worked there every single day.

Tribute WTC emphasizes a “person-to-person history”: embracing the subjective and intimate perspectives of what happened that day. Our tour guide prefaced the tour by reminding us that just as on September 11th 2001, when there were no answers, still today there are no answers.

While the news and media reports (researching for underlying causes and revealing statistics), the people at Tribute realize that although nothing can be truly explained, something can indeed be learned.

Desiree, a survivor and guide at the center says, “We have to remember what happened here. We need to remember the people here.” Desiree lost nineteen colleagues (and friends) from her office space (the 101st floor of the South Tower) on 9/11.

At the center, you will find no information on the terrorists of 9/11 and the employees and volunteers at Tribute all respectfully refuse to make any political statements.

(Two of the many postcards written by visitors displayed in the center's gallery)

One of the guides said if there is one word to keep in mind from this event it is, “Intolerance.” His message was: “The point is that hatred caused this. This was intolerance, if we have the same kind of intolerance, we aren’t learning the lesson. Difference is the beauty of our world.”

I met a couple from Queens on the tour, Alex and Gerry (which was a delight, because Desiree said that it’s rare for local New Yorkers to visit the center.) Alex works for the Fire Department and lost many friends in the attacks. Gerry recalls that although “Strange and sorrowful” that day was great in that you got to connect with other people, “...on that day you really had to look at each other, no one had any other choice--cell phones didn’t work, no one knew what was going on.” Her advice? “Take a look around.”

(Alex's Hat)

As students and scholars we critique and analyze the past, but often at the cost of missing the human side of events: the stories, the faces, the narratives that make up both the history and reality of the American experience.

Whether or not you have your own story of 9/11, it is a truly eye-opening experience to visit the center here in New York City.

(Visit the website here:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a refreshing take on this political dilemma. Your sensitivity is touching.