I was working on learning state capitals in my seventh-grade geography class in the small southern town of Germantown, TN, when the news broke.
Two planes had hit the iconic twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center along with one hitting the Pentagon and another deterred to a field in countryside Pennsylvania. My teacher wheeled in a small television set and my body froze as I saw the now infamous scene of the twin towers engulfed in flames and smoke.
All I could do was stare in disbelief as chaotic images emanated from every news channel. I watched and wondered if my father, an economist, was OK. He was in the north tower, the first tower to be hit, for the annual N.A.B.E. and A.U.B.E.R business conference.
I wondered if my little brother, Jonathan, who was in elementary school at the time, was also watching these events unfold. Sept. 11 is his birthday and I prayed that somehow his school hadn’t heard of what had happened.
That afternoon when my mother picked me up from school, I learned that my father was indeed all right. He had been on a low floor and escaped safely along with every single one of his colleagues from the conference.
One night many weeks after he had returned home, my father told me what he had seen that day, the horror of the attacks and the heroism of everyday people. When he finished, he looked up at me with tears—it was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. He told me how that day would change things, for him, for our family, for the country— everything would change.
And it did. It has been 10 years since the terrorist attacks and I have seen those events affect my youth, my thoughts, and who I am as a woman today.
Growing up with the effects of 9/11
I’m part Iranian and I grew up in the South. After 9/11, I had quite a number of people quickly change their minds about me. I was called Osama bin Laden’s niece, pushed around in hallways, and felt like an alien in my own skin. I didn’t understand how people could treat me that way. I had nearly lost my own father because of the attacks—how could anyone see me as a terrorist?
I wanted to understand what was happening. Why were people treating me differently? Who was behind the attacks? How could anything this terrible have happened? My father didn’t like discussing any of this and my mother simply didn’t know how to speak without getting upset. I turned to the only sensible outlet I knew that would tell me everything— the news.
I learned that my generation would be dealing with the repercussions of 9/11 for many years to come. From tightened security to an economic crisis to Islam phobia to thousands of soldiers overseas, an event that had happened when we were children would affect us until college and possibly longer.
Inspired to document
I began to care more about what was going on in our country and around the world. After seeing so many reports about the attacks, I thought it would be possible for me to do something similar for my father and his colleagues—a documentary to help them vent about the attacks and finally find peace.
The documentary won a national Student Television Award for Excellence from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. At the awards ceremony for the documentary, I dedicated the documentary to my father, my family and all of those who had lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and their families. When I stood taking photos holding the award with my father, I remembered how years before, he had told me everything would change.
Much has changed. I and so many others my age grew up in a country trying to find its balance after being hit so hard. We’ve learned that despite all the tragedy of 9/11 and hardships our country has faced since, there is still a possibility to chase a dream and perhaps even accomplish it.
After all I have seen and been through in the past 10 years, I know that day changed me and who I am. It made me stronger, wiser, and most of all—thankful. Thankful that to this day my father survived. Thankful that my brother was able to have a father for so many birthdays after 9/11. Thankful that I had people give me a hard time so I could learn from that and become a better person. Thankful that I live in a country that won’t let anything knock it down completely.