<< America under attack

By L.A. Youth alums,
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In New York, grateful to be alive

I was walking to school when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I remember looking up into the sky and seeing a cloud of gray smoke. I blinked twice and hailed a cab to go to school. Miraculously, one appeared in two seconds. I put my sound equipment in the trunk, slammed the door and sat in the back seat. "What happened?" I asked the taxi driver, pointing to the cloud. "Somebody just bombed the Twin Towers," he laughed. "Want to leave Manhattan with me?" "Where would we go?" I asked jokingly. "To my place, in Brooklyn," he answered.

Instead of leaving Manhattan, I ran out of the car. Perhaps I should have taken him seriously because class was canceled for two days and many of my friends had to evacuate their dorms, which were enveloped in smoke and ashes. Our cell phones died. The subways closed down. Crowds of people marched out onto the street and off the island and walked back home to Queens or Brooklyn. One of my friends got stabbed by his drunk roommate who was too distraught to deal with the situation. I don’t think I stopped hearing ambulance cars that night.

When I came back home and saw the bombing footage on television, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that I was alive and I wanted everybody I loved to know that I was. I picked up the phone in my bedroom and began dialing. The phone, too, was dead. Luckily, my e-mail worked and I e-mailed all my friends and family. Two hours later, the phones were restored and life seemed to be normal again.

The truth is that it isn’t, not even superficially. The streets are empty and strangers are huddled together in each others’ arms. All of a sudden people had a reason to reach out and talk to the person next to them, instead of remaining anti-social and guarded. I met a woman on the street who worked across from the World Trade Center. She said that the glass of her office blew off and that her husband worked in the World Trade Center but that he was okay. She said she was lucky but that she couldn’t understand how it could happen to us.

And honestly, I don’t understand it either. I always thought that America was under full control, that we would always be protected. I always thought that other countries were too scared to bomb America, that it would always be the other way around. I guess none of us are safe. I always thought that race relations in my generation were excellent, but something tells me that they’re still not settled. I’m not worried though. I still have hope that things will get better and some day we’ll be smart enough to know that nothing like this is right.
—Genevieve Wong, 21, an NYU film school student

I no longer feel safe

As I was staring at my TV, watching the buildings crumble and people scurry everywhere like ants, I could not believe it was happening in my country. We always joked that if we ever get bombed, New York or L.A. would go first… stupid jokes because we knew that it could never REALLY happen. Until it did. After this, I can honestly say anything could happen, even in the land of the free… the day of the attack was probably the one day in my 14 years of living in the United States that I could say the entire population was grieving. I have never before felt that kind of helpless, depressing energy in the air.

I work in a restaurant in Hollywood, and I was at work the night of the bombing. At one point somebody outside started their car and it made a loud banging noise and I swear to you, three people dove in through the door and every single person inside within earshot immediately jumped, panicked and was ready to run. This has affected everybody in a very real way.

Last night when I went to sleep, for the first time since I could remember, I was scared. Not in the what-if-a-burglar-comes-in-the-house or I’m-home-alone scared, but the terrified, I am no longer safe in my country scared. And that is not a good feeling to wake up to.

The biggest shock to me about this whole event is that it happened in my lifetime. We are made to believe that we are so safe and that because we are the world’s superpower that something like this could never happen to us and then we get a huge reality check. Our security systems have been focused on high technology, computers and bombs. These guys didn’t have complicated technological schemes ; they got on a plane with KNIVES for heaven’s sake and simply crashed. And how much control do we have over a situation when these people are willing to die for what they believe in? Other than family and loved ones, I cannot think of a situation that I would kill myself over. These people seriously believe in their cause and they are willing to die for it. So how much can we do, really?

I think Bin Laden is behind all this. Bin Laden is a very dangerous man for one simple reason: his influence. Just like Hitler and Charles Manson, Bin Laden can control and brainwash mass amounts of people with his words. And these people will stop at nothing to fulfill their "prophecy." As politically incorrect as it may sound, I think that the U.S. needs to stop playing the nice, peaceful role and kick some ass. We need to stop tolerating this kind of terrorism and hit them back, because in the end, it doesn’t matter how much power we have unless we use that power.
—Ani Yapoundzhyan, 21, Glendale Community College

Maybe this is our wake-up call

I just returned from New York last Thursday evening. My family and I went to visit my brother, who lives in the lower part of Manhattan. We were even talking about visiting Battery Park, which is right next to the World Trade Center. There must have been lots of tourists affected by this tragedy. I’m just so grateful that our timing worked out. My brother is doing fine, although work has come to a stalemate since he works in finance.

I can’t imagine the horror and sadness that must prevail in New York and D.C. I certainly feel it out here. Personally, I do not feel safe. San Diego has huge Marine and Navy bases, and I wonder if we would be a target, although experts say we are not. I’m supposed to fly into Hartford, Conn. for a conference next Thursday, and I would be flying out of Boston, but I’m not sure that I feel safe flying at this point. I just don’t feel right about traveling so far away from my family and friends at a time like this.

I suppose this was bound to happen to the United States. We tend to be a complacent nation that does not treat other people, and even our own people, or other countries very well. The amount of anti-American sentiment around the world, and even here in America, is alarming. I hope this serves as a wake-up call to reevaluate our values and actions as a country and as people. And I really hope this does not turn into a race issue, although it seems like it already has. The media, the public, and politicians are already pointing fingers without any real evidence. We must not take matters into our own hands and inflict any sort of violence on anyone purely based on his or her race or ethnicity. We cannot afford to have another 1992 Los Angeles riot. It’s senseless and serves no purpose.
—Mira Jang, 23, communications director at the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives

It was surreal

It seemed surreal for us at home. It seemed like something that you would see perhaps on a movie set but never in reality, and even now because it is in New York and not L.A., it still feels unreal.

For a moment there, our family thought we lost someone. My mother’s family lives in New York but thank goodness, she works in the Veteran’s Memorial Building, not the World Trade Centers. Yet even though it’s not my own family, I still feel affected because it was thousands of people who were affected and through them many more.

As far as international relations, I have no idea how this will affect things but I do think that President Bush needs to be more vocal and more responsible for this country and our actions with other countries. His limited speeches were very disappointing because they did not seem to resolve anything. I wonder if they are blaming Osama Bin Laden because he is the easiest and closest target or do they actually have concrete proof? This could have been anyone. They just don’t know. It’s a really sad state of events.

I know if I ever move to New York, if I do work in a tall building that doesn’t have a fire escape or a ready ladder or slide, I may not be working there for long. You would actually think that the World Trade Center would be more prepared after the 1993 bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing.
—Sherrie De Laine, 23, of Los Angeles

A sense of hope

When I was woken up at 6:30 a.m. with the news that America had been the victim of four terrorist attacks, I was absolutely stunned. So stunned in fact, I was literally glued to the television, and must have watched the news for a good five hours that day. (That’s more television than anyone should ever watch, by the way.)

But the news did not fill me with a sense of satisfaction, or security, or even hope. The speech later delivered by our president did not give me the impression that we were finally safe, but that instead we were about to embark on a journey of even more suffering, more death, and more terror.

And it wasn’t the words of the news anchors, the government spokesmen, or the president, that comforted me in the end. It was listening to words of fellow UC Berkeley students at a gigantic vigil on the steps of Sproul Hall that evening, that lifted my spirits, and accomplished the impossible. Students from every possible religion, ethnicity, country, and political affiliation went up and spoke their minds that evening amidst a sea of lit candles. Several of the speakers had family members who had died in the attack; other students used to go to public school two blocks away from where the attack took place, and one student was actually supposed to be on the flight that plowed into the World Trade Center, but instead he flew home a day earlier because his grandfather had warned him about a bad feeling he had.

The opinions were varied—some angry, some compassionate, some in disbelief, some contradictory, but one message came through again and again:

Violence will only beget more violence. And all violence comes from hate.

What would it take, for any person, to plow an airplane into a building full of innocent people, knowing it would kill you as well in the process? What message would you be trying to convey, besides a simple act of terror? It is very possible that the terrorists themselves were once the victims of hate and violence, perhaps at the hands of the United States, and are retaliating for it. And if the U.S. in turn retaliates—and it seems inevitable that we will—we are only continuing that cycle.

Terror begets more terror. It is up to the generation of youth, the generation of my peers that actually gave me the hope that night that nobody else could have, to learn from the mistakes of the people who came before us so we do not repeat them.
—Jonathan Lewis, 20, UC Berkeley

My soul hurts

I still can’t believe that the world-famous New York skyline and the center of our defense have been terrorized so stregically. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to barely run out in time then turn around to see the 110-story monument crumble; knowing all those people fell with it. My soul hurts.
Shengul Bajrami, 17, UCLA

How do we teach peace?

During these events it’s tough having to be a staff member of an organization that stresses peace and social justice in elementary schools.

More than ever I realize the importance of my job, I help support students to be peacemakers. We give them the skills, knowledge, and relationships to help them in this struggle. Yes, being peacemakers is a struggle, we go against what they see on TV. So in light of these events, what then do we tell our children? My question is, "Why is everyone focused on "me," the United States? ME, ME, ME! It angers ME that compassion is not in our vocabulary. It angers ME that we seem to only see ourselves, the U.S. It upsets ME that students will be taught that the "other" is an enemy that must be put in their place for having dared attacked the U.S., instead of questioning the reasons for their hatred of the U.S. As a Latina, I find it extremely difficult to see myself as part of the suffering citizens of this country, in fact I reject this sentiment wholeheartedly. Let’s take a look at how "our" country is negatively affecting the citizens, not of their own country, but the citizens of this earth. And let’s face it, the question of, "Do you feel less safe in this country?" The answers will vary according to who you ask. Many people live in constant fear-and it is not because of foreign terrorism. So what then do we tell our children?
—Minerva Chavez, 26, of Los Angeles

My mom called at 6 a.m.

I remember it being exactly at 6 a.m. when I heard the sound of my cell phone. Thinking it was just some weird dream I was having, I tried to ignore it. Finally I looked over I saw my roommate ready to answer my own cell phone so I hopped out of bed and snatched it from him. "Hello" I said in a groggy tone. "Turn on the news, fast" was the answer I got on the other end.

It was my mom. I asked what was going on and she said that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. New York being my favorite place in the world and just the night before I had been researching plane tickets, I ran into the living room and turned on the TV. As soon as the TV was on, here comes the second plane crashing into the South Tower. I was speechless; it was so sudden and caught me off guard. My first instinct was to get off the phone with my mom and let my other roommates know. I went in and woke up one of them and tried to describe the situation but I dragged him out of bed and told him that he just needs to see this. I started calling everyone I know on the East Coast to see if they were OK. It all seemed so surreal, like this was all one horrible dream or a flashback from the movie Independence Day. September 11, 2001 will always be one of those days that you remember where you were when the attacks began. Everyone will have a story to tell and relive many years from now.
—Marcus Vanderberg, 18, Cal State University at Northridge

My whole body rumbled with tension

The first time I heard of the terror was at 6:55 a.m. when my costuming lead from Disneyland told me there were terrorists attacking us. I was in disbelief and confused of what was going on. I thought I was watching a movie but worse than any movie I have ever seen. I felt insecure that instant and telephoned my finace who was going to work in downtown Long Beach, World Trade Center. I told him not to go to work because I feared that he was going to be killed by a terrorist’s attack. My fiance told me not to worry and to stay calm. My whole body was rumbling with nerves and tension.

About one hour later while I was watching the news on Channel 2 everybody in Disneyland was evacuated into an open area. Then we were all sent home. Throughout the day my mind and body was quivering. My friends and family were calling each other making sure they were OK.

When night came I felt restless and uneasy about going to sleep and it continued until the next morning. I still haven’t been able to think or feel comfortable about myself and my surroundings. I fear that the attack might happen again while I’m working.

I love America and I hope that nobody in the world never feels what I have felt in these days following the crashes. I wish for peace throughout the world.
—Jesusita Chavez, 25, a costume designer at Disneyland

Should retaliation be the first order of business?

The tragic events took me by surprise, for I had no idea of the seriousness of the matter. Though New York is a state we all know of, the event still felt strangely distant. It is truly a devastation, that makes the American people, as a whole, feel violated wanting desperately to retaliate. But is retaliation really the key here? Or should we be more concerned with the account of the lives that have been lost? I feel that America is forgetting its priorities, in the sense that, there is always time for war, but let’s not jump ahead of the order of business. Some say this an attack on foreign policy, others say that it is an attack from foreign countries on the American people, that will result in a dreaded World War III. I wouldn’t go that far, I’m suggesting that maybe the terrorist is from a foreign country, but I doubt foreign government involvement. (They might deny foreign involvement, however, they might have used the blind-eye approach to those in plot.) It is important that we use wisdom to avoid bloodshed.

Still, I am left questioning, how the planes were hijacked? How do we know that they were hijacked, and not some simple act of suicide? And what precautions will be taken in the future to see that any of the like is not ever possible? It also seems to me that the media is throwing out unnecessary cries for war.

What I can say to the parents who are left to explain the mishaps to their children, I would suggest to them to be as honest as possible, without encouraging hatred for foreign cities. Hopefully, the anger of the American people won’t get the best of us.
—Candice Williams, 20, of Los Angeles

I feared for my friend

I never wake up early to eat breakfast and it just so happened that today, September 11, I did at 7:30 a.m. As I was eating my food, I turned on the TV and saw the Pentagon on fire. I couldn’t believe what had happened when I heard the details. How could four planes have possibly been hijacked by terrorists with all those weapons?! Aren’t airports suppose to make sure that whoever boards planes isn’t loaded with guns or other equipment? Yes, terrorists have hijacked planes before, but learning more about tragedies like this just says a lot about the so called safety of our country.

Then about 8 a.m. I went back to sleep and was awakened by a call from my best friend Shaggy who said she was concerned with one of our friends who goes to NYU. She asked, "How close are the World Trade Towers to NYU?" I didn’t know but the thought that something could’ve happened to her really scared me. We tried calling her but the calls wouldn’t go through. Finally, I got in touch with her and she said she was okay. She said she actually saw from her dorm’s balcony when the North Tower collapsed. While she was telling me, I could hear sirens in the background. She said her boyfriend was in class and he felt the ground shaking and trembling.

I didn’t feel like crying when I first saw the news reports. I just simply couldn’t believe it. But the more and more coverage I saw, I got chills done my spine seeing all the people who were suffering and I really did feel like crying, especially when I heard my friend’s voice. To think that something could’ve happened to her… to think that it could’ve hit that much more to home. It’s just so scary.
—Ambar Espinoza, 18, Valley Community College

Why aren’t we safe?

In the wake of the attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., I am becoming angry about the security in this country. Any country in the world is vulnerable to terrorism and threats from various people in the world, but this is America-our government should take the most extreme precautions to ensure the safety of our people. But it does not seem that way. We cannot stop every bad thing that happens in this country but we can take steps to diminish these bad things.
—Ashley Evans, 19, El Camino College

What’s wrong with these people?

Why would anyway think it is OK to kill tens of thousands of innocent people? The worse thing about this catastrophe is that no one specifically is at fault. This world is just so corrupted that it looks like we think that killing others is going to help our problems. I felt like someone was stabbing a knife through my heart when I heard what was happening on the radio. First, the World Trade Center, a symbol of union, dwindled to crumbs in a matter of seconds, and then an airplane took a bite into the Pentagon, a national emblem. This is a brutal tragedy that I don’t know how to fix, but I surely hope that someone will be able to.
—Elizabeth Del Cid, 18, UCLA

So many emotions

I’ve become immune to beeping alarms so I purchased a radio alarm for college. My roomie and I regularly wake up to the sweet sounds of pop music, so when we heard that a plane kamikazed into the World Trade Center, we simply dismissed the deejay and went about with the morning routine. Yawning, I changed stations, looking for JayZ or Eve … and slowly, I realized that every single Connecticut station was broadcasting the news … suddenly my suitemates run into our bedroom, flabbergasted and panicked, shrieking.

I expected an immediate campus assembly, but classes went on as usual for the most part-two of mine were cancelled because the profs were from the city. Many students didn’t attend, and divided their time between cell phones and televisions. Disbelief? Sure. I mean, this was "Independence Day" material, and we are THE USA. Concerned with China? Yeah. Russia? Of course … but terrorists? and … you mean the Pentagon isn’t invincible? Damn.

New Englanders make up a significant portion of Yale, so my friends and I made rounds, consoling those who couldn’t reach their loved ones, soothing ourselves from shock. In a way, I felt like I was overreacting … after all, I ran up to some of my New Yorkers’ rooms to check on them, only to find them playing computer games.

Students acted quickly, and soon four evening vigils were planned, with the last one being led by our school president. We made plans to donate blood. Friends and I hung around the TV room a lot, and at one point, all 36 watchers were teary. And scared. Pretty damn scared. A lot of jumping to conclusions: what if we go to war, all the guys will be drafted; is Yale a target, since the president’s daughter attends; what if, what if, what if. Countless Yale alums work at the Trade Center. Surreal. Numb.
—Sharon Hwang, 19, Yale University

Covering the crisis

Well, I was covering this moment-by-moment as the story broke today at 6 a.m. It was 7 p.m. tonight before I actually got home and had dinner and was able to think about it. I just heard, as I write this, over the NPR special report broadcast that many firefighters, police, and other rescuers were killed as the twin World Trade Center towers collapsed.

It’s hard to explain it … I’m numb. It has been a horrific day.

It was 6 a.m., and I was preparing to begin work on new stories for our morning drivetime on KFWB News98. My desk is in a part of the station separated from the newsroom and the monitors, and I had no warning before the station sent out its breaking news alert. I was surprised to hear breaking news so early in the morning.

And then the anchor, Jack Popejoy, said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought, What? That’s ridiculous. How could something like that happen? And I rushed into the newsroom and looked at the main, large TV monitor that is usually tuned to CNN. And there it was, a gaping hole in one tower — fire and smoke billowing out.

My jaw actually dropped. I gasped with my hands over my mouth—I have never had that reaction in my life. I just stood there frozen. I thought to myself: how in the world am I supposed to report something this horrific? What can I possibly say to describe it? Where do I start?

There were so many questions in those first few moments—how could this happen? Was it an accident? Was it really a jet airliner?

Then it happened, as I was writing the story—another airliner—within 18 minutes from when we first heard the news—crashed into the second tower. Disbelief is an understatement. I have no words for what I felt. It was a sinking feeling, because it became obvious that two planes don’t strike two twin towers almost at the same time without it being a deliberate, and coordinated, act.

There was this sense of hopelessness within me. Anything was possible now. It felt like I was in a bad film—that’s a phrase I heard a few times throughout the day at the station.

And so the news department marched on. Trying to rely on our skills to just tell the story, get the details, not jump to conclusions—and yet, it seemed with each passing minute and new detail the story became more incredible and hard to believe.

I just heard, again as I write, National Public Radio’s Neil Conan describe the day’s events as "cinematic" and "horrible." Those words ring true.

Within the first few hours of the attacks at the towers, we had reaction here in Los Angeles. Buildings in downtown were being closed. Evacuations taking place. LAX was shut down. And soon we had LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer on the phone with the station saying that school will go on as usual. It’s better, he said, to keep things normal for students so that the event will not be traumatic for young people.

That seemed to make sense. But at the same time, as the story was unfolding—details of attacks in Washington coming in—I couldn’t help but call my sister and tell her to be careful, and even suggesting that she maybe should stay home from Occidental College today. She went anyway.

Somewhere during those first few hours, I was compelled to just walk into the men’s bathroom at the station and say a little prayer for the victims. I felt powerless. It seemed the only thing I could do, before I had to go back and continue covering the story. And it seemed so unimportant to just be reporting what was going on—so futile.

As the horrors I was reporting and witnessing became more and more real—and after the towers collapsed, obviously killing thousands of people and rescuers who were there to help — I just wanted to cry, but seemed unable to. I felt defeated and exhausted.

As the hours went by, and I was still reporting—exhaustion turned to anger. Not just within me, but in others around the newsroom as well. Not everyone, but some. Anger not at whoever might have done this, but that they got the opportunity to do it. How could four planes get hijacked at once? How could authorities not realize that there was a pattern in the hijackings? How could even the Pentagon be susceptible?

Within me, there’s a horrible sense of resignation. I can’t describe what I’m feeling. Sadness. Anger. Exhaustion. Grief for those who died. And I just wish that I could cry. But I think I’m just too numb.

As the day has wore on, I went from covering the story minute by minute to heading out to the Islamic Center near downtown to speak to people worried of stereotyping and prejudicial hate crimes. By then, I felt completely removed from the story. It felt far away. And now I was just covering yet another issue, doing yet another series of interviews.

I have no idea how this will impact the country, my friends and family, and the city. And perhaps that’s the point — the future now seems so much less certain regarding things that I took for granted, perhaps foolishly so.

I assumed that planes didn’t run into buildings, unless you were watching it on the big screen. I assumed our federal government in Washington D.C. was secure, safe, and in control of the nation’s security. I assumed you couldn’t hijack four planes at once.

Today, all those assumptions were proven wrong. And anything seems possible.
—Nova Safo, 23