Post-9/11 America is a Tough Place for Young Desis

News & Politics
[Editor's Note: In the years following September 11th, hate crimes targeting Arab, South Asian and Muslim immigrants have increased, according to the Office of the Inspector General. The same report cited that while the U.S. government has detained thousands of members of these communities, the overwhelming majority of them have not been charged with any crimes relating to terrorism. Janes Gregoire and Myles Miller from Children's PressLine spoke to three youth organizers from Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a Queens-based non-profit organization dedicated to political education about how the reaction to 9/11 terrorized and politicized their communities.]

Raheed, 17
I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia and my parents are from Bangladesh. I have been in the United States for two years. 9/11 was scary, from the fact that I was coming from Saudi Arabia. When I saw it on TV, for a few seconds I thought, "Oh, they're making a new movie or something." But then when it said "Live," I got so scared...it was like war was about to happen or something.

After 9/11 there has been a lot of racism. When I went to school, people didn't know where I came from. I had a friend who later on when he found out that I came from Saudi Arabia, said a lot of stuff like, "Oh, what so Osama is your uncle or something?" and, "In Saudi Arabia, do they teach you to shoot AK47s in school?" It's really messed up. I was kind of racist before, but then after that I realized how hurtful it might be and then I wished I could do something about it. It made me realize how messed up the society can get sometimes.

Nowadays, if the youth hear something messed up they'll just go punch somebody, knock somebody out. But to prevent [racism], talk it out. I don't know how much it works; I was never in a situation where I tried to prevent it. Like my friend, I didn't try to stop him saying it, it's just that I'm not friends with him anymore.

Shoshi, 20
I am originally from Bangladesh. On 9/11 I was in New York City in my high school. After that I really saw the panic in the Muslim community, how that affected them, and all of the backlashes and hate crimes that were done against them.

Right after 9/11, we really started seeing the fear in our community, especially South Asian, Arab, Muslim communities where people were afraid to go out of the house or even do anything. At that time in DRUM we started doing an outreach flyer. We used to go to different neighborhoods where there was a high population of South Asian folks and put these flyers up that basically stated: If you have been the victim of a hate crime or if you have been abused or raided by FBI agents, you need to call us and that's our hotline. So at that time we were getting a lot of calls about people saying that they were getting raided in their house or their brothers or fathers were getting taken away from them by the FBI coming into their homes.

In 2001, the Patriot Act was passed and also the Special Registration Program was done in New York City that required men or boys 16 and over to go register from 25 different countries and every one was a Muslim country except for North Korea. A lot of the calls that came in were very emotional and very saddening. Brothers and fathers that were just taken away from their homes, or they went to register thinking that they were complying with the government and they ended up being in detention centers and later being deported. Really, at that time, we were seeing how government agencies like the FBI or the police department were going into our homes and breaking up our families and tearing them apart.

Throughout history, the backlashes and the hatred that our community and people of color in general have faced when they enter this country shows that we don't have equal access to anything, especially if you are undocumented. You don't have access to healthcare, you don't have access to school or higher education. Just seeing that has heavily influenced me in doing this political work that I'm doing now.

Right after 9/11, the media played a big role in portraying Muslims as being terrorists or Muslims being bad and a lot of the hate crimes increased. We're seeing that it's not just that one day you wake up and decide to hate all of the Muslims. It's that something is put into your mind that does that. The media has a big role in doing that. So actually exposing the media or the government in how they're being racist and treating our folks differently.

Just understanding what's going on, like our anger and our frustration, there are healthy ways to portray those and actually push for social change. It's a really great feeling to know that you're actually making positive changes in your community. Change is possible; we haven't hit the dead end. There's no such thing as "that's just the way it is."

Rashi, 20
Political education is really crucial because sometimes many of the things you see on TV or read in the newspaper is just one point of view. It's not really coming from the communities themselves; it's basically just corporate or government agencies that are putting out these messages. You're not really hearing the side of the people from the communities.

After 9/11, all of the hate crimes that were happening made me realize that sometimes people don't get all the facts straight or they jump to conclusions. I also saw the strength in the South Asian, Muslim and Arab communities and immigrant and people of color communities because they did not take it sitting down. They began organizing.

After 9/11, we saw all of these national policies and how it was affecting our communities in different ways with detentions and deportations and racial profiling. We also saw after, around 2003, that school safety policies changed. They started putting police officers and metal detectors into schools. We did a two year research phase where we conducted 665 surveys with South Asian immigrant students to see how these school policies affected them. Fifty-one percent of them said they had seen or experienced harassment by police officers or school officials. Being exposed to such high levels of harassment doesn't create an environment in which students feel that they can learn. We have to create a school environment that is safe for everyone. Policing a problem is not the same as solving it. Many of the schools that we went to or go to are overcrowded or underfunded, or programs are being cut. This is not how to solve the problem. Actually investing in education-putting in computers and books and smaller class sizes will create a safe environment for everyone.

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