9/11 was the first time in my life that I felt American - accepted and embraced by my fellow Americans.
I recognized I had never felt American until that moment in spite of the hundreds of years my family have been here, both Native, African, and European. In spite of my families long 100yr+ history of military duty and dedication, land ownership, and contributions, it was like never knowing you were missing something until you had it. See, in spite of my roots being long and deep in America and transversing many histories, I had been told I was a hyphenate - a second class citizen. I had been told to go back to where you come from as if I didn’t come from here. I had been told I don’t have a claim to this land or my rights.
I grew up a stranger in my own families home. That was my norm. I knew no other existence.
On 9/11 there were no adjectives to precede my claim or belonging to this country or to deny me my birthright. The towers that fell didn’t have a race, gender, religion, or sexuality, but they did have a nationality - American. Under the threat of that day and the days to follow, I simply became American. I shared in the fear, the heartache, and the pain of my American family. We held each others’ hands and we cried - United.
I was no longer the enemy - a domestic terrorist.
We vowed to remember that day and we share our stories every Sept 11. However, what we have failed to remember was that the tragedy of the two towers burning down also became a symbol of the two separate Americas that many of us have lived in: Ethnic/White, Rich/Poor, Male/Female, Gay/Straight, Religion/ Secular, Religion/Religion. For a bright and brief moment, stripped of our differences, covered gray in ashes, we were equal. We were no longer two, we had become ONE.
Of all the pain and terror of that day, I wish we could have held onto that memory and made it a reality.
- Quincy LeNear