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“9-01-11 HA HA HA” Really? Really.

September 8, 2011

How diverse is New York City? So much so that even its Hispanic newspaper was pronounced “oy.” And despite the many non-Jews who use Yiddish words like “Meshugenah” and “Fakackteh” and the non-African-Americans who eat soul food at Sylvia’s in Harlem, with all these shared cultural experiences, have we learned to be tolerant of other folk’s differences? Not really. Not yet, at least.

Being open to diversity doesn’t necessarily mean being tolerant. Tolerance means having respect for those who are different from you. And where else but in The Big Apple can that include almost everyone around you in a subway car? If America is the great Melting Pot, then New York City is the front burner; a hotbed of diversity. Unfortunately it’s also filled with quite a few hotheads.

A few years after the 9/11 attacks, I noticed vandalism on the sides of pay phones and newspaper stands around the Upper West Side. The handwriting, while the same, sent a pretty disturbing message as you can see from the photos.

“9-11-01 🙂 HA HA HA”

The first time I saw that message, its smiley face looking more sinister than happy, I was shocked. The second time, in another location, shaken. Who was writing these messages? A terrorist or a punk with no clue what he was really saying? That’s when I thought, “What’s next, Swastikas?” My grandparents saw those symbols once, years before, and remember all too well what happened next. And that cannot happen again.

Which is why I was shocked when those same 9/11 vandalism messages began popping up recently. With the 10thanniversary this Sunday, it’s hard not to remember that terrible day and the shaky days that followed. For every one of us who worked or lived in New York City, we had to go on like everything was normal, but now normal was different. Normal for me was that constant knot in my stomach that tightened when I woke from a nightmare in which Staten Island was burning or when I was on a packed subway, stopped inside a tunnel as an announcer’s garbled voice said something about an incident at Grand Central or when at a Yankees game wondering in which inning a bomb might explode.

My niece dressed as a super hero

For those who remember that day, normal has been about going on despite the fear. Like my grandparents did at Bergen Belsen. Like we all continue to do. But sometimes I wonder if this new normal has desensitized us for whatever happens next.


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  1. Leah permalink

    Great post Felice, I agree! I’m just now studying the question about whether NY is a melting pot in my NY sociology class that I’m taking online this semester. But having lived in NYC for college, in my experience it’s not a melting pot per se, it’s more on a microcosm than anything else. People largely self segregate, they maintain ridiculous stereotypical beliefs about each other with other ever trying to get to know people of other cultures. People might live there together smooshed on several islands but people find their groups, communities and enclaves they care nothing about tolerance and diversity! Some people are civil and nice but there is always the under current of conflict in most people I’ve met. There is strong racism and negative ideas embedded in many people there. And of those people, there are some people who hate America and want nothing good for it. Some American, some foreigners! I’ve heard people say they hate America with my own ears. Everyone has a right to there opinion but if they don’t like it here they should leave. Also, I think it’s very tragic and cruel for people to be doing any kind of vandalism like this because it’s very hurtful!

    • Hi Leah,

      Thanks for your feedback. Very insightful and I must admit I’ve seen that behavior from people too. It’s really sad. I spoke with my grandfather months ago when my book came out (The book I wrote about him) and after he spoke he said, “God bless America” which got everyone tearing up. For those who don’t know what it’s like in other countries, they don’t know how good they’ve got it!

      In other news…did you start school? Were you successful in getting rid of clutter? Best, Felice

  2. Hello, I live in Lima, Peru, here in my country we lived the terrorism for more than 10 years.
    How long it takes to forget it?
    I think that a complete generation. For over 20 years, there is not significant signs of terrorism in Lima, the kids that are less than 20, they feel that is impossible that those terrible things happened in this country… ¿why they think that way? because is such a terrible experience that nobody wants to remember, like you say it happens in NY.

    Your job, like mine in Lima, is do not forget those days, so they won’t never happen again.
    The innocent people that died on those days, should never been forgotten, we never must live with that panic again.
    Greetings from Lima

  3. I’ve seen this graffiti all over NYC. I just saw a flickr post a few minutes ago that was posted in 2008 from Japan?! This idiot is most likely a student with a huge Chompsky-esque grudge against Capitalism. He usually posts his “tag” on construction sites. It’s only a matter of time till he is found and thrown in the slammer. I find this type of graffiti deplorable and useless. This guy is NOT Banksy. Banksy, at least has a message of change and of showing a mirror on ourselves. This buffoon is just an idiot with a sharpie marker.

  4. I’ve always lived as an outcast. As a single Mom, with one small income, I quickly learned to become a self-reliant minimalist. I’ve lived my life with humility and integrity.

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