9/11 taught me a new definition of patriotism

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Photo Credit: The Associated Press

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was as far removed as an American could possibly be — in more than one sense of the word. I was about 2,000 miles away from the attack, cheerfully working on a handout in my elementary school on the border. I was deeply entrenched in Mexican culture at school, and when class let out, I went home to an Asian household with two immigrant parents. Needless to say, my circumstances left me with a very fragile sense of patriotism. 

The day was a haze. My second-grade teacher directed the class’ attention to her and told us that we would be leaving a little early today — no other explanation. One by one, all of us went up to the teacher’s desk to call our parents to pick us up early. I remember my mom was one of the last parents to come, rolling the window down while balancing a cell phone on her shoulder and waving hello to my teacher, probably as unaware as I was of the monumental point in history we were living in. I got home and gleefully jumped on my bed to celebrate the unplanned half-day. I still cringe at the thought.

I found out what happened when I went to school the next day. I had only a vague understanding of the attack, but I did begin to grasp the concept of terrorism for the first time. I started to flip to news channels at home, watching horrifying coverage of the devastation 9/11 left behind. I grew up a little faster that year. 

I’ve visited Ground Zero twice since then, once when a mess of construction and yellow tape took its place in 2008 and again in 2012 when two commemorative deconstructivist pools were nestled there instead. The names of the fallen spanned the walls of the memorial as far as I could see, and I thought about how the people impacted were more than just the seemingly infinite number of names etched in front of me — not etched in the bronze were the names of their mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, and friends. 

Though I didn’t personally know anyone directly impacted by the attack, September 11, 2001, marked a turning point in my sense of identity and cultural belonging. Thirteen years went by and I grew up, learned more about the history of this country and wandered away from the confines of my small border town. I have since reinterpreted my lack of the quintessentially “American” upbringing to define my own understanding of patriotism — one of unity in diversity, hope in devastation and resilience in chaos.

Huynh is a Plan II, business honors and supply chain management junior from Laredo.