The Day America Changed, Except Me

September 13, 2006

By David Nghiem

I still remember that day, September 11th, 2001. I was attending Spanish language classes at the language academy, in Cusco, Peru. I still remember how annoyed I was that a Peruvian kept mistaking me for a Japanese, and tried several times to engage me in Japanese. I'm a Vietnamese American, born and raised in Philadelphia, and among the traits I inherited from the region's people, was a rationalistic, "I am what I am, so what a youz gonna do about it?" With such a confrontational attitude, I harshly stated, "I'm not Japanese, I'm American," and I stormed off to my classes. Later, I reminded myself that most people outside the US considered an American to be white, blonde haired, and blue eyed.

I walked into the class, and started my lessons, when suddenly, Jeff, a Peruvian who was organizing a trip to Macchu Picchu, burst into the room in a frantic state of distress. "David! Oh my god, there's been a disaster! This involves everyone, Peruvians, Argentineans, Bolivians, Chileans..." he said as he counted on his fingers the numerous Latino nationalities.

"What are you talking about?" I asked him. I was surprised at his state of mind, which was a mix of anger and frantic breathing. "

You don't know? It's on the TV!" "What?" "The USA has been attacked!"

Cursing, I immediately ran out of the room into the student lounge, where a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman was sobbing in front of the TV, while another blonde haired man comforted her. I looked at the TV, and to my surprise, I saw the second plane crashing into the tower on CNN's English language channel. "Oh my god." I said. Underneath the video, where the headlines raced by, were the words, "America under attack." We sat there, as the woman sobbed. She also was an American, and her boyfriend or husband, was British.

For the next half hour I watched in pure disbelief, as CNN grotesquely, ran and re-ran the striking of the buildings with the airliners. I swallowed hard, since I had friends and family in New York City, and a family friend was working as a financial analyst in one of the towers. Yet, for all the queasiness I felt while watching the news, I suddenly felt revolted inside... angered... horrified.

And then I began to well up with hate. It wasn't the video of the planes smashing into the buildings that made me react that way. It wasn't the unbelievably quick collapse of the 2nd tower that was hit. No, none of these things created that reaction. It was what the white woman said that made me want to turn into a raging inferno, into a mad bezerker ready to trash the student hall and everyone in it. "Whoever did this, had to have been well integrated in our society!" was what she said. I knew what she meant. I knew exactly what the hell she meant, and whom she was talking about. She was talking about the Muslim Americans, the Arab Americans, and the Indian Americans. Anyone who was brown and swarthy looking, was suddenly, in her statement, ready for what the Japanese Americans endured and worse.

I wanted, I badly wanted to yell out at her, "It's racist Mother F--kers like you that f--k everyone up in the first goddamn f--king place!" But I didn't. Instead, somehow, I measured my voice and said, "There are a lot of innocent people who are going to suffer because of your statement." "They're your friends?" she asked, with an acidic quality that would have stripped the flesh off my bones. "Yes." Both she and her boyfriend gave me dirty looks, as I stared them down. They looked away from me, and then I turned back to the TV. Later that day, my horror turned to disbelief as I watched Dan Rather comment on the astoundingly impossible collapse of World Trade Center 7.

It was at that point that I shut down. Everything felt like bullshit, and I knew that what was once my three-month trip, would turn into an almost year-long sojourn in Latin America. I had neither need nor desire to return to the US. The US that I knew, that I cherished, for all its warts and issues, the place that I was born in, and despite the race problems, the USA was my home -- until that day. That place would never be my home anymore. That home was a ghostly memory that I carry in my heart to this very day. The very spirit of the USA is in an idea. That idea, is written in the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and in the Constitution, has no foundation in race, religion, ethnicity, or creed. It’s all that we as Americans have that make us uniquely and distinctly American. It is all we have that makes us different from the Chinese, from the Indians, from the British, from the French, the Canadians, the Mexicans, and from the Russians. It’s our foundation. Even Britain doesn’t have a solid principle of that most basic right, of freedom of speech codified as we do in the Bill of Rights. Before 9/11 happened, I maintained those principles inside of me, because it was all I had to lay claim to my birthright as an American in the face of racism and discrimination.

That night, after sending out emails to my family and friends to see who was alive or dead, I prayed before I slept. I didn't pray for the dead, for they were long gone. I prayed for the living, my friends, my Arabic, Muslim, Punjabi, Pakistani, and Indian friends. They were people I grew up with, and they’re Americans like me. I knew how racist the USA could be. I knew how nasty it could get, because all my life I've had to deal with it with my fist, feet, or words. I knew what was coming for them, and I prayed that they would be prepared.

Now, five years later, almost everything that makes us quintessentially American has been stripped away in the Patriot Acts, with a literal coup d'etat still ruling after five years. Gone is habeas corpus, destroyed by military tribunals and congressional laws for detention without even knowing what the crime is. Gone is freedom of speech, where writing anything that seems contrary to the administration puts us onto no fly lists, under surveillance, and into those god forsaken sterilized "free speech zones." Gone is our right to privacy, against self-incrimination, where the flagrantly illegal wire-tapping doesn't even revolt the typical white American... but from what I've seen, it revolts the rest of us colored Americans. Oh yes, plenty of Asians, Blacks and Hispanics know all too well how tenuous our rights can be.

Despite all the hallmarks of the American coup d'etat, which occurred on the date of September 11th, 2001, despite the fact that we are in fact living under a definite dictatorship, I haven't changed. I still maintain those principles. It's all I have that distinguishes me as a citizen of a country that was supposed to be based on an idea, not a tribe, not a race, not an ethnic group, not a culture, or a religion. America is an idea that has evolved over the last 300 years. Today, on September 11th, 2006, that beautiful idea is dead, not so much because of the coup d'etat, but because the majority of the American people willingly went along with it. But I'm not dead, and as far as I'm concerned, that idea lives on inside of me. They can try to legislate it away from me, they can lock me up, they can charge me, but as far as I'm concerned, they never gave me my rights in the first place. I was born with my rights from the very beginning. It can never be taken away.

Guest blogger David Nghiem is an explorer and adventurer based out of Philadelphia. His adventures have appeared in various publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Go World Travel, and BikeCulture magazine.




Fantastic essay... Mr. Nghiem ought to make an audio recording of it and send to Hyphen, NPR, or other media outlets to be podcasted.
Well said, Mr. Nghiem! My reaction was the same as yours that day. As I watched the footage, I muttered, "That was the Reichstag fire, now comes the bullshit."
May I suggest that the coup d'etat occurred not on September 11, 2001, but on December 12, 2000, when the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that there would be no further counting of Florida's disputed presidential votes, and GWB, despite losing the popular vote, was installed in the White House.Also, you did not include the survivors of the genocide of the original inhabitants of this continent among your list of the groups of people who are familiar with the tenuousness of rights in America. These people, members of the hundreds of tribes that still exist in America, are too frequently omitted from any discussion or considerations about the state of the nation, which has been given a mostly whitewashed history. Unacknowledged and unrepented. But the experience of these people is at the very root of what this country has too often really been about. Iraq is the latest version. This history must be remembered--so as not to be repeated over and over again--in order to realize the potential that exists in the "idea" of this country.
This brought tears to my eyes. Your words resonate in my heart. I still believe in America and want to so much believe in the dream for all Americans regardless of their color. You are right about the coup d'etat of our country. The #1 terrorists in this country and the world are the bush regime.
Sorry, wherever, white people enmasse there is the ugly beast of supremacy with its strong heartbeat known as racism. Wherever people of colour have settled amongst white people, they live with the knowledge that at any moment things can change and poof, jim crow comes a riding. this knowledge is mostly, 99 percent suppressed by people of colour and white society does all it can to make sure they keep it so.What people of colour need to do is to realise that we own three quarters fo the world and we should act like it. Build bridges amongst ourselves and frighten the f..k out of jim crow. feed ourselves, trade with ourselves and shut out white society. White society has all of the guns and nukes and if we do not talk with them they will f..k us up, however, we should spread the nuke technology like madmen amongs us with a view to only using the same against the virulent virus known as the european
ashamedtohavetotalktruth, its precisely this sort of xenophobia that is the enemey, dont fall for hateful rhetoric take the higher road, hate can only breed more hate, if you should hate anything hate the lack of education that allowed the lady in David's post to react in that poor manner.As for the government it is well intentioned, but incapable (this incapability/stupidity/improper view of cultural relations is evident with the bush admins many blunders)again, antisocial attitudes are not only with white america, ashamedtohavetotalktruth, blame lack of education vs taking rage out on all whites.before I am accused of being the enemy, ashamedtohavetotalktruth, just know that I'm half white, half turkish, and have suffered greatly from anti muslim sentiment in the us, and it has, not suprisingly, only come from low class poorly educated people.
all viruses are virulent unless you are talking about a retrovisus used in biology labs as a vector with its rna messed with so it cant encode for its nasty bits in host cells, but otherwise virulent viruses are redundant
Your article is revolting in its snide and open hatred of "white people." You do that because you feel inside that you are a cut below, somehow lesser. Who made you feel that way? Not "white people." How dare you or your parents immigrate to the USA, welcomed with open arms, and then start moaning about "racist white people." Imagine if I wrote your article and substituted "brown people" for your "white people." I would be attacked as though I were the coming of Satan. What a fucking hypocrite and a parasite you are. You can't think. Your loyalties are to some non-existent asian race blood loyalty, or to another country, so we can be grateful you have LEFT. I don't want an "asian-american" next to me, I want an american, whatever race they are.
yea, great. it is long overdue for us to lose the constitution. After all it has been dead since 1973. Cry you little babies. we deserve a good spanking. Let the murderous criminals rule. we asked for them and deserve them.
The problem as I perceive it is that too many of us "rich" people that can afford both a computer and electricity to run it and an internet connection to post on this board have no concept of being personally oppressed by facism. Great you posted here...feel it off your chest? Great you tough rebel...Real rebels throw bombs and have nothing but death to look forward to as all their comforts went the way of their freedoms. When are you pussies going to stand up?
9/11 was the beginning. Most of the people you are refering to viz Pakistanis, Mexicans. Indians, etc will shortly be interned in camps like the Japanese were during WW2.Mr.Ngheim would be better of in Vietnam
This is all part of the plan. As the army causes chaos in the Middle East, the US gov't erodes rights at home by stealing private lands, caging protestors, banning books like "America Deceived" from Amazon, conducting illegal wire-taps and starting wars based on lies and a false-flag operation known as 9/11. The dictatorship has arrived.Last link (unless Google Books caves to pressure and drops the title):America Deceived - Book
Loyalties to some non-existent asian race blood loyalty?Did I miss something in that essay?
Re: Greg TalonRegarding "America Deceived" It was NEVER available via Amazon or B&N. It was published via "Fast Track" at (a subsidiary of B&N, btw) IT WAS NEVER BANNED FROM ANYWHEREThe author choose not to have it released via B&N or Amazon per iUniverse. Political motivation or just a cheapskate? You decide.If you would like, you can call them yourself and ask. The phone number for iUniverse is 1-800-AUTHORS. No, really, call them and ask if it was ever distributed by Amazon or B&N and they will tell you it wasn't as it was a "fast Track" publication.It is the speculation of this commenter that the author of the previous comment is actually the author of the book looking for some easy publicity via blogs. A google search on "America Decieved" will bring up hundreds of very similary comments, but all have the link to iUniverse in them.Coincidence?
All you people are fucking retarded. You act as if the usa is fucking nazi germany or some 1984 bullshit. oh shit big brother is after me run, illegal wiretaps! save us from the evil white man. WTF! i'll prove youe wrong right here, fuck bush fuck bush and his whole fucking family rot in hell bush. WTF nothing happened to me wow fucking amazing. Please, the guy who wrote this article is a fucking moron. and before you people start talking shit i'm chinese(born there) and i've been to iraq.
Perhaps this video might clear some things up on what Mr. Nghiem is referring to.
That's it.It's done. Anyone who cares, anyone who listens, as of today, the house has passed the detainee bill. Habeas Corpus is now, officially, gone. will say this. The asian american congressmen in there voted against the bill. I hope to God someone filibusters this thing, but I doubt it.Now, why should you even care about this? Because under the definition of one of the sponsors, a republican from South Carolina, the bill includes anyone who is against the war on terrorism. In other words, if you're against the Iraq war, you do not have habeas corpus on your side. If you're against the administration's policies, you do not have habeas corpus on your side If you've lost someone in the 9/11 attacks, and you're questioning the administration for not investigating, you do not have habeas corpus on your side. If you doubt me, go read the bill. Peruse it. It's so broad, so wide ranging, that almost anything that goes against policy can classify you as "aiding or abetting, or sympathizing" with the terrorists. I can't believe we've come to this point, and I can't believe how apathetic americans are to this.The chickens have truly come home to roost.