As reported for the Odyssey, found here:
“When I was around 12 years old I went to Target with my father and we were checking out in the gardening section,” said Farahnaz Hadjimary, a third-year student at the University of Florida. “When the cashier finished ringing up our plants, my father handed the cashier his credit card. The lady seemed skeptical about his name, Hassan Hadjimiry. She asked him where he was from and my father replied that he was Iranian. The cashier had a disgusted look on her face when she handed back the card to my father. We didn’t think much of the situation and continued on with our day. We were walking to our car when we noticed that the cashier was following us. My father asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was copying down our license plate number and was going to report it to the police because she thought we were up to suspicious activity.”
Hadjimary, amongst about 60 other students, gathered in Turlington last Thursday for a panel on the impact that the devastation that September 11 had on different communities.
About 100 students gathered in Turlington Plaza after the discussion, for a candlelight vigil. It was an extremely emotional atmosphere for both those who lost loved ones during the tragedy, and those who had felt oppression following the attacks.
A black ribbon was handed out to each attendee, given as a gift of remembrance.
Thirteen years ago, 19 militants of the Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners launching a series of suicide attacks within the United States. To this day, our nation mourns the loss of over 3,000 people who lost their lives in New York City and Washington, D.C. Fatalities included more than 400 police officers and firefighters.
The violence did not end there.
According to an FBI report, prior to Sept. 11 anti-Islamic incidents were the second least reported hate crimes. Following Sept.11, they became the second highest reported with growth of 1600%. Muslims were not the only group who felt the repercussions of the attacks. Arab-Americans, South Asian-Americans and Sikh-Americans were among the other minority groups who felt that they faced adversity.
“When we talk about Sept. 11 we think about conventional America,” said Narayan Kulkarni, who organized the event. “We don’t talk about what it has done to these communities.”
Organizations such as the Asian American Student Union, Indian Students Association Arab Students Association, Islam on Campus and Sikh Students Association were present at the event.
“This panel is the first of its kind at UF, and perhaps even in our state or possibly the nation,” said Kulkarni. “This is because it brought together American UF students and prominent student leaders of Arab, South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, African backgrounds to discuss their experiences and impressions of how 9/11 has affected them and their communities.”
Kulkarni said the panel provided a safe and inclusive space for minorities who felt as though they had been oppressed and wrongly harmed following Sept. 11 due to negative stereotypes.
“It offered a very genuine and reflective perspective to all,” said Kulkarni. “Those who did not identify among the represented communities gained valuable new insight and education, while those that did felt empowered and educated from hearing that other communities went through similar struggles as they did. “
Members of the panel spoke about any hardships they faced after the attacks, as well as how they grew from those experiences.
“My inspiration to put on this event ties into my experiences following Sept. 11” said Kulkarni. “I moved to Florida to start second grade that summer, and within a month of being in a new school Sept.11 happened. I was bullied and called ‘terrorist’, ‘Osama Bin Laden’, and other hateful words by my peers, effectively ostracized from any and all group activities.”
Members of the panel mentioned that coming to UF gave them an opportunity to embrace and share their culture. Many felt that they had to hide their true cultural identities prior to coming to Gainesville.
“I’m starting to see that this generation is becoming more apt to understanding and acceptance,” said Hayat Kemal, a student panelist at the event.
Kulkarni has hope that others will see that a group of dedicated and passionate students were able to work to create something empowering together, and that it not only will be a sign of future collaborations between these organizations at UF, but also a sign of a truly inclusive society of empowered and talented leaders.
According to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations report in 2003, several immigrant groups including Asians, Middle Easterners and Latinos are unlikely to report hate crimes for reasons such as reluctance to contact authorities and lack of familiarity with hate crime laws.
“Thirteen years have passed and I still find myself a victim of Sept. 11,” said Hadjimary. “I have been racially discriminated at schools, markets, stores, and airports. Education is the key to stopping this ignorance and hatred occurring to the Middle Eastern and South-Asian communities.”