American Enough

Country Pride in the Big City

"People look at my face and they think I did it," said Min Wahid, a Pakistani Muslim, as he manned his phone-card stand on 74th Street in Jackson Heights last Wednesday. The line for international calling cards was six deep even at 8:30 in the evening. A stranger, Wahid said, had threatened him that morning, muttering as he passed, "I will fix you." Against mounting evidence, Wahid hoped the current crisis was another case of Oklahoma City-identity, where the culprit would turn out to be homegrown. "We pray for that," he says, "because otherwise, it will be a difficult life for us."

It already is, with racist sentiment and violence flaring across a nation fueled for war. At least one New Yorker has suffered for his skin tone, a Bangladeshi who was brutally beaten and cursed before the day of terror had even closed. The invoking of Pearl Harbor and calls to tighten borders and keep better track of who's who have put all who look and sound different on edge. The mayor's warnings not to indulge xenophobic urges only hinted at the scourge feared by those who've caught hatred even in better days.

Terrorism brings stars and stripes to the subway.
Photograph by Keith Bedford
Terrorism brings stars and stripes to the subway.

The recent tragedy demolished this city's native sense of invincibility, but to threaten the diversity that is its other signature with sudden requirements of flag and faith only adds another casualty to the list. Working to the bone, surviving in the toughest of times, finding friendship in a swarm of 8 million—these are the feats that make a New Yorker. Time was, being a New Yorker was more than American enough.

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