The events of 9/11 brought to the forefront issues of immigrant identity and assimilation.
Immediately after the terrorist attacks, the French newspaper Le Monde, published an editorial titled “We Are All Americans” on September 12th, calling for global solidarity. In his address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People on September 20, 2001, president George W. Bush tried to impose upon the world his good-vs-evil rhetoric, “Either You Are With Us Or You Are With the Terrorists.”
The oversimplifications that arose as a result of the fear and anger during the nation’s initial reaction pushed many to step behind the image of the American flag to deflect misguided attention to one’s ethnicity, national heritage, religion, or political stance. The immigrant dream of freedom in a multicultural America was suddenly interrupted by the heightened fervor of nationalistic discourse.
On Canal Street, I saw that many store owners and vendors of various ethnic backgrounds, had strategically placed American flags on their windows or carts. Flag-themed merchandise, often made in foreign countries, flooded the street, capitalizing on consumer patriotism. Because the need to clearly identify “us” versus “other” became a matter of urgency, flag pins and flag-adorned garments became convenient identifiers.
The fragility of the multicultural dynamics within the United States after 9/11 caused me to question the sense of security I had taken for granted as a recent Japanese immigrant and how I could define myself as “American” within the new political and economic order.
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