9/11 through New York’s ethnic media lens
NEW YORK—A decade after the September 11 attacks, it’s still common for ethnic media here to encounter stories of hate crimes, racial backlash, immigration raids and interrupted lives in the immigrant communities that they cover on a daily basis.
Antoine Faisal, editor and publisher of Arab-American bilingual weekly Aramica, established his newspaper seven months after 9/11. He says it has served as a platform to inform his community and educate mainstream society about misconceptions of Arabs in a post-9/11 America.
“Since 9/11,” he said, “we have been in survival mode.”
“For many of you, September 11 is a memorial event once a year. For us, it is what we live every day,” he said at a recent roundtable discussion for New York ethnic media. “We don’t care about having an elected official; we just want to be alive from anti-Arab bashings.”
In Chinatown, Rong Xiaoqing, a senior reporter for Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily, has seen how the tragedy transformed the garment industry — a traditional stepping-stone for new Chinese immigrants.
As a result of their proximity to the World Trade Center site, many garment factories were shut down. Chinese workers thought the closure was only temporary. But Xiaoqing says the factories still have not fully recovered, displacing many Chinese workers and making it harder for them to adjust to their new environment.
“The garment workers didn’t have a choice. They have moved on and found another job in hotels around the area,” said Xiaoqing.
“I think many of us are talking about moving on, but it’s clear that there are old problems that still need to be resolved.” For the Chinese immigrants who witnessed the horrors of 9/11, she said, “the pain is still there and the wound has not healed.”
Mohsin Zaheer, editor of the Urdu weekly Sada-E-Pakistan, said that aside from the economic downturn, the biggest impact on his community since 9/11 has been the establishment of the PATRIOT Act’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which required special travel procedures for those coming from more than two dozen countries that raised terrorism concerns.
It wasn’t uncommon, he says, to see Pakistani and other South Asian families facing deportation, after complying with the special registration program.
The Department of Homeland Security suspended the program in April of this year. But immigration advocates and experts say that thousands of South Asian families have been separated after they voluntarily registered with USCIS.
“We paint the Muslim community with one brush,” Zaheer said. “Being under microscopic examination is one of the biggest discriminations we have gone through.”
Abu Taher, editor of Bangladeshi weekly Bangla Patrika, said that since the terrorist attacks, he has seen Bangladeshi immigrants move from Astoria to Michigan to protect their families.
“They feel that they will be safer if they don’t stay in New York,” he said. “People in my community are still afraid of the backlash.”
Editors from New York’s ethnic media said the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11 transformed US immigration policy and national security for all communities.
Latino immigrants have also been bearing the consequences of this vigilance, according to Erica Gonzalez, editor-in-chief of the Spanish-language daily El Diario/La Prensa.
“We still experience the ‘othering’ of the Latinos,” said Gonzalez. “We’re being viewed as people who are not as entitled as those who are US citizens.”
Whether it’s a Latina mother who crossed the border 15 years ago, but has been able to find a way to legalize her status — or a father who ran into trouble years ago and has already served his sentence — the stereotyping of Latino immigrants remains.
“They put them in the same bag as a hardened criminal, or see them as Public Enemy No.1,” she said.
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