New York Reporter's Notebook

Latino Students Express on 9.11

By Debbie Lang

Revolutionary Worker #1124, October 28, 2001, posted at

Recently the New York RW bureau interviewed Latino students of different nationalities as part of our ongoing investigation into the mood and feelings of different sections of people in the wake of September 1. This reporter's notebook is based on these interviews.

The picture spread in the RW showing the destruction caused by U.S. bombs dropped on people around the world made many think about their own experience with the horrible crimes the U.S. has committed against people in Latin America.

Many used the word "imperialism" to describe the U.S., and some said things like "the U.S. is just putting their nose into everything like everything is their business--and it's not." A student from South America said: "U.S. imperialism has caused many other countries around the world to hate this country. And that's one of the reasons why this incident happened is the hate that the U.S. has created--the power over getting into other people's soil when they don't belong there."

The RCP's statement, "The Horror That Comes From This Horrible System" struck a chord among many people we talked to. A woman whose parents are immigrants from South America said: "In a lot of those countries their entire way of living is war. That's all they've known... And of course a lot of the governments don't like us because, basically, we go in there and we just say that we own this place and we really don't. And we make them dependent upon us. They can't even create their own economy. They can't even survive because we don't let them. We did that to them first, you know? It's not like all of a sudden they just don't like us or they envy us like a lot of people say. No--we've been bombing their cities for years.

"The U.S. government say that they are neutral. But look at what's going on in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If we're neutral, why do we fund the Israeli army? Why do we give them arms and guns and food? They just end up killing the Palestinian people."

Her friend added: "In Kuwait they say they're protecting the country when really their only interest is in the oil." He pointed to the picture of Hiroshima in the RW: "I despise the fact that they threw the bomb on Hiroshima. Millions of innocent people--and children--died for no reason. They weren't even in the war."

Debate Over Why 9-11 Happened

There is great debate among the people about what happened September 11 and the U.S. government's response. Many of the people we met who think the U.S. is responsible for what happened told us they have had heated arguments with friends and family members.

One man who was born in the U.S. but whose parents are immigrants told us his mother thought the U.S. military should patrol the streets to make sure this doesn't happen again and his cousin says the government should just "bomb them."

A pre-med student told us this story: "My sister said, 'All Arabs are crazy--that's all I want to say about it. They should hunt them down. They hate us because we're democratic and our women can do whatever they want and their women are all in shrouds and they can't walk out the house.' I'm like that's not what it's all about at all. It's because their people are kicked out of their houses, their land is taken away. If you corner an animal and you keep smacking it around of course it's going to scratch back--and you can't be surprised when it scratches back.

"She was like, 'Oh, so we asked for it?' I'm like no we didn't ask for it but we should have seen it coming. I guess because she was so angry she was speaking from the anger. She just generalized. I couldn't take it. By the end of the conversation [to her] every Arab and Muslim was crazy--we should just kick them out of the country, kill them all. Then we got into a fight because she said we should bomb the Middle East. I said that's not going to solve anything at all. If anything it will just make everyone even more angry."

Targeting the U.S.

People who understand the crimes the U.S. has committed were very angry at the role the media have played. One student told us: "They're not going to show you both sides. They're going to show you when a Palestinian throws a rock at a soldier but they're not going to show you when the Israeli soldier goes into a home town with a tank and wipes everyone out. And if you say what's happening to the Arabs they stigmatize you like you're anti-Semitic. It's like the scarlet letter. You're either pro-Israel or you're anti-Semitic. You can't be questioning, sticking up for the other guy. I don't care. I will stick up. I know what I am and I'm not going to be afraid of the scarlet letter, you know? What's wrong is wrong."

We met a few students who really agreed with the end of the Party's statement where it says: "We need to be crystal clear on the nature of these oppressors who are hurtling towards a new war: these arrogant lying creatures do not rule in the interests of the people of this country or the world. As long as they continue in power the horrors that come from their system will continue to rain from the sky." A big question for these more revolutionary-minded students was whether or not revolution is possible in a country like this. This has been sharpened up by what they see as a difficult situation where millions of people are raising the American flag and supporting the U.S. government's plans to retaliate.

One youth we met put it this way: "The people in power are really powerful. And they're really careful now. The way they're doing it is they're manipulating the people to be behind them. They're only telling people what they want them to hear.... Because this is a crisis, people go into some kind of regression or something where they just want to hide. So they give more credit to their leaders and their leaders take advantage of that.... I don't know why when there is a crisis people don't want to question power."

We told her our experience showed that there is a lot of deep questioning and debate throughout society--and that this is a time when revolutionaries can speak to and influence millions of people. Suddenly one of her friends who had been quiet said: "That's true. Before this happened, I would never look at a newspaper like this [the RW] or a magazine. It wasn't my interest. It's something that just wouldn't come into my head. It was like for what? There was no reason for it. I was just ignorant. I wasn't informed. I was living like anybody else. But now it's different. I want to get involved more in things like this. The whole thing about whose fault is it, it gets you thinking."

Searching for Answers

A Costa Rican student, who said he was afraid of war, read the entire RCP statement and then said: "I'm not actually well informed on the world situation. But if what it says here is true then I think that we have to give a deep thought on our beliefs and on our ways of dealing with international policies. Because these are some serious things that most of us don't get to know. You don't see these published very often in newspapers or on TV or anywhere else. Maybe the media is not accurate enough.... We're starting to face the reality that this actually happened and I think this is a chance for us to think why it happened and what can we do about it."

Most of the students we met who were born in the U.S. had more illusions about "freedom" and "democracy" in America. But even those who feel they have a good life in the U.S. have begun to question things. A young Dominican woman said she loves America and wants those responsible brought to justice--but is against war. She lost a family member in the World Trade Center: "My cousin is eight months pregnant. Her husband worked for J.P. Morgan on the 98th floor. He's dead. Her mother died when she was 12. So she feels like everybody she loved died. Now she's going through depression.... The way she feels is the way innocent people in other countries are going to feel [if the U.S. bombs them]....

"I mean this is hard. And I don't see a reason for this. There should be a smarter way to get along with this. Our government is pointing the finger at the Middle Eastern people and it's not fair to just judge them. Maybe bin Laden did finance the people to hit the planes. But that doesn't mean that everybody over there is guilty of that and that that's why we should have a war over there and kill millions of innocent people."

Many people said they're afraid--of more "terrorist attacks," of war, of losing their jobs, of police-state measures. One woman said: "Who's going to pay the rent? I don't have money in the bank. I'm a low class citizen, basically. I'm a manager at a cafe. It's a corporation. If something else happens we're going to lose our jobs. And what am I going to do? Unemployment is going to give me money but it's not going to be enough to pay the rent and buy food and be able to go to school."

As we've found among every section of people we've talked with so far, the majority of people we met do not support the U.S. launching a war. A Cuban student who made his way to the U.S. with his family on rafts said: "There's a lot of hatred but it's pointed towards the wrong way, in the wrong direction. There's a misunderstanding that all Muslims have this mentality of jihad. That is not so. And I can understand that there was a great deal of people lost in the World Trade Center rubble. However, many were lost in wars--the Vietnam War, the Korean War, WW2, WW1. It's countless.... I, too, have lost a lot of friends in the World Trade Center. But that's something I've got to put aside and really understand--is this all Muslims? Is this all the Arabic nations?"

There were many views on the problem and the solution. Pacifist sentiments were a strong trend--both because there is a desire for cooperation among people, a different way to live--and because most understand that the war the U.S. government is set to unleash will cause great misery and suffering for thousands more innocent people. Some said things like: "America should take a bigger and more accepting stance towards helping out other countries--not being as much of a police dog" or "Instead of seeking retaliation, we should seek further communication."

There were revolutionary sentiments as well. One South American student said: "I don't really agree with terrorism. I agree there needs to be a fight against an imperial country--the United States. Because they always try to dominate. They suck up all the goods from other countries for their own benefit. That's really why this country is the dominant country."

One young woman we met told us she'd been looking for a way to change the world. We said, "Here it is!"--and she went away with a copy of the RW and the RCP's Draft Programme.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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