2001 TLI Scholarship Essay:
What America Means to Me
Second Prize Winner: Ameesha Nanwani,
Great Neck North High School
Commitment to America
When first given this essay assignment, I laughed. After having lived in America for almost 12 years, I still refused to be called an "American." According to many of my Indian friends, calling someone an "American" was saying that they betrayed their Indian heritage and culture. My immediate response to being called American is: "No I am not, I am Indian and don't ever call me that again." I have always told my father that my only regret in life is not living in India, and his response to me has been, "You do not know how lucky you are to live in a country like this with so many opportunities." I don't pay attention to him, however, because not living in India has taken away opportunities for me as well. If I lived there, I would have fully understood my culture, and I would have properly learned the Hindi language. All of this significantly changed after the events of September 11, 2001.
When the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, I was driving to school with my friend listening to the news on the radio. When the first plane hit, we were in shock but thought that it was a mistake. When the second plane hit, we knew it was a terrorist attack and I started screaming in the car, "It's a terrorist attack; I know it." We immediately turned the car around and drove back home to watch the news. The television was turned on to CNN and the two buildings stood on fire with an immense amount of smoke billowing out. A disaster movie come to life! The feelings that overcame me at that moment were unexplainable. It was as though someone had hit me personally and I was unable to protect myself. My feelings surprised me. They were feelings of nationalism, but I refused to accept the emotion of caring so deeply for a country that I had previously seen as the thief of my cultural identity.
It has always amazed me how people have so much love for their country and unity with their countrymen because it is a feeling I have never shared. When I heard about the terrorist acts, I felt as though my brothers and sisters had been killed. It was frightening and upsetting at the same time. I wanted to help them in any way possible. We all need to come together as one. The next day at school everyone was in a daze, not fully understanding what exactly had happened the day before. Our principal tried to make everything seem normal, but it was not. The tragedies that occurred on September 11 changed everyone's lives forever - especially mine. It was surprising to care so much about America. I knew in the back of my mind that if anything were to start in America I always had the opportunity to leave and go live in my house in India, but now I did not want to. I was genuinely concerned about the state of this country and everyone who lived here. A wave of nationalism had swept the country and I was part of it. It allowed me to be proud of being an American and living in America and while feeling this way, my heritage and culture could be maintained.
On Friday, September 14, my friends and I went to a bridge in our town where a vigil for the missing was held. There were five of us: one Indian (myself), one Colombian, one Russian, one Israeli, and the last one from China. We all stood in a line in front of the candles and said a prayer in six different languages: English, Hindi, Cantonese, Russian, Spanish, and Hebrew, for two victims - one Greek-American trader and one Italian-American fireman. We were no longer segregated by petty differences. We came together as one unit from different countries and cultures as Americans supporting our country. It was the most intense moment of my life, and I realized at that point, my father was right. America is amazing. The fact that all of us could come together and pray in five different languages is overwhelming. At that moment I realized that I am an American as well as an Indian, and I am proud to be an American.
I realized that night that being an American does not mean that you have to give up your culture and roots. Being an American allows you to embrace them and share them with everyone around you regardless of their origin or nationality. Being an American and living in America is a remarkable experience that I now appreciate.