This is a series in which USJC President & CEO Suzanne Basalla shares her thoughts directly with the USJC community.
Soon we will mark 20 years since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Like most of you, I have such complex memories of that day, and of that time in history. I remember being in an operations center in the Pentagon when the plane struck the building, and eventually making my way on foot back to my nearby apartment, joined by many of my colleagues who were far from home. We heard wild rumors from strangers as we walked together, and by the time we got to a television we saw the images of the crumbling towers being replayed over and over. A neighbor took in half our group and we took turns calling loved ones from landlines to say we were okay and to assure ourselves that they were as well. We stayed together for hours before eventually getting everyone home. When we reported in the next morning, smoke was still billowing out of the impact site. What’s striking to me as I reflect 20 years later is how much my memories are governed by specific connections to other individuals, reinforcing for me the absolute importance of people-to-people ties, which are of course at the heart of USJC’s work.
As I went on in my career as an Alliance Manager, I came to appreciate how important 9.11 was in the U.S.-Japan relationship. Japanese lives were also lost on 9.11, and Japan supported the United States as one of our key allies. Over time, Japan deployed forces to support the Global War on Terrorism and used its diplomatic power in the region and globally to fight terrorism and support the values and ways of life that were at risk. We learned to work together in new ways, which formed the foundation for the decades of cooperation we have seen since.
At the same time, 9.11 was an important time in American society, and Japanese American leaders’ voices were critical in protecting Muslim communities from racist mistakes of the past. Norman Mineta’s presence in the Bush Administration as Secretary of Transportation provided moral leadership given his own experience in an Internment Camp. I encourage you to learn more about this chapter of Japanese American leadership, and recommend this blog by Densho’s Tom Ikeda as a starting point.
Another important example of people-to-people linkages is how the people of NYC connected with the survivors of the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. This event hosted by the Japan Medical Society of America is one example. Over the years, NYC organizations have welcomed TOMODACHI youth visiting from Tohoku, such as the TOMODACHI J&J Disaster Nursing Program participants.
I recently heard from Ambassador Yamanouchi, Consul General in New York, that he visited the National September 11 Memorial Museum to mark the installation of “Stars of the Forest: Elegy for 9.11,” an acrylic painting by a Japanese artist, Naoto Nakagawa, to express condolences for victims and wish for peace. Ambassador Yamanouchi and his team are donating Japanese lunch boxes and paper cranes to the New York City Fire Department in cooperation with the Japanese American Association in NY and other organizations. They did this to express gratitude to the members of the FDNY for their service, to give back to underserved New Yorkers whose needs have continued to grow throughout the pandemic, and to pay tribute to the memories of 9.11 victims. Several key USJC members joined the event.
There was so much lost on 9.11 and in the decades since. For those of you for whom that loss was personal, I am sorry. For those who made sacrifices to make our country, Alliance, and world a better place afterwards, you have my gratitude. Personally I hope to take this occasion to reflect and to recommit to doing what I can to strengthen the people-to-people ties that sustained me twenty years ago, and to invest in those people-to-people ties for our future.