Kuljit Josan woke up early on the morning of September 11 and busily readied herself for classes at Yuba College on a cloudy, gray morning, which was unusual for September. Her thoughts focused on her classes and other things she would have to do on a very long and busy day.
Suddenly her mother came to her and asked her to translate what was being said about an awful image she had witnessed on the morning news. At first, Josan didn’t think much of it because her mother often asked her to translate. But this time, there was something different about her mother’s manner. She seemed nervous and upset.
Then Josan saw for herself the image of a plane going into a building, and she froze.
“Oh my god! A plane just crashed, and while I was watching the television, another plane crashed into the other building,” said Josan, her voice rising. “I called my brother, and he didn’t believe me, and when I translated what was going on to my mother, she said, ‘Who would do this?'”
Millions of Americans, like Josan, also woke up to the surreal images of jets hitting the monolithic World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York and scenes of destruction at the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field. In just over an hour, four jets crashed killing over 260 passengers. On the ground, over 6000 victims in the buildings were killed on impact or later crushed under the weight of 220 floors when both buildings collapsed.
The towers, which were originally built in the 1960’s and housed over 350 firms such as offices of the American Stock Exchange, employed over 50,000.
Now both buildings lie in an inferno of rubble and smoke that resemble volcanic eruptions.
Lynda Lara, a secretary with the Yuba College Police Department for 26 years, said that she has never experienced anything like what happened on September 11.
“My first thought was that it wasn’t real-like it was a movie trailer or something. I just sat there when I realized what it was. Just then, the phone rang, and it was the Chief of Police of Yuba College, Chief Dunn. He asked me if I’d seen the images, and when he was talking to me the second tower collapsed,” gushed Lara whose voice seemed emotional even now after more than two weeks since the incident.
Lara said that she then became concerned for her eleven-year-old daughter and wanted to shield her from the ghastly images.”I probably exposed her more than I should have, and she finally told me she didn’t want to see anymore.”
At Yuba College, Bonnie Hansen, the assistant librarian, noted the emotional tension in the lobby of the library.
Groups of students and faculty gathered, watching images of the attack on a television that normally broadcasts distance learning classes.
“From where I was standing, I could overhear students, primarily young ones, commenting while they were watching images on the screen,” recalled Hansen.
Eventually, administrative officials held a meeting and decided to cancel classes for the afternoon and evening, as other local colleges and universities also did. Immediately, an eerie calmness settled on the campus, where only department heads and officials remained.
Most reactions at the Yuba College campus have been of sadness and sympathy, but some have had darker implications.
In the days following the incidents in New York and Washington, individuals of Middle Eastern descent have since become victims of harassment, intimidation and threats across the nation and here at Yuba College as well.
On September 12, a Yuba College student originally from Afghanistan, who prefers to remain anonymous fearing retaliation, was returning to his car after an evening class and found a strange note clipped to his windshield. Slowly he opened the sheet. In part it read, “How could you guys do this to us?”
Other frightening encounters caused the student to miss several days of school fearing for his own safety and that of his family. The Yuba College student has not made any official reports to the police, fearing more acts of reprisal.
Kuljit Josan, who had struggled to explain the calamity to her mother on that fateful Tuesday, has also come to fear the backlash aimed towards people from the Middle East.
Josan, who is from the state of Punjab in India and is a member of the Sikh religion, has been particularly careful in recent days.
“I’ve been afraid for my family,” said the 23-year-old. “My father didn’t go to work for a week. He wears a turban. We were also warned not to go anywhere for our own safety. We also heard about a Sikh man being killed in Arizona. He didn’t do anything!”
The 23-year-old information technologies major says life will never be the same for her or her family. Now she watches her back, and if anyone looks at her for too long, she relates it to the terrorist incident of September 11.
Yuba College Police Chief, Dennis Dunn said that no incidents of harassment have been reported, but urged all students who have been singled out or who have had threats to report the incidents immediately.
“We would like to appeal to all the students to increase their awareness and do their civic duty and report any suspicious activity to the police department,” Dunn said.
On the same note, Paul Mendoza, the Assistant Superintendent and Vice President of Student Services at Yuba College, recently issued a memorandum to all staff and faculty calling on them to be vigilant of any activity which involves harassment or threats aimed at Middle Eastern students by other students and to report incidents immediately. Along with the statement was a warning that such activity could lead to expulsion and even criminal prosecution.
Since the initial terrorist attacks of September 11, several changes have also occurred on campus and surrounding areas, most notably televisions broadcasting CNN reports and updates in the student services building and in the cafeteria all day.
Students still eat their lunches, do homework, or chat with friends in these areas while keeping up on the latest news events.
American flags flap on car antennas in the Yuba college parking lots. A cutout American flag is taped on the window of a yellow Volkswagen, and a red, white and blue ribbon is tied to the hood of a black truck.
But perhaps the most poignant image of all is flowers lain at the foot of a large American flag that stands on the corner of North Beale Road leading to Yuba College. The flowers are wilted, beaten down by the heat and wind; nevertheless, they remain.