Kids from Afar on 9/11, Now Adult New Yorkers

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:15

Young New Yorkers may not have been here in 2001, but the anniversary of the terrorist attacks still resonates

By Adelle Brodbeck

The events of September 11, 2001, are forever part of New York City's identity. So too, is the fact that the city is constantly in flux, with more newcomers every day, every minute. According to census data, between 2000 and 2013, the city's population grew from just over 8 million to 8,405,837. In the decade between 2001 and 2011, Lower Manhattan's population alone grew by 23,000.

By virtue of this constant stream of new New Yorkers, many of them young, every anniversary of 9/11 sees a population with slightly fewer people who actually experienced that awful day firsthand.

That doesn't mean, however, that the day is any less resonant for them.

Michelle R., 28, was living in New Jersey in 2001, when she was just a young teenager.

"My father actually worked on the 88th floor of the World Trade Center," she said. "But he didn't go into work that day because we had just gotten a new puppy."

Although Michelle was lucky not to suffer the losses that many others have, she said she still feels the heavy weight of 9/11. "I think our generation will always carry the memory of the attacks."

As time goes on and the story falls further into the past, Michelle believes that those who live in the city and nearby will always feel a strong connection.

Will Mensah, 34, uses his connection to 9/11 to look at the big picture. "It is a day where we have to stand still and realize that maybe we were taking certain things for granted," Mensah said. "Maybe we didn't realize that somebody would do such a thing to this country."

In 2001 Mensah was living in Los Angeles, planning to attend film school, but he had previously lived in Brooklyn, and said that his emotions regarding the attacks were not diminished from the distance. He's been back in New York for about six years now.

"I work downtown and it is always fresh in my mind every time I walk around here. I was thinking the other day, when the [World Trade Center] opens up who is going to be brave enough to work there?" Mensah asked. "But then if somebody doesn't go and work there then the terrorists have won."

Each year Mensah says that he treats September 11 as a day of reflection. "It makes me grateful to be alive and that I get another day to live," he said. "And for the innocent people who lost their lives, I can try to remember them and keep their experience and their lives still going."

Marie Elliot, 31, is new to the city and quickly noticing the growth and liveliness of the downtown area. "The aspect of how much the community has been rebuilt is just amazing," she noted. She went on to say that in her time downtown she has only experienced positivity and confidence in a revitalized and better New York.

With the incentives to spur regrowth in the Lower Manhattan area come an increase of younger and younger people, New Yorkers who may not recognize the skyline as it stood pre-2001.

Michelle acknowledged the issue of younger generations growing up in a seemingly untouched city and felt as though it is the responsibility of older generations to pass along their experiences.

Mensah also commented on how young New Yorkers view September 11. "It is something that might not necessarily mean anything to them," he said. "They didn't have an experience of this country before the attacks. But I think that because it is still so fresh in so many other people's minds that younger generations might have a sense of what it means."

A mother who moved to the downtown area of Battery Park four years ago shared how the closeness to Ground Zero has affected her and her family.

"I was only in eighth grade [on September 11th] so the severity of it was big but probably not as big as it was with the people who lived here at the time," said Frances Arnett, 27.

Arnett said that she sees living downtown as a privilege and a humbling experience.

"[The attacks] affected probably everyone in our country and to be near the site is kind of special to me, even though it was such a tragic event. I really enjoy living by it, it is a good remembrance."

After retrieving the toy that her child accidentally dropped on the sidewalk, Arnett said that for young students living in the city, learning about 9/11 will be completely different than in other areas.

"Here they will probably go on field trips to see the site firsthand and what the aftermath of the attacks looks like," she said. "It is going to be more of an in-your-face experience rather than just reading about it in a textbook and seeing one single picture."

Elliot, who was a freshman in college in 2001, is beginning a job at an after-school art program for kindergarteners downtown. Her experiences with September 11 were all fear centric, but she believes that she won't see the same feelings surrounding the issue from younger children.

When Eliot worked at a college in New Jersey she said that she saw anxiety weigh on those around her whenever they visited the city.

"I got a handful of kids who had never been into the city or wanted to go to the city even though it is only half an hour away," said Elliot. "There is still just an overwhelming fear of coming in and having something else happen. I guess it is just ingrained in the college aged kids' minds that 9/11 was just something that was 100 percent scary, and that was it."

For younger kids, Elliot says that she doesn't expect them to have the same sense of immediate fear. "I don't want to say that it will be gone, but it's going to be different."

Arnett is seeing a difference in attitudes from younger generations, as well as the difficulty of relating the tragedy.

"My son always asks in September 'Those bad guys, what did they do, why did they do that?' and it is hard to answer that question to a six-year-old," she said. "It is hard to understand, since he wasn't even alive at the time, how he will perceive it. We try to explain as best he will understand without scaring him too much."