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Personal | Pessoal

THE DAY I FELT I WAS AMERICAN

I was at home and turned on CNN on the TV. I don’t remember why. Perhaps I was in one of those moods for watching international news an CNN still had some reputation back then. There was a reporter on what I supposed to be a rooftop or a large balcony. He dressed an impeccable suit and might have been on his mid-fifties. Strangely he was almost alike to Mário Crespo, one very respected Portuguese journalist born in Mozambique, like my parents, myself being the first of their children to be born in Portugal. A few days later, I would see Mário Crespo talking like this reporter. I am sure he mimicked his gestures to be stylish and solemn. This is how far respectability goes in our press.

Behind the American reporter was the skyline of New York. There were two glass and steal towers on the center, which I knew from movies of the seventies and eighties. They were part of my imagery of America. When I draw cities I recalled buildings like those, I imagined car chases and spy stories on that set.

One of the towers was on fire, on the stores above. The reporter was live, in conversation with the anchor lady. I don’t remember her, but in my head she is blonde now. She made a question about Bin Laden. I could barely understand those words. Only after they were repeated a few times I understood the journalists were talking about a terrorist. I had never heard of him before nor of the organization Al Qaeda. My only references to terrorism were Palestine, Northern Ireland and the Basque country. Then the reporters talked about a terrorist attack on an American embassy in Kenya. I did not remember that. It was in 1998, when people first heard of Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda. For some reason, I had skipped that one.

I only realised what was happening when I saw the second airplane hitting the other tower. I froze.

All I can say is the reporters kept reporting. The man in the suit kept his cool and his style. I don’t remember much more about that man, but I was impressed.

Then came the reporting on the streets. And the filming of people on the windows of the towers, making their choices on how to die.

I saw both buildings collapsing. It was the first time I heard the word debris. People were talking about the debris. Dust and debris. To my amazement, almost everyone who talked to the microphones, common people on the street, said the reaction to the attack would never be similar. America will not kill innocents. People were saying that, covered in dust. Over and over again. We will not do this. I think that was when my eyes got wet.

This was the first time I saw Rudolph Giuliani. He was the mayor of New York and seemed to me an astounding person. I wouldn’t imagine who he really is. He told an amazing story. While on terrain he talked to a man on a stretch. He asked the man how he was and the man gave an answer which Giuliani said it could have been taken from a movie: “Hey, I’m a New Yorker!”

Civilization had been attacked several times before, but 9/11 was the only attack I saw happening. I felt hurt. The West has serious flaws and tones of hypocrisy, and the same must be said about America. Nevertheless, America is the mother of modern democracy, saved Europe from the Nazis and the Soviets, all that with the sacrifice of their own men and women. My culture, and of several like me, is all American. The United States is the Roman Empire of our time and, in a much better way than the Romans, it does both good and evil. The good of America is overwhelming and 9/11 made me realize how much of America is in me.

From that day on I consciously became an American.

Saturday, December 11th 2021

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