Collection Highlight: Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center Interviews

Image of Beirut from MEMEAC website
Image of Beirut from MEMEAC website

The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) Interviews is a collection of seventy-one transcribed oral history interviews conducted between June 2002 and June 2003 at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. This collection reveals how Middle Easterners and those of Middle Eastern descent coped and dealt with the backlash aimed at the immigrant community, particularly the Middle Eastern community, in the post-9/11 world.

Twenty-five men and forty-three women were interviewed for the collection. Many were young, as the average age of the interviewees was twenty-nine. Each interviewee was asked a specific set of questions, beginning with their background information. Many respondents self-identified as Pakistani, Arab-American, Indian, Afghani, Bengali, Egyptian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Iranian-American, or Syrian. Most respondents stated their religious affiliation was Muslim, although others identified themselves as Catholics, Hindus, Druids, and atheists. After going through the background information, the interviewer asked the respondents about their experience on 9/11, including where they were when the attacks happened, how they reacted, and how they felt when the terrorists were identified as Muslim. Respondents were then questioned as to whether their feelings towards the United States had changed, if they had experienced variations in their levels of political awareness since 9/11, and if they feel a sense of belonging in the United States. Many respondents felt that there was a change in the treatment of Middle Easterners after the attacks, and some respondents personally experienced backlash.

Interviewees were also asked if they felt that Middle Eastern organizations supported them by adequately addressing the changing attitudes towards the Middle Eastern community in the US after 9/11, and if they had joined any of those organizations. The interviewer asked each respondent how they think members of their communities can work to improve relations between various ethnic and religious groups, and many thought that education, dialogue, and outreach would be helpful. One of the final questions the interviewees were asked was how the United States can resolve the problem of terrorism directed against it, and some of the responses included: having the federal government promote, create, and maintain isolationist foreign policies; re-assesing America’s policies concerning the Middle East, especially those regarding Israel and Palestine; increasing America’s awareness of problems facing the global community; and gaining an understanding of how American policies are perceived around the world.

Nested within the Organizations collection, the MEMEAC interviews would be of interest to those studying the experiences of the ethnic Middle Eastern community in the early twenty-first century; the work of Middle Eastern organizations and Middle Easterners’ perceptions of those organizations; and profiling at airports in the wake of increased security measures. The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center website provides insight into the Center’s mission, goals, resources, scholastic programs, and more.

Collection Highlight: Sonic Memorial Project

Radio Row in the 1920s
Radio Row in the 1920s

The Sonic Memorial Project is a collection of over nine hundred items that describe the history of the World Trade Centers (WTC) and surrounding neighborhood through archival audio, radio broadcasts, interviews, ambient sounds, voicemails, and music. Led by National Public Radio’s Lost and Found Sound, the Sonic Memorial Project was a collaboration of radio and new media producers, artists, historians, and people from around the world.

The items in this collection vividly illustrate the history of the physical space the WTC inhabited. The area that later housed the WTC was first known as Radio Row when City Radio opened in 1921, and grew to encompass six blocks of downtown Manhattan. Irving Simon, a Radio Row store owner, describes the variety of objects available for sale in the area, which became the largest place in the world known for selling radios and electronic equipment. In 1966, the stores were bulldozed to make way for the WTC. Mohawk ironworkers were hired to construct the towers and Peter Stacey and Kyle Beauvais describe the dangers of the job. In order to help the public understand the plans for the WTC, construction guides were posted at the site to answer questions and give tours. The guides discuss what an average workday was like as well as the meaning of their work in multiple interviews.

In 1971 construction on both towers was complete. Voicemails and interviews within the Sonic Memorial Project describe how the WTC became a site of engagements and marriages. Dr. Elizabeth Grill describes her proposal at the Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the top two floors of the North Tower. In 1996, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council allowed empty offices to be used as artist studios, and the artist-in-residence program attracted many artists to the WTC. Don Bracken was one of those artists, and describes his time working in his studio.

In addition to telling stories of love and art at the WTC, the Sonic Memorial Project documents the events of September 11, 2001. The Project includes radio transmissions from New York’s Fire and Police Departments, as well as accounts of the day. Robert Snyder recalls his morning commute and the “confetti” that confronted him when he got off the PATH train at Broadway. Ken Van Auken, an employee at the WTC, left a voicemail for his wife after the plane crashed into one of the towers. The Project also includes recollections of the aftermath of 9/11 and the various ways people dealt with the tragedy. Marc Wilson wrote a prose poem based on slips of paper he found at Ground Zero. Items in the collection also discuss the Fresh Kills landfill, which was a sorting place for one-third of the rubble from Ground Zero. Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at the 2008 closing ceremony.

Located within the Audio Collection, the Sonic Memorial Project would be useful for anyone interested in the history of the physical space and the WTC itself, and those interested in the sounds of the WTC and surrounding neighborhood. The original Sonic Memorial Project website has more information about the project and the World Trade Center website provides a comprehensive history of the WTC.

Collection Highlight: Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings

pleaseremoveyourshoesAfter the events of September 11, airport security came under severe scrutiny. Investigations launched with the purpose of determining how terrorists could have passed through security checkpoints. As a result of investigations and the passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created and became responsible for the screening of airline passengers.

The newly-added Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings collection provides insight into passenger safety prior to and on September 11, 2001 in the form of reports, guides, testimonies of various Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees and airport workers, meeting minutes, memos, transcripts, and affidavits. The testimonies of James Miller, Jr., Theresa Spagnuolo, and Stephen J. Wallace detail the activities of Mohammad Atta, one of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower. Before the attack, Atta and another man were seen taking videos, pictures, and notes of security checkpoints throughout Logan Airport. The documents also detail standard operating procedures for pre-9/11 security at airports as well as at Massachusetts Port Authority. Please Remove Your Shoes is a documentary that discusses the failure of the FAA and the TSA to adequately protect airline passengers. This collection reveals the flaws within the security systems at airports both prior to, during, and after the events of September 11.

These documents are a part of the September 11 Digital Archive Collected Reports, which are within the Online User Contributions to September 11 Digital Archive Project. Brian Sullivan, a retired FAA agent, contributed these documents and Please Remove Your Shoes. This collection of documents would be of interest to anyone conducting research into the infrastructure of airport security pre-9/11, the creation of the TSA, and 9/11 litigation and investigations.