| Rumor became a mode of discovery. Local community
organizations such as Asociación Tepeyac de Nueva York urged
an amnesty to facilitate the search, hoping to grant the workers the
visibility in death that had been refused in life.
In the wake of the attack unofficial voicesde Certeau's "pedestrian
utterances" were coming to the
fore, visibly interacting with the official language which one could
think of in terms of de Certeau's totalizing and commanding view from
the World Trade Center. In the case of the undocumented workers, those
once seemingly excluded from the U.S. through immigration challenges
were now included as victims of this "Attack on America."
The attack of 9-11 served as a moment of rupture in the dominating
aerial gaze, a point of horror and violence that served as fulcrum
for the rearticulation of space according to those invisible in
the grand narratives: illegal and legal immigrants, the working
class (support and custodial staff), people of color, and so on.
Individual testimony, both virtualon the Internetand
actualon the streets themselvestook a strategic part
in the rebuilding of the community and the reconstitution of New
York (and by virtual Internet extension, the United States).
Immediately following the disaster, missing posters appeared throughout
the city. These posters held similar formats: a photo of the missing
person, usually a snapshot capturing him or her in the everyday,
accompanied by two legends. One named friends and family while the
other stated their place within the Towers (name of business, floor
number). The collection of posters remapped the buildings, pluralizing
the once impersonal twin monoliths with individual stories. Erstwhile
symbols of world trade, U.S. domination, and a generalized New York
skyline, they now, in their destruction, became home to a diverse
As time passed, these efforts of discovery became practices of
memory as they became part of the spontaneous memorials, the shrines
that overtook public space. These urban altars, much like the city
itself, were projects of accretion. Expressions of grief animated
a plurilogue of diverse community and individual practices. Mexican
prayer candles, yartzheit candles, graffiti, memorial murals
came to express a community loss as well as a constitution of community.
The devastation became occasion for the reclamation of public spaces
by a physical public. City space was reorganized according to the
needs of a grieving public.
City officials worked to return the space to municipal dictates.
The parks were cleared of the altars. Henry Stern, the Parks Commissioner,
declared a return to normality. In a letter to the public, he lauded
the parks' contribution to the psychological recovery of the city,
but went on to explain the parks' function to "reaffirm a daily
routine" and to offer "a safe green spaceclean and available
for peaceful activity" (http://nycparks.completeinet.net/sub_ask_commissioner/letters/nine_eleven_letter.html).
This letter re-established the parameters of the public and the
While many shrines and expressions were gathered and stored for
future exhibition (their re-presentation and the ways that will
reconfigure our memory and understanding of the public landscape
is a subject in itself) and some, according to one Parks Official
I interviewed, were given to the Fire Department shrines, to commemorate
"the real heroes" (her words), most were tossed. While no malice
exists in this designation, it belies a dangerous slippage: who
is fit for commemoration? Where is the appropriate space for
memory of a public?
Immediately following the attacks and persisting to this day,
the Internet supplies a virtual public space, providing ample opportunities
for the multiplicity of community voices. Mr. Beller's Neighborhood
a site that predates the attacks of September 11, offers individual
stories organized according to an aerial map of Manhattan. Clicking
on a neighborhood offers localized, personal narratives, rendering
a diverse and complex landscape that confronts the clean aerial
gaze. A site entitled Lower Manhattan (http://www.albany.edu/mumford/wtc)
declares its mission to rebuild Lower Manhattan and the events of
9-11 apart from the "tyranny of a single present," examining the
place and events according the many experiences that preceded it.
The history of the event will be composed of a multiplicity of voices.
Yungo.com, a site dedicated to peace actions, offers a gallery of
the works of Dario Oleaga, who has been chronicling these sorts
of spontaneous memorials since well before 9-11. (http://www.yungo.com/galeria.htm)
These sites ensure that these landscapes and historical events will
be understood within a larger, more complex and more diverse context.
Public spaces were not so much changed after the attack, but rendered
more visible than ever before.
On many occasions, the individual representation or testimony
is taken up in service to another strategic community narrative.
September 11: Gay Victims and Heroes (http://www.angelfire.com/fl3/uraniamanuscripts/sept11.html)
offers a queer-specific representation of events. The comment site
of Here Is New York, A Democracy Of Photographs (http://hereisnewyork.org/gallery/comments_all.asp)
offers the following reaction to a photograph:
"Hats off to Officer Velazquez and all the other gay folks who
helped, and continue to help, to make a difference in a way that
offers us all some much-welcome role models."
Here the narration of 9-11 becomes an occasion to integrate gays
and lesbians into history and society, specifically as role models
in order to counter existing antagonism. (Similar activity occurs
in Holocaust narratives. For example, Toni Boumans' film, After
the War, You must Tell Everyone... (1990) chronicles the heroic
resistance efforts of Willem Arondeus whose homosexuality prevented
his recognition as hero until recently. The title comes from an
interview with him shortly before his execution; he wished people
to know that gays and lesbians were not cowards and were a positive,
active force in the community.)
Memorial sites, then, particularly those on the Internet, offer
the opportunity to mobilize individual testimonies of loss and grief
into collective, community practices. Not only gays and lesbians
find the opportunity for mobilization; this practice is open to
all. A site merely entitled 09112001.com (http://www.09112001.com/)
promises "We Will Never Forget" with the subtitle "Horror Hath
Taken Hold Upon Me Because of the Wicked That Forsake Thy Law' Psalms
119:53." Taking an apparently Christian stance, it seems to support
all war action under the guise of memorial practices. The site also
boasts this phrase: "Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an
innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen. - Deuteronomy
27:25." To be fair, its hawkishness is tempered by multiple links
to other charitable actions, but nonetheless, it articulates a Christian
The initial memorial impulse serves not only to deal with
grief and loss, but also to rebuild the devastated world. Amidst
the wreckage, opportunities opened to pluralize the standard, official
narratives of New York and the United States, rendering unseen or
unacknowledged worlds visible. The act itself was strategic even
before deliberate efforts of social mobilization came into play.
As the memorial projects persist, they are likely to be directed
into more overt projects of community activism.
For select print media essays
on the undocumented workers, see: Bode, Nicole, et al (2001). "5
Killed Working For a Better Life", NY Daily News, 26
October 2001, Friday, p.22 Martinez, Ruben (2001). "Terror's Aftermath;
The Limits of Compassion: Will Our Generosity Extend to Undocumented
Workers?" Los Angeles Times, 7 October 2001, Sunday, Part
M, p.1 O'Halloran, Marjorie (2001). "Illegal Irish May Have Died
in the Collapses,"The Irish Times, 20 September, 2001,
de Certeau, Michel (1985). "Practices
of Space," in On Signs, ed. Marshall Blonsky. Baltimore,
MD: Johnson Hopkins UP), pp.122-145