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Unsettling Nations
My family and I were living in the San Francisco Bay Area when we learned
about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Desperate
to shake off our sense of foreboding, we decided to go to nearby Mountain
View to get some lunch. At the time, restaurant row in Mountain View was
full of immigrant businesses. It had been just a few hours since the attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but the U.S. national fl ag
was fl ying outside almost all the businesses we drove past.1 We entered
an Indian restaurant that also functioned as a grocery store. Unlike other
occasions when a Bollywood fi lm song would be playing loudly in the back-
ground, this time the store was pervaded by an eerie silence. Compared
with all other times when the space had been bustling with customers,
largely South Asians shopping, eating, or socializing, now there were very
few people. Th ose that were present spoke in hushed tones. Many seemed
to avoid eye contact with each other: it was almost as if they were afraid of
the fear they would see mirrored in each other’s eyes. Our sense of uneasi-
ness grew; we rushed out and returned home. Th e public spaces that we
had long experienced as familiar had now turned strange.
I do not assume that my experiences, refracted as they were by my class
position, national origin, and gender, represent those of all South Asians;
in presenting the foregoing vignette I wish to evoke the acute sense of
uneasiness and fear that I, and many of my in for mants, felt immediately
after September 11, 2001. Certainly, the South Asians I met in the days and
months following September 11 did not respond in identical ways to what
had happened: men and women, adults and children, upper- class elites
and working folk, queer and straight communities, and Sikhs, Muslims,
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