That was the one name I saw etched in stone on the 9-11 Memorial in New York City. The stone memorial — with cascading water settling to a calm pool below — is surrounded with the names of 9-11 victims who tragically lost their lives when terrorists, professing a distorted and radical love for their Islamic faith, crashed two hijacked planes into the Manhattan skyscrapers.
Out of all the victims, Gloria stood out.
After a little research, I found that Gloria was Colombian. She was also, by all means, American. To the terrorists who struck the World Trade Center 17 years ago, none of it mattered. She was living an American life, which made her a target. I point this out because the immigration debate tends to single out those Americans who hail from nation states south of America; but it made no difference to the deadly terrorists had Nieves been legal or illegal, whether she spoke English or not. She was simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time, ensconced in the capitalist system of American and Western civilization. That was enough to seal her fate. She was not a corporate baron. She had a humble job cleaning the offices of Fiduciary Trust International.
My daughter, who recently entered the first grade, is much too young, in my opinion, to be bombarded with the harsh realities of the world. In an effort to maintain her happy childhood, I have tried to shield her from the nasty realities of human behaviors. Despite my best efforts, in a world where there are Santa Claus and Tooth Fairies there still exists evil scum like pedophiles and terrorists. My daughter, allowing her naivete at age six show, believes that one of the worst things that can happen to her in life is being late for school.
To gracefully shed her naivete, I used the 9-11 anniversary to teach her to be unbelievably kind to other children. I am going to encourage her to continue her service through activities like the Girl Scouts. Last year, she and her troop donated boxes of cookies to a homeless shelter.
The terrorists, hellbent on forcing their destructive ideologies through force and violence were, in the most simplest, childlike explanation: unkind. It deepened a destructive schism and as a result, many more lives were lost, and more hate was born in the aftermath of that single day of hate. This is evidenced by the pockets of intolerable xenophobia that thrives against foreign born Muslims and other non-white foreign born individuals. Hate begets hate and hate also crushes confidence.
My daughter, a black girl, will learn to be confident in who she is as a person. Her unique traits and qualities are what make her special and awesome. She should not hide who she is because it may make others uncomfortable. While loving others, she must learn to love herself. I will caution her not to let her own ideals impose on the ideals of other people. She will honor individual autonomy.
Teaching children to be kind is very simple. Teach them to be less reactive and not to put people down with insults or violence. Also, being kind does not equate to sycophantic behavior. Being kind does not mean agreeing to everything someone else is doing, but it means peacefully countering points.
As my daughter matures, she will learn more about the tragic events of September 11. She will learn more about religious and cultural persecution. I and her mother and other family members and teachers will explain to her that the world presents many challenges to people, but unwavering faith and character in the midst of adversity provides a winning resource.
Unfortunately, the terrorists had a hateful mission that intended to break the American spirit; the will power of the American people was much stronger. The terrorists were judgmental and wanted to force their ideologies on our country and on the world.
As it stands right now, there are people who would look at Gloria Nieves as not being American had she been alive today. Her name and heritage reflect her Colombian culture, but she was committed to American ideals, toiling hard. She was undeniably American, and was killed with fellow Americans in a horrible attack.
Today, and every day after, let us all be kinder to other people and more confident in ourselves. Let us teach our children to be kind and confident in their lives. That is one way to honor Gloria Nieves and the other Americans who bravely gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Jamar Thrasher is a Pennsylvania-based writer who often writes about youth issues and is the owner of Kennedy Blue Communications, a PR firm which focuses on youth organizations and youth initiatives. His work has appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, PennLive and the New Pittsburgh Courier. He lives with his young daughter, Kennedy.