The View from Here

The terrorist attacks of September 11 took place far away. But they hit close to home.

The reverberations of today's attacks recall life during wartime, when Mitchell was growing up. "Well, we were black and poor to begin with, but I remember getting our milk and butter rations from the milkman during the war. Mother had to sell off our stamps so I could get shoes to go to the junior-senior prom," she says wistfully. "We were the Roosevelt High School Panthers of Gary, Indiana. We wore jackets with a 'V' on the back for 'Victory,' because we were Americans. Don't call me African-American, because I don't know nothing about Africa. I'm black and I'm American.

"I graduated in 1945 and I married a sailor, George Clark, while he was on leave," she recalls with a smile. "We were together for 16 years, and I had my four daughters and two sons with him." Mitchell came to the Twin Cities in 1984 to look for a job. "In Gary everything is closed now," she laments.

Mitchell works for the Urban League, but she used to have a job in admissions at the now-defunct Mount Sinai Hospital. "I remember all the gentlemen coming in with AIDS, and I made a point of remembering all of their names. They'd say, 'Ernie, how do you remember all of our names?' And I'd say, 'Because you are all VIPs.' A lot of them passed on. That's the trouble with war: People die and you don't even know them."

In 1997 Mitchell was hit by a bus. She has used a wheelchair ever since. "I get around fine. And I got the TV and the Internet now, so everything's different for people like me. We didn't have TV then," she says, referring to Pearl Harbor. "This morning I tried to tape the news, because that's history. But the tape wouldn't stay in the recorder. I got ten grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. I wanted to have a tape, so all my family could remember how sad it was today."

--G.R. Anderson Jr.

 

 

WHEN NANCY VARGAS GOT WORD of Tuesday's terrorist attack, she thought it was a joke. The 23-year-old New York City native had just finished a morning class at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul when she overheard some classmates talking about hijacked planes, crumbling towers, and the Pentagon. The punch line never landed. Five minutes later she was sitting in her car, radio tuned to the news, sobbing. "Looking at my fellow classmates walk past, I could tell who knew and who didn't know. You could just tell by looking at their faces, watching their body language," the psychology major says. "Me? I couldn't move."

Knowing no one would be waiting for her back home, anxious about her father--who, along with other family and friends, still lives in New York--Vargas sought solace at her place of work, Maria's Café, a usually bustling gathering place for neighborhood activists, small-business owners, and grassroots political players near the corner of Franklin and Chicago avenues in Minneapolis. As soon as she arrived, her friend and co-worker Patricia Gomez gently steered her into a tiny back office. "She was so upset, that I really couldn't say anything," Gomez remembers. "All I could do was stay with her."

Gomez was born in Colombia and came to this country two and a half years ago. "I left my people and my country. It was hard. So hard," she says, tears clouding her eyes. "But I wanted to feel safe. Now, I don't know. In Colombia there is some sort of violence every day. It's awful, but you somehow get used to it. It's just the way it is. But I never thought this sort of thing would happen in the United States. Now I fear what is going to happen next. I don't feel as safe. Those old, nervous feelings are coming back. I couldn't sleep last night. And my husband's 11-year-old son was having nightmares. He kept waking up, thinking someone was trying to kill us."

Eventually Nancy Vargas made her way south to Roseville, where she lives with her mother, a native of the Dominican Republic, and her mother's husband, who works at the IDS tower in downtown Minneapolis and who had been sent home for the day. The family just bought the house, and after spending an hour monitoring the mayhem on Spanish-language television, they took a break to do some unpacking. Upstairs, wiping off a high closet shelf, Vargas came across a pile of junk and, pushed back into a dusty corner, what looked like a grenade. Assuming it was a toy, she reached back to grab it. But instead of feeling plastic, she felt cold metal. Gingerly lifting the device, she carried it downstairs, trying to hold back her terror. "It was heavy, and the pin was still in place," she remembers with a shudder. After showing the grenade to her mother, Vargas tiptoed outside and put it under a bush. Then she dialed 911: "It was real, but I didn't know to look at the bottom of the grenade, where there was a hole. The police told us it had been disarmed. There was nothing to worry about."

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