Many years ago, our Founders placed our unofficial motto on our currency: “E Pluribus Unum” or “Out of Many, One.” Today as we commemorate those we lost on September 11th, 2001, let us not forget those words. On that day, we became one in our grief, our pain and our shared loss. I can remember driving to the local Red Cross that morning to donate blood and seeing a line wrapped around the building, each of us trying to find a way to fight back the hopelessness that hate can breed. Each of us united in our concern for the wellbeing of others. Out of many, one.
In the days that ensued I was heartened and moved by the bravery of our first responders and the passengers that fought their attackers – sacrificing so much for others, for strangers. I felt a swell of connectedness and gratitude for our democracy in the midst of my grief.
However, I cannot look back at this time without remembering the others we lost in the days after September 11th. Four days after, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh, was shot and killed outside the gas station he owned by Frank Silva Roque. When police approached to arrest him, Roque says, “I’m a patriot and an American.” Balbir was the first, but not the last to be attacked in the days that followed. In fact, here in Orange County hate incidents against Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim spiked.
Seventeen years later we still grapple with this duality of unity and extreme exclusion. At OC Human Relations, we hear the laments over our current divisions and we hear our inability to tolerate different ideas. We hear deep care and concern for our democracy but not for all which it endeavors to serve. How can this shared identity of “American” lead us to care for some – even strangers – and end the lives of others?
So on this September 11th, we ask you to remember that out of many we are still one – even when we disagree, even when we love differently, even when we worship differently, even when we vote differently, even when we have different abilities, even when our back accounts are full or empty, even when we are separated by miles and miles, even though our families came from different countries and cultures to what is now the United States of America.
We may think that we can never bridge this divide, assuming we even care to try. I too have felt the temptation to put my strongly held beliefs before another’s humanity. But we saw the path that hate leads to on September 11th and now we have the responsibility to work harder and be better than hate.
Oftentimes this will mean doing things that make us uncomfortable, but the discomfort of learning, understanding, and accepting others and their experiences may be the start we need if we “Many” are to each be truly welcomed without exception, into the “One.”
On behalf of OC Human Relations, I am,
Alison Edwards, CEO
Ken Inouye, Board President