We visited the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa this summer. It is a lovely tribute in a Methodist Church downtown to tell the story of District Six. Once a place where many diverse families thrived and lived peacefully, District Six was declared "white-only" in 1966 during the apartheid era of the country. Many years before in the early 1900's, however, the government began forced removal of the black South Africans there. Soon everyone was removed, and the area was flattened.
The museum captured the heart of District Six, telling stories of what life was like before and after the forced removal into shanty townships still in existence today. The tour guides were people who once lived in the district. Our tour guide, a coloured South African, remembered being away from home as a little boy and returning to find that his family did not live there anymore.
I liked, also, that the museum dedicated a portion of its space to telling stories in other parts of the world that are similar to theirs. You learn about its partner museum in Sweden, which shares a common history. You learn about other parts of the world where racial injustice has affected the livelihood of a people.
So I am disturbed when I read this morning that Governor Pataki of New York barred the International Freedom Center (IFC) from the memorial quadrant of the World Trade Centers. The center's goal was to tell the stories of many areas of the world where freedom has been challenged, much like it has been on U.S. soil since 9/11/2001. My understanding is that the proposed plan would include other places on the site solely devoted to telling the story of the Twin Tower tragedy. This museum, however, would tie our story to other stories in the world.
I admit several things: I do not know the full extent of the IFC plan, I did not have family die in the Trade Center destruction, and none of my family members were heroic rescue workers during that time. With that in mind, I cannot say that I have the right to boldly state support of the museum. I think, however, that it would honor the lost lives and heroic deeds to connect our story to others in the world.
"The International Freedom Center was an obstacle not simply for the families, the first responders and all those who were personally affected by the events of Sept. 11," the New York Times quoted Diane Burlingame, opponent of the center, "but for all Americans who will be coming to the World Trade Center memorial to hear the story of 9/11 and that story only."
Why? Why do the citizens of the U.S. want to hear that story alone? I feel like the events of that day and the events that have happened since clearly show us that we are not a U.S. island. Our story affects the stories of other countries. Other countries' stories affect ours.
So the International Freedom Center will not be on the grounds and I’m sure this is fine. I hope, however, that we find some way in telling the story of this particular tragedy to show that our story stands in solidarity with suffering worldwide. The very concept of freedom around the world is part of the 9/11 story, which would be of great disservice to ignore.