22 Aug 2014
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How Did Sept. 11 Change Your Life?

Max Arsala, 49, a Muslin-American remembers and continues to relive the aftermath of 9/11.

How Did Sept. 11 Change Your Life?

Editor's Note: This week we remember those fallen in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Laguna Niguel Patch asked residents to share their personal stories about how they were affected by the event that changed America forever. We will share some of these stories this week, the 10th anniversary of that fateful day.

This story is from Max Arsala, 49, in his own words.

"I had an interview at Marriott for a new position within the company I was working for on Sept.11, 2001.

My potential boss was in town from St. Louis and we had an 8 a.m. breakfast interview at Irvine Marriott. I left home at 7:30 a.m. not knowing anything about what had happened earlier that morning.

I arrived at Mariott and I noticed the parking lot was pretty empty for a week day. I went inside and I noticed a group of people standing around a TV screen in the lobby lounge.

I asked someone what was going on and they said a plane crashed in New York City. I proceeded to go to the bathroom, and made myself ready for my interview, as I didn't know what my new boss looked like.

As I came out of the restroom, I noticed big screams and I went to the front of TV and I saw the replay of second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. At the time, we didn't know how big or important that morning was.

I proceeded to talk to my new manager for almost two hours. My new boss said he was supposed to fly back to St. Louis, but we found out that all airports were closed. He had to start driving back to St. Louis as he did not know when the airports would re-open. I returned home after the interview and watched TV the rest of day. I learned how devastating and important that day was.

We had several relatives and some close friends who lived in New York, so I tried calling my best friend who was a dentist. He worked for NYU and lived in Manhattan but I could not reach him. 

As time went by, and it was proven that this act was done by radical Muslims and Al-Qaeda, as a Muslim-American who has lived here in peace for over 20 years, I found out quickly that we were subject to unwanted scrutiny and many other forms of discrimination.

As always, my job required a lot of travel and on my first trip after 9/11, I was at LAX and as I was goinng through security. I was stopped because I had nail clippers in my carry-on and was subject to questioning.

In October, my brother passed away in Melbourne, Australia, and I had to take an emergency trip to Melbourne for three days. As I got back to LAX, I was escorted out of the plane by the FBI and taken to an interrogation room in an undisclosed location within LAX.

They kept me there for more than three hours and were asking why I went to Australia. Why was I there for such a short time, and why didn't I have any checked luggage. They had everything about my background with them, where I lived previously, who I was associating with, and which numbers I called.

After that incident, my name was on the DHS watch list. Every week, as I was going to John Wayne for my business travel, I had to wait in a special line to get a boarding pass. (I could not print at home or at the automated machine within the airport, as I had to see an agent, show two forms of ID and answer questions), I was told that an agent will ask for a supervisor who will come to see me each time.

I felt like I was a criminal and had committed a crime of some sort. It was very heartbreaking that we immigrated from my country because of the fear of society and its empire. I felt like I was still being treated this way.

Any way, I contacted DHS and asked them what I can do to get my name cleared, they sent me some forms to fill out and I sent them back with my experiences. But, I have never heard anything back and during this time, it was so hard for me to travel. I decided to quit my job and stay home, as I could not take it anymore.

A few months after I left my job, I received a letter from DHS that my name is no longer on any list. I can fly freely but randomly, I might be checked. Anyway, the event of 9/11 changed my life completely, I lost the job that I loved and the company I worked for, for eight years. Even at home we were hearing some rumblings and discrimination.

I was more fearful for my wife and kids, and I did not want them to go through the same thing that I went through. Fortunately, they did not experience the same. I know it is hard for everyone to understand this, but it is very hard to be a very hardworking, educated and a conservative American going through this.

Things are back to normal, but 9/11 has changed my life and myself for good."

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