We ‘were instantly suspect’: 9/11 changed everything for this Iranian-American family

A family portrait of Christopher Helali (left) with his parents and brother in 1996.

A family portrait of Christopher Helali (left) with his parents and brother in 1996. (Courtesy of Christopher Helali)

We did not have an American flag outside of our house prior to 9/11. But after 9/11, my dad made sure to put an American flag outside the house, at least as a visual symbol that yeah, in this house, we also support the US. Even if secretly we were criticizing everything. It was a way of protection.

My name is Christopher Helali. I am 33 years old and currently live in Vershire, Vt.

I grew up with an immigrant family: my father is from Iran and my mom was born to political refugee parents in Montreal—my grandparents were both on the side of the communists during the Greek Civil War and World War II. So I grew up with a very political family.

People think that you’re not supposed to talk about politics and religion. Those are the only two things we did speak about! We didn’t really care too much about sports and the weather. That definitely shaped my childhood.

I was just about 13 years old, a few days shy of turning 13, on 9/11. I remember the day, extremely vividly. I was in art class, and my brother ran into the class and came up to me and said a plane had crashed into one of the buildings in New York City. And I was shocked. I said, “That cannot be possible. What are you talking about?”

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This story is part of VPR’s 9/11 remembrance project, featuring the voices of Vermonters reflecting on how their lives were changed by 9/11. To find the full project, go to www.vpr.org/911.