Jijoe Joseph, 42, an emergency doctor who worked at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow from 2016 to 2020, can clearly remember Sept. 11, 2001, and, more so, how much his life changed afterward. Of Indian descent, he was born in the U.S. and is Catholic, but on Sept. 12, people thought he was a Muslim terrorist.
“When I went to pick up my girlfriend in Queens, people started taking pictures of me and of my license plate,” Joseph recalled. “New York City became nicer as a whole after Sept. 11, but if you had brown skin, as I do, it was different. . . . To this day, there is a stigma, a naive notion, that everyone who looks like me is a Muslim.”
Although he never felt he was in danger, Joseph said he was uneasy living in Nassau County, except while at the hospital. He is from Westchester County, which he described as a melting pot. He was surprised by the many comments that were directed at him while he lived on Long Island.
“There was a lot of verbal abuse,” he said. “I’d get comments while I was at a restaurant and at bars like, ‘Go back to your country,’” he said. “It took me until I was in my mid-30s to realize that Nassau County had racism.”
One time when someone yelled at him to go back to his country, he was with a woman from Russia. “She is white and blond,” he said. “She yelled back at them, ‘You should be yelling that at me.’”
Eventually, the comments became intolerable, leading Joseph to ask his friends to meet him at restaurants and bars in Queens. After he left NUMC, he moved to Long Island City.
Ali Baqueri owns Sir Speedy Printing & Signs, a print shop in Plainview. His family is from India and is Muslim, but he was born in the U.S., grew up in Albertson and has lived in Huntington for three years. Twenty years ago, he was a high school senior. He has fair skin, and no one was racist toward him until they heard his name, he said.
“I’m very American, and people forget that I’m Muslim,” Baqueri, 37, said. “I went to Herricks High School. . . . Yes, there is racism on Long Island, but I don’t see it directed at me. If I were darker, it might be a different story.”
Laleh Botesazan, 29, a Persian Jew, is also an emergency doctor and has worked at NUMC for three years. She was born in the U.S. to Iranian parents.
“I used to say I had Iranian parents, but after 9/11, my parents said if anyone asks where you are from, just say you are Persian,” she said. “So, although I was only 9 on Sept. 11, I remember that’s when there was more of an undertone. I can relate now to my parents’ advice.”
Botesazan has a dark complexion. “After Sept. 11, I remember people kept asking me where I was from, and even to this day when I’m asked this question, I don’t feel comfortable,” she said. “I say I’m an American. You can feel targeted even now, but I’m not embarrassed of my heritage and where I came from.”
Muslims are targeted, as are Jewish people, she said, noting, “I have learned never to let my guard down.”
Botesazan said the hospital has told all employees that Afghan refugees will be at NUMC in the coming weeks. Many Afghans speak Farsi, a modern Persian language of Iran, which she understands.
“When the Afghan people get here, they will sometimes be considered to be terrorists,” she said. “I can relate to that.”
NUMC released the following statement to the Herald when asked if it would be treating Afghan refugees: “In addition to Long Island, New York, and the USA, NUMC accepts patients in need of healthcare services from anywhere in the world.”
Botesazan’s hope is that anti-Semitic anti-Muslim sentiments will end. “Maybe with the proper education, people will grow out of it,” she said.