Ten days after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Aryan Brotherhood member Mark Stroman attempted to kill three men he believed were terrorists: Vasudev Patel, Waqar Hasan, and Rais Bhuiyan. Only Bhuiyan survived to become a spokesperson against Islamophobia and the racial ignorance it represents. Ten years later when Stroman was issued the death penalty, Bhuiyan sued Texas Governor Rick Perry to stop Stroman’s execution. When Rais Bhuiyan survived Mark Stroman’s bullets, I was in in the fifth grade and without a clue that a decade later, I would be transcribing his interview with the Texas After Violence Project. When Stroman was executed, I was a junior at UT starting my Asian American Studies coursework as my third major. While I have only finished transcribing two of the eight hours of Bhuiyan’s interview, it has already taught me meaningful historical, educational, and personal lessons.
From Bhuiyan’s oral history interview, we learn a lot about Bhuiyan’s middle-class family experience in Bangladesh: his childhood memories of shaking mango trees during the rainy season to gather their fruit, and his coming of age in the nation’s top military school. Military school was foundational to Bhuiyan’s aspirations as a young man deciding his life path, just like the thousands of students at UT Austin are deciding their own future. Bhuiyan’s first dream to be a pilot in the Bangladeshi Air Force changed to a “dream to come to U.S. for higher education and to experience the American Dream and see the world.” Bhuiyan talks about what the American Dream is to him and how racial representation emblematizes the progress the U.S. has made:
“This is a free country where whatever you want to be, you can be… If you dream for it, you go for it, and you work hard, and you know, you achieve your goal. And you will lead a free life, you have the freedom of speech, you have the freedom of – expressing yourself. Whatever you want to be, you can be that. And our presence is an example of that. Who thought that within sixty years of segregation that there would be a black man in the White House, right?”
Bhuiyan’s remarks resonate with many of the narratives, images, and concepts of the American Dream I have encountered in my Asian American Studies coursework, pertaining to war, diaspora, labor migrations, and immigration exclusions and reform. Rais Bhuiyan is one individual whose perspective demonstrates how both Americans and people abroad understand the American Dream.
For me, as a student and future teacher, the implications of working with the Bhuiyan interview are both academic and personal. My Asian American Studies major provides me with a critical framework for exploring our shared experiences as Americans encountering race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, and other identity features that influence our individual and collective agency. As I continue to transcribe Bhuiyan’s interview with the Texas After Violence Project, I will be reflecting on the shooting incident that brought Bhuiyan as a Muslim American in contact with a white supremacist. I will be learning how Stroman learned about peace and acceptance from Bhuiyan’s advocacy against his execution. I will learn more about Bhuiyan’s personal philosophy against the death penalty and his perspective on our community as human individuals rather than simply criminals and victims. By learning about Bhuiyan’s experience and knowledge as it is represented in the TAVP archive, I am gaining a deeper understanding of the American dream, ways of remembering 9/11, and how to negotiate the death penalty as a Texan and an American.