SAN JOSE -- Standing with strangers in the midst of a field of televisions at Costco 11 years ago, watching multiple images of the falling towers "over and over and over and over again," Samina Sundas felt tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Why are you crying?" yelled a man.
"I didn't answer," said Sundas, a Muslim. "I looked around to see if there was any support, if anyone would say, 'Leave her alone -- she's an American, too.' But there was nobody saying that."
Sundas is executive director of the American Muslim Voice Foundation, an organization dedicated to eradicating fear and hate and fostering relationships between people of different faiths. Tuesday the group hosted a Multifaith Peace Picnic along with Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese in remembrance of 9/11.
Speaking to the 100 or so in the group, Sundas recounted that 9/11 moment.
The man came closer, she remembered, his voice got louder: "I asked you. Why are you crying?"
Her voice cracking at the event in front of the Santa Clara County government building in San Jose, Sundas said she mustered a reply: "Because I have not yet learned how not to care about human beings."
Cortese called Tuesday's event -- sponsored by the South Bay Islamic Association and more than a dozen others -- "simple yet profound." He said many of the people attending were involved in a similar San Jose gathering the day of the World Trade Center attacks.
Ann McEntee, who led a moment of silence at the ceremony, said that first event was organized by her late husband, longtime human resources director for the county and social justice advocate James P. McEntee -- whom the plaza where the event took place is named after.
She said her husband knew immediately after the attacks that there would be a need to stand together as people of myriad races and religions.
"Jim gathered everyone in this plaza," she said. "He got everyone, all different groups and factions, to show solidarity and unity for peace."
McEntee said the South Bay is fortunate to be as diverse as it is and to have so many advocates working together toward peace, but she said as a whole, society "has a long way to go."
Sundas agreed. She said people remain suspicious of Muslims, and Americans in general tend to isolate themselves and do not even talk to neighbors who look like them.
"Don't use your garage door opener," she said. "Walk outside, talk to people. Get to know their families. I know that if they got to know more Muslims, they would know they are peaceful and wouldn't be afraid."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.