At an outdoor commemoration ceremony last month in her hometown of Beacon, N.Y., Nancy Yambem spoke of the compassion that people extended to one another in the days and weeks after 9/11.
In the audience was a sixth-grade history class from Beacon’s Rombout Middle School. Yambem, a former substitute teacher, was in her element. She hoped to encourage the students, regardless of their age, to counteract negativity in the world by choosing love over hate.
“By being nice,” she told them, “we can create change.”
Yambem’s husband, Jupiter Yambem, was killed in the attacks. And like thousands of family members of those who died, Yambem thinks of her husband daily and has sought ways to carry on his legacy.
When he was 21, Jupiter moved from Manipur, India, to the United States to work at a summer camp for deaf children. He met Nancy that same year. He loved his new country and made it his home.
Jupiter soon found a professional calling in some of New York’s most prestigious restaurants. He eventually became a banquet manager at Windows on the World, the famous dining venue on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower. A corkscrew and wine stopper set from his time there are now on view in the In Memoriam gallery at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
“People tell stories of him looking at eye level at the tables to make sure that the silverware was perfectly lined up from across the table,” Nancy said. “His wait staff would kind of roll their eyes at things like that, but he was actually really going places in the restaurant business and he loved it.”
It brought him joy, Nancy recalls, to share good food and wine with his family and friends, celebrate special moments of their lives and bring people together over a meal.
In an effort to connect people from his home state of Manipur living in the U.S., Jupiter and Nancy co-founded the North American Manipur Association. The group brings together families to share Manipuri traditions, observe religious and social occasions, and support one another. Annual gatherings celebrate the culture with food, art, music and dancing.
What started as only a few members, Nancy says, has become hundreds. In its 25th year of gathering, the group honored Jupiter and remembered his role in bringing them together even after his death.
But the most important thing to Jupiter was being a father to their son, Santi, who was in kindergarten when his father was killed.
“Jupiter kind of blossomed when he had a son,” Nancy said. “He had an extra purpose when he became a father.
“It's important that Santi knows who his father was. I share things with him that Jupiter would have enjoyed, like ‘it would have been special for him to be here to enjoy this meal with us,’ and at events that are important in our lives, like Santi’s graduation. We talk about him in the moments he should have been there for.”
Following this year’s ceremony in their hometown, as they’ve done throughout the years, Nancy and Santi commemorated the anniversary of their family’s loss with a special meal in Jupiter’s honor.
“We toast to my husband, have food he would like,” she said, “and remember him.”
You can hear more of Jupiter’s story, as told by Nancy, below.