09/09/2011 09:18 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2011

September 11 Anniversary: What Is The Symbol Of New York City Today?

When the Twin Towers were destroyed, one of New York City’s greatest symbols disappeared.

Yet 10 years later, the Towers remain embedded in the hearts of New Yorkers.

For Rafael Santiago, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, the Twin Towers remain symbolic of the city. “Nothing can replace them, not even new towers,” said Santiago, a tour bus guide. Standing in Battery Park, not too far from where the towers once stood and for decades defined the Manhattan skyline, he added, “They were New York.”

The Towers served as the commercial epicenter for the world. But from the moment their doors opened to the public in 1973, they instantly became a cultural symbol, as well. The 110-floor skyscrapers were the tallest buildings in New York, dominating the city’s silhouette and evoking awe.

Their image appeared on shirts and caps and became a typical backdrop in films — from Taxi Driver and Manhattan, to Splash, Crocodile Dundee and Home Alone: Lost in New York.

Today, Ground Zero, where the Towers were once firmly planted, is a major tourist destination. In 2010, about 9 million people visited Lower Manhattan south of Chambers Street — more than triple the amount of people who visited the area in 2001, according to the organization Downtown Alliance. But that’s not to say that Ground Zero is thecity’s main icon for New Yorkers.

In a street poll conducted by EL DIARIO/LA PRENSA, half of the 44 Hispanic people asked said that the Statue of Liberty is and always has been the city’s primary symbol. Of the other half, 16 said it was the Empire State Building, two said Central Park, two said Times Square—and two said Ground Zero.

When asked which place most represents New York City, Guadalupe Clemente, a 17-year-old student from the Bronx quickly responded, “The Statue of Liberty, because she symbolizes liberty for all, especially for immigrants.”

Vicente Torres, whose family migrated to the United States from Puerto Rico and Cuba, agreed. “The Statue of Liberty [is the symbol for New York]. It’s the first thing immigrants recognize.”

Jahaira Rengel, a 21-year-old Ecuadorian nursing student who lives in Washington Heights, chose the Empire State Building as the most representative structure of the city. “It’s the tallest and biggest building there is right now,” she said.

For Colombian Jenny Muñoz, 23, the Empire State Building is also the most iconic building in New York. “It symbolizes power, it’s a strong building that has transcended time, and that symbolizes the United States,” she said.

It’s a sentiment that more than a few tourists expressed.

“For those of us who live outside of New York, the Empire State Building has always been the symbol for the city, for its age and history,” explained Carlos Emilio Valencia, 54, who was visiting from Colombia. “The Twin Towers were a symbol for modernity and commerce, but I think it’s more a symbol for North Americans than for us who live abroad,” he added.

Others insist that with 9/11, the towers, and the area beneath it, have sacred status.

“Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers stood, is the symbol for New York,” said David Vera, a Mexican who lives in Brooklyn. “What happened had a huge impact on the world and it differentiates New York from other U.S. cities.”

This article is part of a 9/11 Anniversary series from El Diario, to read more, please click here.