I spent five days in Trump’s America wearing a hijab to see how people treated me
‘I looked up and smiled, then he bent down and whispered ‘Go home’ in my ear’
As a recent transfer student to CU, I naturally wanted to spend my first week at a new school testing the tolerance of my new peers and professors on campus. So, from Monday, January 23rd, to Friday the 27th, just days after the inauguration, I wore a hijab.
Initially, I was extremely nervous because I didn’t know how to mentally prepare for the reactions I would receive from others. I was also interested to see if any of my peers or professors would even recognize me. Meanwhile, I kept in mind that this is something that women who wear hijabs deal with on a daily basis, and after this eye-opening experience, I have even more respect for them.
In order to be as respectful as possible, I planned my outfits, that consisted of only long sleeves, and long pants. I had to cover my tattoos, and I wavered about the decision to take out my nose stud. I ultimately decided to keep my nose stud while I wore the hijab to have a piece of comfort with me.
Through more research, I learned that the hijab is a symbol of modesty, and the religion promotes modesty for men and women. According to cultural beliefs, about 50% of a woman’s beauty comes from hair. When a woman’s hair is covered, it conveys the belief that people won’t look at her in a sexual way. I’ve come to love my curly hair and embrace it as one of my trademarks. By covering it with the hijab, I felt like a piece of my identity was missing; I was insecure.
I woke up this morning and went about my normal morning routine, except after I blow-dried my hair I swept it into a low bun and wrapped my head. I noticed that even with my newly purchased hijab from Amazon, the top of my hairline was still exposed, so I put a headband on my head in order to fully cover my hair.
I walked into my fairly small class and sat in the back of the room. My professor was calling attendance, slowly trying to learn all of her students’ names. When reaching my name, I noticed a hesitant, doubtful, call “Graciela..?” as she tried to find me, seeming confused. I felt a hot spotlight on me as my peers turned around to stare at me, and my hijab.
After class, I approached the professor to tell her about my social experiment and asked what her initial reaction was to my hijab. She smiled and said, “I wasn’t sure what to think at first. I was thinking, ‘did you all of the sudden become religious? Or was someone expecting you to wear it? Or did you choose when you wanted to wear it, based on who you were around?’ It was definitely difficult to recognize you. I also realized that it really wasn’t any of my business as well.”
My next class was a very large lecture in which I didn’t know anyone. This class went smoothly because I sat in the back wrapped in a cloak of anonymity.
Today was also my first day at my new job. I had gone through the interview process the week before without wearing it and I was hesitant to see if anyone would ask about it, or recognize me. I came in and introduced myself to two of my new coworkers. Both girls engaged in small-talk about classes, and what they were studying. I noticed that one of them seemed hesitant to start a conversation with me, which made me feel awkward. After work, I went home and rewarded myself with a thick slice of Cosmos and spicy ranch.
I have to say that wearing the hijab made the upkeep with my hair so, so much easier. My hair didn’t distract me, nor did I find myself constantly playing with it out of boredom.
I was at work for a majority of the morning – was training at the front desk, meeting Boulder dog owners (who I might add, are a unique group of people). My manager and I sat down to talk about the basics of the operation, and what she expects of me as an employee. When discussing the uniform, she said employees must wear our shirts, black, blue or khaki pants, and no hats. My manager paused and glanced up at my head, “well clearly that’s acceptable.” Utter relief pulsed through me. It was the first instance at work where someone acknowledged my hijab. I felt like it was completely accepted by upper management, and I was impressed.
I went to my next large lecture where I could simply hide in a sea of faces and found myself grateful for the opportunity to just blend in. It was exceptionally cold today, and when I was walking around I noticed that a lot of students were wearing their hoods to protect themselves from the cold.
I thought to myself how similar a hood looks to a hijab yet their functions and meanings are so different. Why is it so normalized to see a white, male with a black hood up, but not a woman of color with a black headscarf?
When I got ready for class Wednesday and put on my headscarf, it felt normal. I found myself slowly starting to embrace my image as an “undercover” Muslim. I respect, and admire, the concept of modesty, and think that it should be celebrated not feared in our country. My hijab no longer felt like a target on my head for Islamaphobia or discomfort.
After class, I decided to go to the UMC to pick up a few of my textbooks and grabbed a coffee on my way to work. I noticed that there was a tall slender man about to come out of the door, as I was about to go in. I waited for him to approach the door and did the awkward shuffle of trying to see who will actually go through a doorway first. I held the door open for him and waited for him to go through. I looked up and smiled when he bent down and whispered, “Go home” in my ear. I was stunned. Shuffling my feet, I kept walking through the UMC to the bookstore, and I was numb. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. Despite Boulders’ liberal leaning reputation, there is still a minority of conservatives, they will exercise their right to their opinion, even if it is for someone who is holding the door open for a stranger.
I didn’t want to continue with the rest of the five days, but I knew that I had dedicated myself to this social experiment, and I would not be that easily broken. I also have the privilege to take my hijab off at any time, while other women don’t have that kind of luxury. Frankly, I wanted to spend five days in the shoes of a Muslim woman, in order to understand them and stand in solidarity with them.
Reflecting on my past daily activities has made me realize I live a pretty uneventful daily life, with or without a hijab. The hijab didn’t impact my weekly routine in any way, nor did it inconvenience me. I spent the rest of my day in class or the library. Once I was home, I watched Netflix and reheated frozen chicken nuggets in the shapes of dinosaurs served with excess spicy ranch from Cosmos. VOILA!
Approaching the end of the week, my day’s became less and less eventful. I only had one class on Friday, at 9am. Then I went home and did my laundry and homework. I was relieved to say that I “survived” five days in Trumps’ America, as a Latina, Muslim WOC. This social experiment opened the doors, to the impacts of a simple piece of clothing.
I tested the tolerance of current millennials at Boulder towards Muslims, and I have to say, besides the one occasion of Islamaphobia I experienced, the majority of the reactions I received were positive. A simple piece of clothing does not reflect a person’s ambitions, motives or personality. I learned that 95% of ISIS’ victims are Muslims, so why are Americans so afraid? Those who pledge themselves to ISIS aren’t considered to be Muslims because they are betraying their own religion. Wearing a hijad gave me the opportunity to not be afraid of what I don’t know or what I can’t understand. I know there are some people who aren’t going to understand Muslims, and their tradition (I sure am no expert), but as long as you try that’s all they can ask for. If you show that you are making the effort to ask questions and try to understand people who are different, that is a compliment in itself.
Before going into this week, I was hesitant to talk to my own Muslim friend and ask her my questions, but she reassured me that there is no reason to be hesitant. Muslims are people too – they are late for class, they go to the dentist, they eat pizza, they’re doctors, they do laundry, they’re teachers, they love dogs, they serve for our military, but the reality is, they’re Americans.