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Talking Scarf


This is a submission that I connected with immediately, and here is why:

I started wearing hijaab in 1998 and people immediately began behaving and treating me differently. One moment I was a typical middle-class American and then next I was a minority. A foreigner. Inquiries about my "homeland" and assumptions about my level of education, marital status, and language flowed freely and frequently.

Thankfully, I have had very few overtly negative or aggressive encounters. I can count them on one hand. Still, when I started wearing hijaab it was as if the air around me shifted ever so slightly. The changes in interactions we/are so small that if I were to list them they would sound insignificant. But they didn't (don't) feel insignificant.

Experiencing repeated microaggression can weigh you down in a way that is hard to explain. How can a person who has never been an outsider relate? I remember (with shame) a conversation I had in high school when I did not -- could not -- relate: A friend -- whose family was from Vietnam -- asked: why are non-white Americans classified as something other than American? For example, why was she classified as a Vietnamese-American. Why wasn't she just "American"? For the life of me, I could not understand what the problem was!

And now I do. I totally get it. My hijaab tells the world that I am a Muslim and that immediately places me in a box marked "OTHER." Usually, it is a very small box that I have to work very hard at to climb out of.

In some ways I appreciate what my hijaab says for me: I am a Muslim, and I follow certain guidelines. Some people seem to treat me with greater respect, and it makes me immediately identifable to other Muslims as their "sister in Islam." Still, because the message that my hijaab sends depends on the person receiving it, the story can get muddled along the way. I think that is why I am compelled to use my paintings to tell my stories.

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