PhD student in Religious Studies at UC Riverside
I am a Muslim Iranian-American born and raised in Iran. Soon after the unrest in 2009, and the huge disappointment that followed, I moved here with my husband leaving everyone else I know and love back there.
Two years ago, my mom, who is a retired teacher and a fabulous person, came to visit. As much as she’d missed us, she was very reluctant to take the trip. It took us a while to persuade her. Her main concerns about spending the summer here in southern California were the risks of being uncomfortable with seeing the way other people dress and, more importantly, of feeling too unwelcome herself. She is a devoted, spiritual woman who has been wearing hijab since a very young age — long before the enforcement of mandatory hijab in Iran 38 years ago. So, with all the news of Islamophobia circulating around, she was sort of anxious about standing out too much in public — and not in a good way.
Finally she came to visit, and she loved it right off the bat. Soon she got comfortable enough to go for long walks during the day when she was alone. At first, I was so worried about her not speaking English, or even maybe getting freaked out by seeing so many dogs around! However, she, being totally at peace with the whole world, and being so loving and caring about any living creature, actually had the best time going out. She enjoyed the greenery, patting the dogs and interacting with people. I had to keep her from caressing other people’s kids and giving them candies, fearing that she might be freaking others out. But wherever we’d go and whatever she’d do, she would always get the best and the warmest of reactions. Oh, how many times did I see strangers, even being a few steps away, rushing to open and hold the store doors for her? How many more smiles did I receive from them every day just because I was with her?
One day I asked her, what do you like most about being here in the United States? She replied: “I’ve been wearing this hijab my whole life. Back at home, for so many years now, I increasingly get a negative sense and disdaining looks from the young people on the street who, I feel, because of my hijab, see me as their enemy. This is so sad… But yesterday, when I was walking down the street in California, a blonde girl in a tank top and short shorts passed me on her bike, gave me the sweetest smile and waved at me, and it felt unbelievably good.”