Happy New Year to you all.
Haven't felt like writing, much. And I will probably continue my hiatus after this. But I'm just so mad right now.
For some reason, today I decided to check on the news in PR. The only newspaper that's widely read there and is on the internet is El Nuevo Día. I didn't like El Nuevo Día when I was ON the island, but now- well, you have to keep up on things somehow.
So, first- on the front page, the news that there have been 47 murders on the island in 2007.
Wait. 47 people dead? IN THIRTEEN DAYS?! Que diablos está pasando en mi isla querida?! (what the heck is going down on my beloved island?!)
A many of those dead died in balaceras, what we think of as drive-by shootings, but has the connotation of "rain of bullets". Yeah. There are pictures on the site but I don't recommend looking. Sad. They always show the suspects. These particular shootings happened on the Expreso De Diego, the parkway that I rode on all of the time, in broad daylight. I looked at the suspects, who always put their heads down to hide from the shame of a camera. I prayed none of them were my students. And yes, unfortunately, I know that a couple of my students have the potential to be in front of that camera. It makes me furious. It makes me incredibly sad.
Guess who's featured this week as part of the Vidas Unicas ("Unique Lives") series of articles?! None other than Ayaan Hirsan Ali.
I thought I was furious before.
When I lived in Puerto Rico, I experienced the gamut of reactions to Islam and my choice to live as a single, professional muhejebah. Many of those who became my closest friends understood because they were very religious and observant Christians, some Catholic others Protestant. They got my devotion to God, how much I needed it, and the love I showed by keeping hijab in that hot, humid climate I so enjoyed. Others didn't care.
But there were more. Stereotypes were wild there- there was a telenovela out of Brasíl that ran as I arrived on the island, that showed women who had been circumsized in hijab gossipping, fighting in jealousy over various men, locked in houses with no way to leave without express permission... you know the images I'm talking about. So I was always fighting that. I remember so clearly the time I was carrying my friend Tajani's daughter Danya through Plaza Las Amèricas, the biggest, nicest mall in the Caribbean, and was stopped by a huge crowd of people, staring at my hijab, insisting that I was kidnapping her. The crazy remarks from parents and well-meaning acquaintances. One guy straight asking me if I was circumsized, how did I like freedom after being oppressed for so long. Craziness.
And now she's spreading it, they're enabling her, in a Spanish-language article delaring my beautiful Islam a cage, to trap and kill women. My island doesn't need that. Where are the articles and the people promoting the beauty of Islam? Because I'll tell you, I remember calling the masjid and getting a person with such a disdainful attitude that I never called back. This after I was on my feet, was actually trying to find help for a sister who ended up giving up 3 of her 5 children to the state because she couldn't feed them and her husband wasn't around. Yes, everyone is human. I know that. But as a Black woman, I know that when you're part of a very small minority, what you do and how you treat everyone is scrutinized and homogenized and taken as representative of a whole. And unfortunately, that homogenized image in Puerto Rico is of Muslim men as gruff and uncaring and Arab, and women as covered, hot and sweating, with no opportunities, caged by men and a too-demanding, terrorising religion. We're not helping our own case. And then, here comes that woman, giving interviews that make it worse and flitting back to Lord knows where she lives. I don't hate anyone, but how close I could get...
Puerto Rico already has so few Muslims, yo, and even fewer who cover (of my friends on the island, only Tajani rigorously observed hijab; the rest don't regard it as necessary, and yes, one admitted to me that without hijab, because of her coloring, her family blends into the society without a hitch). Obviously the editor who allowed that article to be written has a viewpoint that sees Islam just this way, and the opinions of Ms. Ali as completely valid. I just think it's crazy that no one EVER wrote an article on the Muslims of Puerto Rico while I was there that didn't have a political spin, that didn't portray the woman as lesser.
God bless'em all. Much as I want to return, I guess it's good I'm not in Puerto Rico any more.