Hijab Symbolism: Strategy or Stance?

The woman in the American flag hijab was blown up for posters at follow-up protests, put on the front page of the New York Times, and placed on the windows of bodega’s all throughout the state. The image is a symbol of solidarity and patriotism. Photo courtesy of Twitter (@inespohl).

Written by Danielle Bennett

On January 27th the new president’s administration created an executive order barring entry of individuals from Yemen, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. According to the US State Department, about 90,000 visas, including student and green cards, were issued to people from those countries in 2015. The order, which originally included green card holders until the ban was revised, not only affected these “fewer than 60,000*” visa holders but their families as well.

The travel ban led to the Yemeni bodega protest. As the legality of the ban was decided first in state court and then in front of The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, hundreds of business owners across the state of New York and around the country turned off their lights and shut their doors. They did so in solidarity with those held in transit and not allowed into the country. Businesses used signs such as, “Closed. My family is detained at JFK” and “We Closed” to update their regular customers.

Their action made a statement, but as a business student I am almost trained to question their business frame of reference. Though questions of profitability and sales revenue seem inappropriate, I wanted to confirm whether their move calculated. Upon reading dozens of articles and asking the opinion of multiple sources that were affected by this travel ban, I believe the answer is no. Though profit is one of the top driving forces of any business, it was not the most important factor here.

Amos Barshad from The Fader and Adam Chandler from the The Atlantic went around the city on the days leading up to the protest and asked bodega owners why they decided to protest. The owners were blunt in their response. One said because, “… we are fighting for our life” and another said because, “…I believe in American values”. Although one bodega owner did mention that closing his shop was a tough decision, he also vocalized the amount of support he received from the community when he decided to close in protest. He talks about how he had people coming in and insisting that he keep the change for their purchases because they knew he will be losing money later that afternoon.

Yemeni business owners viewed this protest as a necessity, rather than a choice. They wanted to let the nation know how vital their community was to the state of New York and beyond because they serve us everyday in their stores. Their closing, sometimes only announced by an image of a woman wearing an American flag hijab posted on their door, affected every New Yorker as well as them.

The image came from the Women’s March on Washington. Pictures of different women who make up this country were turned into cartoons and used as marketing material for the march. Images of Black, East Asian, South Asian, Native American, Caucasian women as well as the now infamous woman in a hijab were created and marketed all around the city. The cartooned images of these women were displayed on billboards, street signs, telephone poles and sidewalk displays leading up to the January 21st. After the Women’s March, one of the six images stayed behind. It served another purpose. The woman in the American flag hijab was blown up for posters at follow-up protests, put on the front page of the New York Times, and placed on the windows of bodega’s all throughout the state. The image is a symbol of solidarity and patriotism.

When Washington’s attorney general, general Bob Ferguson was joined by Minnesota’s attorney general Lori Swanson in a lawsuit against the Trump administration, posters of the woman in the American flag hijab were waved. On February 9th, when the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on February 9th to unanimously reject the president’s travel ban, signs of the same image were raised high in the air. Though the president’s first travel ban was deemed unconstitutional, the president’s administration has decided to draft a new travel ban, affecting now six of the seven countries. The fight for equality is ongoing, but like the woman in the hijab, these bodegas will continue to be a symbol of protest in hopes for a brighter future.

*The revised number was created because the time frame was shortened when calculating the number of visas issued. The State Department also subtracted expired, diplomatic and some green card holders, though some green card holders and dual-nationals may still be included.

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