Hijab and the Doppelgängers

It is February in Tokyo, so it’s winter and cold as Februaries tend to get north of the equator. We see a woman get up and leave the restaurant. She is wearing a hijab.

Millicent is saying hijabs were creepy. Why wear them? No woman covers her head these days.

On my home island nuns cover their heads, each veil with its own length and design. With my history in Catholic education, I should have been more anti-head covering than Millicent. Nuns can be really scary.

“To let people know she is happy in her faith?” I offered in response. “What about wearing a cross? Now that is gruesome. That was an item of torture and death, and you put it around your neck.”

“But it is hot.” Had Millicent forgotten the flurries and cold of February on the other side of that door?

There shouldn’t be an issue of not accepting another culture or religion just because you don’t like it or because you don’t understand it. Is this lack of tolerance something we might eventually be proud of? I shudder at the thought.

I remember when eating Korean food in Japan was considered “verboten.” You simply didn’t mention going. Then Korean tv shows like Winter Sonata came through Japanese broadcasting and suddenly what was unthinkable was now sought after. People ate Korean BBQ and women went to Seoul for food vacations and cosmetic treatments. Soon, it was all acceptable. I think of the woman in her hijab and when that would be acceptable. When would we not flinch or comment at seeing one? When would it be common place and not even cause a remark?

My friend was still complaining about the ‘foreignness’ of people's attire and I sort of continued to drift in and out of thought. As I thought about appearances, I contemplated people who could be the spitting image of each other. There were two girls at university in Tokyo, an Alaskan and a New Yorker, I frequently mistook for two girls from Iraq. They had similar features and often wore similar clothing. When Steve from Colorado was told his twin lived in Pakistan, a picture of someone’s brother was proudly displayed.

I wondered if we all had a look-a-like somewhere? Are we more connected and alike than we can begin to believe?

I am a bit unusual looking, you might be hard pressed to find my doppelgänger. I tuned back to my friend, who was now venting on Indian dress. I got a pointed stare when I reminded her of the outfits Beatrice Arthur wore in Maude. Those were long dresses over slacks.

My friend glared at me. The eye ball game was better than yelling. There was more than one way to show someone you were annoyed with their comments, and mine was sarcasm.

I was really disappointed in Millicent. She was as much a TCK as me. I felt betrayed. An attitude like hers was what fostered the ethnic ghettos we had back in the 1890s. Little Italy in New York and San Francisco were built there because of segregation. Chinatown, Japan Town and the exclusive Polish, German and Irish neighborhoods of Chicago and Boston existed because people felt safer with their own people and customs. Diversity was only accepted in the microcosm. A tiny shadow of my anger was provoked by her blanket statements. My ancestors faced it just as I know they exercised it as well. We don’t need to perpetuate something like that.

At the end of the meal Millicent pulled out gloves, and as she arranged her hair I said, “a scarf?” I was talking about Millicent’s head covering. “Oh how creepy.”  

The stare I got was colder than a street side steel grate outside in a Tokyo February.