PART I: 2010.
First day of high school. Hajra stands on the grass with her black dress shoes and oversized navy pants and white polo t-shirt. To make sure she fits in, she strategically put her JanSport bag on only one shoulder. Nobody double straps in high school.
She’s standing slightly on the left of the main office door, because she doesn’t want to seem too eager to escape the summer heat while all the other students seem to be enjoying the early morning. Trying to look busy, she looks at the main road and studies the cars turning towards the school. Out of the Porsches, Benzes, and even Ferraris, 12-year-old kids are coming out, and it looks like they’re right at home. Most of them seem to be friends.
Someone waves at her. Even smiles at her. But, soon enough, they’ve turned their back away. And, their friend is laughing while holding their stomach, while others are making triangles on their heads.
She has a hijab on. It’s not a hat.
PART II: 2013.
Hajra’s sitting on the bus with her friends. The bus has students from door to door and from window to window. Not many of the students think of putting their bags on the winter bus floor. Across from her seat is another girl with her school bag snug in her lap. Or maybe it’s a shield. She’s also wearing a hijab, not a tuque. Fingers pointed at her, followed by laughs.
“Are they bothering you?”, Hajra asks while directing her gaze at those who are laughing. The girl’s eyes snap towards Hajra and go wide.
“Oh, no, no. Really, I’m okay. They’re not being serious, really”. She says this, but all the while her eyes stay wide and fixated at Hajra. Momentarily, it seemed as if the bus went silent, and everyone wanted to make sure that this 12-year-old hijab-wearing girl would not seek help from another hijab-wearing girl. They wanted to make sure that she would not speak against people who fit Pauline Marois’ vision of Quebec. They wanted to make sure she knew who she was.
It doesn’t matter if our birth certificate has Québec plastered on it. All that matters is that we wear hijabs, instead of hats.
PART III: 2017.
Hajra, and many other women like her, see these sorts of news on Facebook, Instagram, and all the other socials that exist. But there are so many other incidents that never get captured by the local news. Like when Hajra’s friend had beer thrown at her in Joliette metro station. Or, when niqabi women have their veil snatched off while doing groceries at Costco.
There are so many conversations about identity, violence, and discrimination that happen without including individuals who experience them on a daily basis. Minorities and vulnerable groups are second-class citizens even when it comes to their own experiences.
PART IV: 2019-2020.
Bill 21 of Quebec, “An Act respecting the laicity of the State”, or more commonly known as the Law Against Religious Freedom is the new attack against minority groups.
To retaliate, university students are gathered on the McGill campus downtown. Some have megaphones, some are cupping their hands around their mouths and screaming. Arms are waving and banners are floating around. Hajra looks at this and notices that a lot of people who do and don’t look Québecois are fighting for this.
It gets confusing, though, because as soon as she steps into McGill metro, she doesn’t dare tread too close to the edge of the platform, for fear of being pushed into the track by an islamophobe. And while she’s standing far from the edge, fixing her hijab and placing her hood on, she looks up and sees the news headline set on a loop: “Quebec mosque shooting: Bissonnette’s eligibility for parole reduced to 25 years”. Are they trying to make this seem like a victory?
About the author:
Born and raised in Montréal with a Pakistani background, Maryam grew up drinking chai while watching Radio-Canada. Aside from giving references from The Office, you can catch her re-reading some of her all-time favourite books like The Kite runner by Khaled Hosseini. Currently, she’s a graduate student in Public Health at McGill University, who is passionate about creating a discourse regarding colonialism, identity, and gender in health and developing solutions to promote health equity.