I can’t believe some of the mean things I read lately. Say what you will about reactions to refugees around the world, but you can’t say it is lacking in hostility.
It’s so awful to distrust people who are just trying to stay alive. It’s the worst unfairness to ridicule them. It’s like kicking an abandoned puppy. Here at home, every time I read “travel ban,” especially for Syria, my stomach flip-flops. I can just tell how sick it’s getting of the whole ban-idea.
Not the least of it is that not one person has been killed by a Syrian refugee in a terrorist attack in the United States. Not one. Zero.
And zero is good enough indication for me.
Part of people’s fear, I think, is sheer forgetfulness. I mean history has taught us that prejudice is like the wind. One day it is directed away from you. But the next, it comes at you. Out of nowhere. With a vengeance. This is my father’s own truth. Coming of age in Italy at a time when most of Europe turned its back on Jewish people, “even me,” he admits, he then landed in the bowels of the lower Manhattan, where, if he dared venture north of Houston, people would throw rotten tomatoes at him. He changed his name from Luigi to Louis; his hat from flat cap to fedora. It’s funny what a history buff you get to be from ingenuity. Ask me anything, anything at all, about past Italian prejudice.
My point is, official or implied, bans don’t work. People find another way.
My own coming of age, for instance. On my first day of college, my father banned me from drinking, smoking pot, or letting any boy into my dorm room. Ever.
I think the less said about this the better.
The reason I’m remembering this, and trying to jot it down quickly so that I can enjoy the rest of my day at the beach, is that to my left sits a woman wearing the familiar, full-length black draping and hijab. And because its one of our rare 80-something degree days I live for, I think, oh, honey, it’s so hot today.
Now, what I want to say is, “And look. Your husband gets to wear H&M short-shorts. Not fair, correct?”
I even answer my own question. “You got that right, sister.”
Still, I would never want to ban the hijab, even from schools.
But in all honestly, I don’t mind an outcry now and again from the left side of my brain when it tries to make sense of another obvious way of teaching women to feel less powerful, either. What I really want is for her to stand, pull off the smoldering cloth and run splashing into the water so I can cheer the way others cheer for the Mariners.
I know I’ve addressed my feelings on the burqa, chador, hijab before, so I decide to take a little walk. Clear my head.
When I get to the woman’s blanket I say, “It’s such a warm day, isn’t it?” inclined in my writer-ly (nosy) way to want to be involved in the world I’m exploring.
“No,” she replied.
I had two thoughts. One was that she sounded like she’d been waiting for someone to walk up and disapprove. How awful it must be to feel like others are judging you. Or feeling sorry for you.
The other was that I realized what a fatal mistake I’d made. If there had been an escape hatch beneath me, I would have pulled the cord.
Did I really think I could walk right up and give birth to some new form of equality she hasn't considered? And that she would want to ban everything she’s been taught and shift directly from her world view to mine?
Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?
God — almost as ridiculous as a travel ban.
MARY LOU SANELLI is a poet, speaker and author of nonfiction who lives in Belltown. Her collection of essays, “A Woman Writing,” is available from Aequitas Books. She can be reached at www.marylousanelli.com.