When Army Sgt. Cecilia Valdovinos was granted permission to wear the hijab while in uniform in 2018, following a conversion to Islam in 2016, she believed that she had been granted the opportunity to serve her nation and be true to her authentic self all in one go. Little did she know that down the line, she would be forced to remove her hijab by a supervising officer in charge of her unit, in front of her battalion. Valdovinos, in response, has filed a complaint against the United States Army for discrimination.
The incident in question refers back to an interaction between Valdovinos and Command Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya, who according to the Army Times, forced Valdovinos to remove her hijab in front of other soldiers. Montoya claimed that Valdovinos’ hair was not done to regulation standards underneath her hijab.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) — who is assisting Valdovinos with her case — said in a separate statement that “Even if this CSM did have X-Ray vision, our client’s hair was neatly tucked beneath her under-cap, completely in accord with Army appearance regulations. This under-cap is part and parcel of her prior Army-approved hijab garments.”
In 2017, the Army began permitting religious exemptions for hijabs, turbans, and beards stating that brigade commanders had to make religious accommodations unless the commander believed that the requested exemption “is not based on a sincerely held religious belief, or identifies a specific, concrete hazard … that cannot be mitigated by reasonable measures.”
Spc. Cecilia Valdovinos was granted permission to wear the hijab while in uniform by her brigade commander, Col. David Zinn, in June 2018 following her conversion to Islam in 2016. However, the response to her hijab was something that she was not expecting. Valdovinos was swiftly met with “extreme hateful behavior,” claiming that she was called a “terrorist,” and “ISIS.”
“I hear comments that I’m the reason why 9/11 happened,” Valdovinos stated. She was later demoted from sergeant to specialist, although Zinn said in a statement that he wouldn’t get into the specifics about the cause of Voldovinos’ demotion.
It seems that if you are a minority, there will always be some type of backlash. Colin Kaepernick protested peacefully against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem and lost his career amid claims that he was being disrespectful to the United States and the Armed Forces. And yet, in Valdovinos’ case, a woman who remains willing to give her life for this country, is being reprimanded for a religious symbol that has been permitted in Army regulation since 2017. So why the double standards?
The hijab in no way stopped Valdovinos from doing her job, so why the issue? Valdovinos was even granted express permission to wear her hijab while in uniform by a superior officer, so why threaten Valdovinos for breaking protocol when her hair was tucked away beneath her scarf?
Apparently, swearing to protect the United States and the willingness to give her life wasn’t good enough. Why must Muslim Americans always prove their American-ness in ways that meet a standard norm? This event proves that Muslims may never be immune to racism, or be wholly accepted as they are. For all the stereotypes that Valdovinos claims she has been labeled whilst serving, it really makes one wonder if there is any standard that a visibly Muslim American can meet in order to be seen as “authentically” American.