By Sandra De Anda
Had anyone asked me a decade ago, I could’ve never imagined that I’d be sharing iftar with tacos as a member of Orange County Immigrant Youth United at an OC mosque. Back then, I attended a mostly Latinx middle school, where many students, including my friends, made fun of the few Southeast Asian kids who wore the hijab. At recess, my schoolmates would call hijabis “Bin Laden” or “Taliban.” We grew up under two Dubya terms that conflated our peers with terrorists. The church I attended shunned Islam. The media ran videos of Osama Bin Laden on the news constantly. Even with some skepticism, we embraced these notions because we were collectively misinformed. This came at the cost of the safety of our peers, stifling our ability to build bridges with other religions and cultures. It wasn’t until we grew up that we finally realized we were wrong. But Islamophobia still remains in our communities.
This has proven dangerous time and time again, especially with the case of Nabra Hassanen in Sterling, Virgina.
Hassanen was described by her father as being a nice girl who loved fashion and music. Darwin Martinez Torres, an undocumented Latino immigrant, failed to see any value in her life when police say he clubbed her with a baseball bat. The police are calling it a case of road rage and not a hate crime. Hassanen’s father, an immigrant from Egypt, doesn’t believe that to be true. This resonated greatly with a lot of us in the Latino community who agree with him. You don’t have to be white to commit a hate crime and you don’t have to be white to hate, after all.
Just take the case of the Brodie Durazo who vandalized a truck belonging to a Sikh temple in Buena Park, believing it was a mosque. He spray painted “Fuck ISIS” in response to the San Bernardino Massacre in 2015. But this story has a happier ending with a contrite antagonist. Durazo apologized, saying that he could not “imagine the amount of stress or tension,” he brought upon the temple with his actions. No hate crime accompanied his charges and Sikhs forgave him for his vandalism. This is one of the many examples of how hatred of any kind can be diminished through dialogue and familiarity with one another. This is how Latinx’s should tackle Islamophobia.
Conservative media and the so-called “Alt-Right” want to prevent these types of connections from being made. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) filed a detainer request for Hassanen’s alleged murderer, something Islamophobes are rallying around. They’ve cynically used Hassanen’s death as an opportunity to push their anti-immigrant politics. They’re in support of President Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ICE deportations, and even the removal of the DACA status. And had this situation been reversed where a Latinx was victimized by a Muslim perpetrator, these folks would use it to get people behind the Muslim travel ban. They’ll take any person who’s done wrong from either of our communities in order to vilify. But it isn’t that easy. You can be an immigrant and Muslim. You can be a Latinx and an immigrant. You can also be a Latinx immigrant who is Muslim.
Latinx’s and Muslims have been borrowing language and customs from each another for centuries. But at this moment, we are two groups that are especially vulnerable to the surge of racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Martinez should be held accountable for his actions. At the same time, his crime doesn’t speak for all undocumented people. We should continue fighting for immigrant rights. We should shun hatred and instead educate our communities. If we all want to remain safe and sane these next four years, we need to work together in making strong bonds with one another by sharing our cultures, our faiths, and even tacos, so we can become pillars of support for one another. The Latino Muslim Unity event, “Taco Trucks at Every Mosque,” I attended succeeded in doing this. I shared immigrant experiences with my old friend, finally found out what “halal” means, and heard a Latina’s reasons for choosing the Islamic faith.
I’m glad to have shared tacos with my friend and the Muslim community. Still, there is much work to be done in dismantling Islamophobia within our Latinx communities. When we’re intolerant, we aren’t united. Though we still rely on media for versions of the truth, the personal is the most political tool we have now more than ever. Ramadan may be over for my new Muslim friends, but we can still continue the conversation over tacos (or kebabs) any time.