Islam, Oct - Dec 2009

Interview with Samantha Sanchez and Juan Galvan

By Saraji Umm Zaid

The Message International
December-January 2005, pp 29.

Samantha is a poet, writer, teacher, da’iyee, mother, and wife. She is one of the original co-founders of LADO: The Latino American Dawah Organization, and wrote her master’s thesis about Latinos and Islam. She was one of MuslimPoet.com’s “Poets in Residence” from 2003 to 2004.

Juan is a writer, husband, soon-to-be daddy and da’iyee who lives in San Antonio, Texas. He has written extensively about the emerging Latino Muslim community. He enjoys encouraging cooperation among ethnically diverse Muslim communities.

Saraji: What is the goal and purpose behind LADO?
Juan: The purpose of LADO is to promote Islam to Latinos. That’s why LADO exists. That’s our mission. That’s what we do best. People help out in various ways and at different levels. I prefer to emphasize the great potential of individual Muslims.

Saraji: There are estimates that the number of Latino Muslims has doubled, or even tripled since LADO was founded. Do you think national organizations give enough attention to the Latino community?

Samantha: I think that in the years since the founding of LADO, more attention has been paid by the major organizations such as ISNA and 877-Why-Islam, an ICNA project. However, more can always be done. I see it being done more on a local level than nationally. Groups in Chicago, Texas, and here in our own backyard in New Jersey have recently held open houses for Latinos to learn about Islam. I applaud these efforts.

The MSA’s have also recently become part of the local efforts. For example, New York University and Columbia University have had iftars and events that included Islamic history about Spain or speakers of Latino descent. Some of the dawah material is written well but it is often merely translations. I think it would come best from Latinos themselves.

Saraji: Are average Muslims open minded about Latinos or do they hold negative stereotypes about Latinos that may keep people away from Islam?

Samantha: I think that the majority of the Muslim community is open minded about Latinos and in fact intrigued that someone of Latino descent would choose to be a Muslim. There are always those who look down on converts as not purebred no matter what their stock, but thankfully, these are few and far between. I believe that community leaders should do more locally, having Latino converts speak at local mosques to explain a bit about Latino culture so that in turn this will help dawah efforts to the Latino community.

Juan: I agree with Samantha. After converting to Islam, Muslims would ask me, “What is your race? Where did you come from?” After telling them that I’m Latino or Mexican-American, they’d look at me with confusion. Although I am brown-skinned, they knew I wasn’t from their country depending on the Muslim, and I wasn’t African-American or an Anglo-American. This occurred most often with recent immigrants. We’ve all gone through good and bad experiences. Personally, I am grateful for all the Muslims who taught me about this beautiful religion.

Saraji: Do stereotypes of Arabs, Indians, Muslim, etc. exist among the Latino population? Is it preventing them from exploring the message of Islam?

Samantha: Strangely enough, I personally have not run into many Latinos who think that badly of Arabs or Muslims. I am sure there are some. I would suppose that the only way to cure this malady is for Latino Muslims to be more vocal in the media particularly on television. Perhaps if Latinos were made more aware of their own roots and they could hear from one of their own who is a Muslim, such stereotypes would disappear or lessen at the very least.

Juan: I remember, after hearing of my conversion, my dad responded in Spanish, “What is that?” Then, after I explained a little about Islam, he responded, “Oh, like the Arabs?” Muslims and Latinos don’t know each other. There’s no telling about the opinion of two people toward one another when they don’t know each other. Latino Muslims have been very successful in introducing the Muslim and Latino communities to one another.

Saraji: Samantha conducted the first comprehensive study about Latino converts. Are you still planning to publish it as a book?
Samantha: I am still interested in publishing the research. In fact, many studies that have been done since then have quoted my work, which is rewarding, Alhamdulillah. For many reasons the book has been placed on the back burner, but the fire isn’t out just yet! Insha Allah, it will happen someday soon.