Latino Activism – Taking it to Another Level
By Yahsmin M.B. BoBo
December 23, 2005
Masjid al Islam hosts an Annual Da’wah March through the streets of Oakland, California. This annual march follows Salatul Jumaa (Friday prayer) after Thanksgiving Day. We take to the streets at this time because we figure that most folks are off from work and relaxing in their homes at this time. The reaction is lovely; we feel supported by the neighborhood.
The purpose of this year’s march was essentially the same as previous marches. However, we also took the opportunity to speak with local liquor storeowners in the inner city who happen to be Muslim. Incidentally, this was right after all the vandalism and controversy here in Oakland. Therefore, our intentions were to interact with the storeowners in a productive and positive way, and yet still let them know that we don’t support their businesses ethically and financially. Some responses, on the part of merchants, were better than others were.
Lacking from this large group of mobilized Muslim protestors this afternoon was a significant Latino presence. There was a small handful, but no more than three or four. Many resolute community activists and families pounded three miles of pavement in a march, scheduled for rain or shine. Oakland houses not only a thriving Muslim community but also thousands of first and second-generation Latinos.
In fact, international schools can be found here whose teachers present bilingual lessons and whose walls are covered in elaborate murals with Malcolm, Che, and Chavez. International Boulevard, also known as East 14th, is a Latino thoroughfare with all sorts of businesses. This was where our march was held. Some of our signs read, “California is Northern Mexico.” In essence, Latinos contribute greatly to Oakland’s struggling economy.
In future demonstrations, a Latino presence should be felt, admired, and continued. Bilingual Muslims are especially needed to communicate the teachings of Islam to the growing population of Latino Americans. We have one official translator in our organization but unfortunately; he wasn’t there that day. Because East Oakland is predominantly Latino, we need more participants from this background. Insha’Allah, we need a Spanish speaking person on the bullhorn, lending vocals to listeners and passerby. This would be highly effective and appreciated.
Those who find themselves swimming in this cultural melting pot seem to share more than just space; they share a commonality of experiences. Alongside Palestinian and African Americans, the Latino experience is paralleled with similar social injustices, oppression, and exploitation. There is an everlasting assurance of social and political camaraderie – even more reason for a liaison to exist and indeed, persist. The political fervor of Latino activism from various persuasions can and should be fused with Islamic movement.
I see the need for Latino Muslims to be very involved in Islamic movement worldwide, as well as domestically. By involvement, I mean in terms of leadership and scholarship. Insha’Allah, I’d also like to be involved with planning trips to the Caribbean and Latin America. We could travel as a delegation to present Islam to the people and their governments, when possible. Of course, such movements have always begun at the local level.
Today, amid the amazement of the non-Muslim passerby, the most awestruck and curious among them were the same students, merchants, and kindhearted neighbors I mentioned earlier. They stood reading our signs and happily, accepted leaflets, as we stomped past yelling, “La ilaha ill lah!” with fists plunged high in the sky. One group of passerby’s turned around to ‘borrow’ a flag we had. These young men loved the energy that was emitting from the crowd of believers.
In short, while we understand that our lives consume most of our time and energy, we also realize just how desperate Latinos are to see Islam in a different light, one outside of what the nightly news conveys to them. They are hungry for it. The Islam we give them will be unadulterated, pure, and practical. It will signify part of their own historical legacies, dating back to Spain and Portugal.
Our daily grind should not stop us from being that liaison, that representative, and yes, even ambassadors of Islam. Likewise, our studies of Islam should not disaccustom us from fully and properly representing this way of life. We must remain accessible to the people; otherwise, the essence of our obligation has been forsaken.