Latino Muslim Cultural Night
By Kathryn Espinoza
It’s the night of August 20, 2004, and my heart is smiling, reflecting my face, as I sit here on this now empty stage, looking upon this now empty hall that about two hours ago was full of approximately 250 Muslims ranging from all corners of the globe. I’m still. I’m free. I’m happy. The ummah is now complete…I think to myself. Thinking back in my memory bank to 4:30 pm: the arrival of the enchiladas de pollo, the ones sisters and brothers slaved over the night before. Picture this…a garage turned kitchen with Mexicanos, Mexicano-Pakistanis, Salvadorenos, Bolivianos, and Chicana converts. Di lo que tu quieras, pero todo son Musulmanes… preparing meat, shredding cheese, pinching salt, cutting papel picado and taping them to string all while carrying on Spanglish conversation of Islam and conversion stories.
It’s 6:30 pm and the community hall of the Muslim Community Association is now filled con colores de papel picado, in red, yellow, brown, green, purple and orange. The colors radiate from pillar to pillar, the tables filled with pan dulce, chips y salsa…frijoles y sombreros chiquitos para decoracion. Mexican and Guatamalan style cloths cover the podium and act as a backdrop to the stage. ‘It looks beautiful in here’ I think to myself. I could start to smell the enchiladas warming up in the back…Yaseens Corner Restaurant of the Masjid accommodating our semi-formed Latino Muslim organization of the California Bay Area.
It’s now approaching 7:30 pm, and the hall is filled with gente del mundo. Those in attendance are from South Asia, South East Asia, Northern Europe, Africa, Middle East, and now Latin America. We are united under one roof. I smile. This is a dream.
In the three years that I’ve been Muslim, the extent of my Latino Muslim interactions were sometimes held in casual conversations with ‘people who knew people’ who were Latino and Muslim or Latino and studying Islam. “Give me their contact information!” I would often say. An agreement was made to send it my way, and that was usually the end of that. Or, I’d make an occasional visit to Zaytuna Institute where the Hayward Latino Muslims were gathering for Barbacoa de carne asada on Saturdays. Or, I’d catch an occasional presentation at San Jose State University of brother Daniel’s research of the Aztec calendar, Islam, and Muslims in the Americas before Columbus. A ‘one hit wonder’ of Bay Area Latinas gathering for halal enchiladas was one of my favorites. All of these interactions were beautiful, and I always hoped all these different communities of Latino Muslims would join together.
And so it happened, a brother was contacted from the MCA in hopes to put on a Latino Muslim Cultural Night on August 20, 2004. The initial meeting would take place on a Wednesday to talk logistics and start planning. “Tell every Latino Muslim you know and ask them to be there”. I walked in the conference room where the meeting was to be held to familiar and unfamiliar faces. My soul brightened to see both. But Subhanallah! How exciting to see so many new faces! Some I’d heard about but hadn’t really met so this was big to me.
Our meetings usually got stuck around food- What cultural dishes would be most appropriate for 250 people on a virtually non-existent budget? “If we go on the east side, we could get banana chips for cheap” and “My mom is in town and she could marinate the Carne.” “We have to have rice and beans, but what style beans? Black or Pinto beans?” “Central American style, Carribean style or Mexicano style?” “Yucca or Papas?” My thoughts…’what a blessing, so many cultures and customs within the blanket of Latinos.’ We eventually figured it out…alhumdullilah.
Hijole…man! It’s late. My work here is complete but not yet done. I’m one of three sisters whom are the last to leave. My feet hurt. The pan dulce was a huge success. There’s some spilled salsa on the floor that we all see, yet not ready to pick up. Instead we sit in peace, enjoying our new found sisterhood in each other. This evening the moon is about half way full and California air is crispy fresh, making its way through the tinted glass doors of the Masjid. This night was captivating.
Perhaps it was the presentation of veterano Mechista, activista, y maestro Daniel Islam Denton Casillas. Islam spoke of the Islamic Legacy in the Americas in regards to when and how Muslims came to be in Latin America. Muslim Immigration by means of economics and world wars would be the most historically recent form of Muslims coming to the Americas. Before this, there was slavery. Slavery brought literate, learned Muslims from many western countries of Africa and brought to the Americas in the north, central and south regions. History tells us that Muslims were known to escape slavery to form their own maroon societies, such as in regions of the south of the United States, as well as states in Mexico such as Veracruz and also Brazil of the south. Pre-Columbian Islamic Influence he spoke of would be the first form of Muslims in Latin America in pre-Columbian history. Proofs of this were found in many artifacts, coinage, and ancient scripts with Islamic connections.
Following this was the photo presentation illustrating lush mountainous landscapes or Chiapas, Mexico where 300 indigenous Mayans became Muslim, or the faces and Masjids of Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Belize, Mexico, Ecuador, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. My jaw dropped to hear a shahada story of a Bolivian-American sister who is the first of 15 members of her family to convert, most of which are still in Bolivia. Subhanallah!
Whether is was the poetry, the food, the presentations or the shahada stories, it was a beautiful night that opened the doors for organizing, networking, and unifying for Latino Muslims of the Bay Area, which is ultimately what we decided to call ourselves. Our group picture was taken putting us officially on the map A follow up BBQ was planned to continue the momentum. Within the last month there have been at least 2 new Latinos embrace Islam in the Bay Area. Insha’Allah the efforts will continue to provide dawaa and education to those that are interested in this way of life.