Islam, July - Sept 2009

My Flag Endured the Aftershock of 9-11

By Khadijah Rivera


Miami is well known for its Latino population and prominent bilingualism. Similar to most Latino Muslims, I lived in a major U.S. city that had a large population of Hispanics. Although I wore a Muslim veil, for the most part, I blended in. I didn’t go to the beaches, clubs or popular Latino spots which were prohibited to me as a practitioner of Islam. But Miami would not be the place to be in the Aftermath of 9-11.

I remember growing up in New Jersey and as a girl I use to salute the American flag with pride “orgullo” as we say in my language. I would look at the colors and see the beauty of their significance and immediately recall my own personal flag, the flag of Puerto Rico! Both of these flags shared the same colors. In my heart, gazing upon it sent shivers of intense love of country..Patria. My island is made up of a mosaic of people and color. The darker you are the more beloved as a true countryman. From the original inhabitants of Tainos to the invaders from Spain, and their slave trade of Africans. Eventually, we assimilated to a proud people without racism and full of spirituality and patriotism. Even today, half a century since my birth, I long for the “Independista” movement to reign. I consider myself a true patriot with two sons as USMC and heroes to all Americans.

But on that dark and gloomy morning of September 11th my heart sank in utter pain as did millions who watched in horror. Although the American flag became a soaring symbol of patriotism, left unbridled it attacked innocence and destroyed lives. For days, I mourned like millions of Americans, yet in the streets I became the symbol of hate and bigotry. I was warned by Muslim clergymen to remove my religious veil to avoid personal attacks and to never go out alone. As a divorcee, I had to feed my family so this meant taking public transportation, in Miami, by my self and having people spit and curse me behind vehicles like cowards. On the buses people shunned me and would not sit beside me. Many more stared and whispered to each other. They cursed me in Spanish, sure that I did not understand their hateful words.

Just a few years earlier a young Cuban boy had illegally entered the shores of Miami Beach, all alone, since his mother died during the journey. He had left Cuba without his father’s consent, so the Cuban government supported the father in retrieving the child, Elian Gonzalez. In rage Cuban refugees had been disrespecting the flag and turning it upside down in storefront windows. They hated the US but they must have hated me more because later, they considered themselves “Americans” and I a foreign devil.

Everywhere I looked the American flag was hung in buildings, homes and millions of cars. But this Boricua girl could not stand up and salute it; on the contrary I had to duck from eggs and saliva. The smallest American flag made me secretly tremble, was it a symbol of sincere patriotism or bigotry?

Soon the mourning for victims stopped, as I had to defend my right to work and worship in America. My land of “freedom of speech’ became a venue of hatred and loathing. I had to work among people who despised me for what they thought I represented. My Latino Christian family made Blog comments to the effect of “How could I continue to be a Muslim in a religion of hate”. The irony of this made me laugh, providing brief relief for my broken heart.

So I decided to fight back by standing up for my God given rights as a human being. Allah knows I am patient but humans have limits and I had reached mine. I went on a Spanish broadcasting station called Telemundo. It is seen throughout Latin America not just, Miami. It was the catalyst I needed to strengthen my self, my family and other Muslims. It was also an amazing opportunity to educate others. The moment I spoke in Spanish the look of astonishment was there from everyone in the newsroom. Imagine that people were telling me to GO BACK HOME! Where to? Rio Piedras, I wondered”

My son Andre’ accompanied me “live” on the set wearing his Marine Dress blues. He eloquently confided on his incredulity of society and the audacity to spit upon his mother while he fought for the Nations security. Certainly it was a shot at the media I had to take and I did!

Soon after we went on the infamous Christina show, which is the Latino version of Oprah. I stopped after that as I had made my point and did not want publicity except with purpose. I was not speaking only for the Latino Muslims or even just for the Muslims. During the disturbing aftermath racist jumped at the chance to beat up Mexicans and Hindus. To them all dark skinned people could easily be mistaken for Muslim terrorist. Hate crimes soared and were pouring in from every major city in the United States. The American flag became to my dismay the equivalent of the Confederate flag to African Americans. The media helped to repress the storm of violence to Muslims and soon even the President realized that it had to stop; therefore he went on to address the Nation. This brought a temporary peace to what could have escalated to encampments and racial riots. Unfortunately to this day, if you drive past me with a flag and stare at me, I am not sure if I should duck or smile.