Culture

Latinos Are Shattering Stereotypes As They Convert To Islam In Record Numbers

Camisa, pantalon, azucar. These are just a few of the more than 4,000 Spanish words that derive from the Arabic language. These few words highlight the complex similarities between the Latino and Muslim cultures.

And as Latinos continue to flock to Islam, Latinos currently make up the fastest growing group of converts to Islam, those similarities will only continue to grow.

Latinos currently make up the fasted growing segment of the US Muslim population.

Credit: @AsyaEnglish / Twitter

According to some estimates, there are between 89,000 and 250,000 Latinos practicing Islam in the country.

Latino Muslims are a particularly vulnerable group as the Trump administration takes cruel and discriminatory measures against both segments of the population. One of the administration’s first moves was a ban on Muslim refugees while a border wall and increased ICE patrols remain consistent threats.

From Houston to Santa Ana and Philly to Chicago, Latino Muslims are forming communities.

Credit: @Suntimes / Twitter

In a mosque on Chicago’s North Side, you’ll find that alongside Pakistani and Indian dishes – daal, butter chicken and endless naan – are Mexican dishes like molé y arroz. Chicago is also home to a chapter of Islam In Spanish – an organization founded in Houston.

The group, which formed in 2001 to provide Qurans, pamphlets, and videos to people who wanted to learn about the religion in their native language, has seen 160 Spanish-speakers convert in the Houston area in the last three years.

In 2009, only 1 percent of Muslims identified as Hispanic. By 2018, it was 7 percent.

Credit: islaminspanish / Instagram

According to the study, most Latino converts to Islam are women. Roughly 73 percent of participants were women. And many of them are leaders in their community, including women like Nylka Vargas who has helped develop some of the earliest Latino Muslim communities in the country.

Along with Jewish Americans, Latinos hold largely positive views of Muslims, according to a new study.

It was revealed that Hispanic Americans are fives times more likely to favorable views of Muslims as they are to have negative attitudes. This favorability rating is second only to the Jewish community.

Many Latinos have embraced Islam after discovering the hip-hop culture of the 1990s.

Credit: betogonz / Instagram

Malcolm X, as a civil rights leader, was an instrumental figure in driving various communities to Islam. In an interview with LatinoUSA, Parada, 43, discussed how on a school trip to New York he saw friends greeting each other with “As-salaam-Alaikum.” He wanted to be a part of that.

Other reasons that Latinos have converted to Islam range from the search for renewed spirituality in a religion that rings true to a resurgence in Latinos exploring their Andalusian roots, when Muslims governed Spain for 700 years until 1492.

Some converts families worry about their choices.

Credit: islaminspanish / Instagram

Parada was born to Salvadorean parents and was an altar boy at his family’s Roman Catholic church. His parents voiced concern about his choice to join the Islamic faith so he asked them to read a chapter in the Quran about Mary and Jesus. “Most Latinos think Muslims don’t believe in Jesus and Mary,” Parada told LatinoUSA. “That gave them a different perspective of Islam.”

Dangerous stereotypes about Muslims continue to create friction, even among Latinos.

Some converts from devout Catholic families say they sometimes are faced with skepticism and ignorance from their own relatives: “Oh, what are you an Arab now?” “Why did you join a black religion?” “Did you join ISIS?” “Take that thing off your head,” according to Parada.

But Latinos and Muslims are working hard to build bridges between the communities.

Like any good abuela, the way too make friends is with food. And that’s just what is helping connect the two communities.

From #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque – a movement that began back in 2017 to show solidarity with the Muslim community – to community potlucks and asadas, connecting people through food is helping them find their similarities.

READ: Latinos And Muslims Are Having Cross-Cultural Exchanges During Ramadan Thanks To Halal Tacos

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Latinos You May Not Have Known Were Jewish

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Latinos You May Not Have Known Were Jewish

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Although Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in most Latin American countries, we all know by now that Latino culture is not a monolith. In fact, Latinidad comes in all shapes and forms, and it’s a total misconception that all Latinos are Catholics. Latinos follow a variety of religions, from Islam to Buddhism to Judaism. And while most people don’t think of Judaism when they think of Latin America, there is, in fact, a small but proud population of Jewish peoples living throughout Latinidad.

Although the Jewish population in Latin America is relatively small (only an estimated 300,000), Jewish Latinos keep their culture alive through tradition and a strong sense of community. The largest Jewish community resides in Argentina, which is considered to be the “center of the Jewish population in Latin America”. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of famous and influential Jewish Latinos who have made their unique mark on the world. Take a look below!

1. Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo was both proud and vocal of her Jewish ancestry at a time when Anti-Semitism was at its height in Mexico. According to Kahlo, her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was a Hungarian-Jew who immigrated to Mexico. In fact, many of Frida’s work have been displayed at Jewish art exhibits.

2. Monica Lewinsky

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Monica Lewinsky’s father is El Salvadoran–born to Jewish-German immigrants who fled Germany during WWII to escape persecution from the Nazi regime.

3. Daniel Bucatinsky

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Beloved “Scandal” actor Daniel Bucatinsky was born in New York City to Argentine-Jewish parents. Bucatinsky has been candid about how his “roots” are in Argentina and how he speaks Spanish fluently. You can even catch him speaking Spanish to his fans on Twitter.

4. Sammy Davis Jr.

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One of the most talented and charismatic performers of the infamous “Rat Pack”, Sammy Davis Jr. was a Latino born to an Afro-Cuban mother. Citing a strong connection to the Jewish faith due to its people’s history of oppression, Davis Jr. converted to Judaism in 1961 and remained devout until his death.

5. William Levy

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Cuban actor and all-around heartthrob William Levy was born in Cojimar to a single mother, Barbara Levy of Jewish descent. At the reported urging of his friends, he converted to Catholicism in 2009

6. Diego Rivera

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Celebrated artist and husband to the venerable Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter Diego Rivera was descended from a Portuguese-Jewish family. Of his roots, Rivera said: “My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life. From this has come my sympathy with the downtrodden masses which motivates all my work”.

7. David Blaine

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Born to a Puerto Rican father and a mother of Russian-Jewish descent, famed magician and illusionist David Blaine is of both Jewish and Latino heritage.

8. Geraldo Rivera

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Journalist and television personality Geraldo Rivera was born to a Puerto Rican father and a mother of Russian-Jewish descent. He was raised “mostly Jewish” and had a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Rivera affectionately describes himself as “Jew-Rican”.

9. Bruno Mars

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Bruno Mars was born in Hawaii to a father of mixed Puerto Rican and Ashkenazi Jewish descent, while his mother is Filipino. Mars has referred to his ethnicity as existing in a “gray zone” of neither black nor white. Of his ethnicity, Mars has said: “I hope people of color can look at me, and they know that everything they’re going through, I went through. I promise you.”

10. Sara Paxton

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Sara Paxton was born to Lucia Menchaca Zuckerman and Steve Paxton in Los Angeles. Paxton’s mother was originally from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, where she was raised in a Jewish family. Paxton’s father has since converted to Judaism.

11. Cecilia Roth

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Acclaimed Argentine actress and “muse” of Pedro Almodóvar, Cecilia Roth was born to parents Abrasha Rotenberg and Dina Gutkin in Buenos Aires. Like many European Jews in the 1930s, Roth’s father fled Europe to escape the rising tide of anti-Antisemitism.

12. Eduardo Saverin

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Facebook co-founder, tech entrepreneur and multi-billionaire Eduardo Luiz Saverin was born in São Paulo, Brazil to a wealthy Jewish family. In 1993, the Saverin family immigrated to Miami. Interestingly enough, he was portrayed by the British actor Andrew Garfield in the acclaimed movie “The Social Network”.

13. Jamie-Lynn Sigler

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Known for her role as the spoiled daughter Meadow on “The Sopranos”, Jamie-Lynn Sigler was born to a Cuban mother and a Jewish father. Sigler’s mother converted to Judaism upon marrying Sigler’s father. Sigler has revealed that being raised Jewish, she both attended Hebrew school and had a bat mitzvah.

14. Joaquin Phoenix

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Joaquin Phoenix was born in Puerto Rico to a Jewish mother and a (lapsed) Catholic father. At the time, his parents were acting as missionaries for the cult “Children of God”. Phoenix’s father currently lives in Costa Rica. Of his Latino roots, Phoenix says, “I do like Spanish culture…I like to practice my Spanish when I am working with any actor who speaks Spanish or with members of the crew”.

15. Don Francisco

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Cultural stalwart and host of Univision’s “Sábado Gigante”, Don Francisco was born in Chile to German-Jewish immigrants who fled their home country to escape the Nazi regime.

16. Gabe Saporta

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Cobra Starship lead singer Gabe Saporta was born in Uruguay to a Jewish family. Like many of the entries on this list, Saporta’s grandparents fled Europe during the WWII era to escape anti-antisemitism. His Instagram bio currently reads “I was a terror since the hebrew school era” and he frequently interacts with fans on the account in Spanish.

17. Joanna Hausmann

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Joanna Hausmann is Venezuelan-American comedian, Youtuber, and TV personality. Hausmann is the daughter of Venezuelan intellectual and Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann and CNN en Español host, Ana Julia Jatar. Hausmann has a series of videos called “Joanna Rants” on Flama where she covers a variety of issues affecting Latindad–from differences in accents to cultural stereotyping.

18. Kayla Maisonet

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Known for playing the sporty sister in Disney Channel’s “Stuck in the Middle”, Kayla Masionet is a biracial actress of Puerto Rican and Russian-Jewish descent. On dealing with criticism in the industry, Maisonet has revealed that she chooses to embrace what makes her different as opposed to “conform[ing] to what people say I should do”.

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UnidosUS Is Hosting A Free, Online Convention Discussing Issues Facing Latinos

Things That Matter

UnidosUS Is Hosting A Free, Online Convention Discussing Issues Facing Latinos

The pandemic is forcing everything to go online and that includes the UnidosUS 2020 Annual Conference. The conference is happening from July 27-28 and will include panels for politicians, activists, and journalists. The Virtual Marketplace will follow July 29-30 to replace the National Latino Family Expo.

The UnidosUS conference is happening and you can take part for free.

Latino leaders will be joining various panels to talk about the things that matter to Latinos. The conference is free and open to anyone with an Internet connection who wants to listen in on the discussions that are touching on subjects and discussion pertinent to the Latino community.

“We did not come to this decision lightly, but it has become clear that, in the face of an unprecedented situation, we needed to make this difficult decision to transition our Annual Conference into a virtual event,” UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía said in a statement when the virtual conference was announced. “Our experience in the past few weeks shows that our community is still looking for an opportunity to connect, even if it is online, and we are confident that this virtual event will allow more people the opportunity to access the largest national convening of Latinos in the country.”

The conference is covering a lot of topics that are pressing for community members.

The conference is bringing together Latino minds and voices to speak on things ranging from the economy to health care to candidates fighting for our community. During two days, the Latino community will have a chance to hear how those leading the community are ready to get things done.

One of the first events is a conversation with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The U.S. is facing a long road to economic recovery. COVID-19 has been devastating and the financial injuries to the Latino community are big. It is going to take a lot of action and bold leadership to lead that recovery.

Continuing that conversation is “The State of Latinx America.”

Each state has had a different response for COVID-19 because the federal government never developed a national plan. Now, Latinos in different states are facing different consequences. However, one thing is for sure, COVID-19 has done truly devastated us. Latinos are the most impacted population and we have the furthest to go in recovering.

And, of course, some phenomenal Latinas are coming together to show the fierce mujeres out there.

Trailblazers in their field will discuss the road to success. Being Latina comes with the largest pay gap and it is important to know how we can overcome. Let’s teach you how to make things work for you.

READ: A Woman Battled COVID-19 Then Gave Birth On A Ventilator And Died

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