The Latina Muslim Foundation Is Raising Money To Give Muslim Asylum Seekers A Place To Worship In Tijuana
It may come as a surprise to some but in the border city of Tijuana, Mexico, the population of Muslim migrants as well as Mexican converts to Islam are growing. While some have arrived there from other countries, many are waiting as they seek asylum in the U.S. due to President Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. All of this has resulted in a rising number of Muslims that are looking for any kind of shelter or housing situation while they wait.
Making the situation more difficult is adjusting to life in a foreign land. Some have arrived from places as far as Syria, Togo, Somalia, and Ghana. Then there are the constant stares from strangers when they see a hijab and the ensuing questions about it.
The toughest aspect for Muslims in Tijuana is finding a place to pray throughout the day. There is currently only one mosque, the Playas de Tijuana, in the city which has made this a challenge, especially for migrants living in shelters.
This is why Sonia Garcia, the founder of the Latina Muslim Foundation is currently raising money to build a shelter for Muslim migrants and deported women.
Garcia knows firsthand about the struggles that many in the growing Muslim community in Tijuana are facing. She was born in the city and was raised as a Catholic before converting to Islam. Like many of the other Muslim women that have arrived in Tijuana, Garcia knows how hard it is to navigate through the city.
“They don’t know the food, the culture, the language,” Garcia told the San Diego Tribune. “It is very difficult for them. People thought I was Arabic. They asked why I was in Tijuana.”
This is why Garcia and Mayte Gutierrez, another Latina who has converted to Islam, have put forth efforts to help the growing Muslim community near the border city. Their plan is to raise awareness and money to build a permanent shelter for Muslim migrants and deported women. They see the shelter as a place where migrants can receive help with their social services, receive medical care and most importantly, an area where they can come to pray.
Those at the Latina Muslim Foundation hope that the shelter becomes a hub of some sort where all Muslims in the local area can come together to connect and celebrate their religion all while feeling more at home in Mexico. But it won’t be that easy without support.
For years both Garcia and Gutierrez have been doing whatever they can to help when Muslim migrants arrive in Tijuana. Now, they need the help of others to raise money for this much-needed shelter.
Garcia says that the organization is currently planning to purchase a nearby warehouse that is located about 10 minutes away from the U.S.-Mexico border. They plan to transform it into a large two-story shelter that will have room for social workers and lawyers, a kitchen, showers and a room for prayer that will have multiple copies of the Quran.
As of now, the organization has found a location for the shelter as well as a blueprint by an architect and a group of volunteers that are willing to provide free legal and social services.
“The only thing we need is the money,” Garcia says.
Currently, the Latina Muslim Foundation has raised close to $30,00 but said it needs a total of roughly $250,000 to have enough for their entire project. They are currently raising money by reaching out to people online through a fundraiser.
“We are seeking to purchase a warehouse where the need is most great, thereby being able to provide these individuals with a place to stay, eat, and learn skills where they can make themselves marketable in order to find a job to maintain themselves and their families. We will also have a musala located in this facility so that prayer can be established 5 times a day, Islamic studies classes can be given, and the Quran can be taught,” the fundraising page reads.
With a growing population of asylum seekers, the shelter situation in Tijuana is also growing worse. So Gutierrez sees the Latina Muslim Foundation’s goal of building this shelter as dire.
“There exists a big gap of misunderstanding, of ignorance,” Gutierrez said. “Being Latino, being Muslim, we can connect.”
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