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.”
There are some things that are just so normal, we never question how it came to be normalized. One day, historians will ponder this in regards to immigrant detention camps in America, but I digress. Once upon a time, the dusty drawer in your hotel room’s nightstand laid bare. That trusty Holy Bible was nowhere to be found, and likely, people weren’t looking for it.
So in a capitalist economy like the U.S.’s where supply and demand reign as the key influencers in the world around us, how did every hotel in America, and, subsequently, the world, come to guard a Bible? We highly doubt that reading the Bible on your vacation is anywhere nearly as commonplace as the actual Bibles. Here’s what we found out.
It all started in the fall of 1898 when two traveling salesmen met in a Wisconsin hotel room…
John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wisconsin and Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin found themselves as strangers in a crowded Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The two ended up being forced to share a room. The two shared pleasantries and soon realized they were both devout Evangelical Christians. They joked about creating an association of traveling Christian businessmen.
The following May, they met again at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin to firm up their idea: create a men’s group for traveling Christian salesmen.
“A Lasting Vision.” Digital Image. Gideons. 10 September 2019.
That July, Nicholson and Hill brought a third member, William J. Knights, to a YMCA in Janesville. There, they hoped to recruit more members, but nobody else would join them. Their first meeting was just the three of them, during which they divvied up roles. Hill would be the President, Knights the Vice President, and Nicholson the Treasurer and Secretary.
They prayed together on a name and Knights heard God’s answer: “We shall be called Gideons.”
Untitled. Digital Image. Gideons. 10 September 2019.
The Book of Judges shares the story of a man named Gideon who was recruited by God to lead his small army of 300 men against an enormous army. Their faith led them to gain victory over the much larger army. Their membership grew over the years, mainly consisting of traveling Christian businessmen.
In 1908, they started leaving the first free Bibles in hotel rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. Today, the organization has grown to 200 countries, territories, and possessions and is known as Gideons International. Its website maintains that the foundation is based on a perceived need that “people today need someone to come alongside them in finding their way to true salvation that is available only through the grace of God.”
Still, only men are allowed to hand out Bibles. Women can only serve as auxiliaries to the men, as their wives.
“A Unique Focus” Digital Image. Gideons. 10 September 2019.
The organization boasts more than 269,500 Gideons and distribution of over 2 billion Bibles around the world. Gideons International describes themselves as “an Association of Christian business and professional men and their wives dedicated to telling people about Jesus through associating together for service, sharing personal testimony, and by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” The organization acknowledges that they’re best known for leaving Bibles in hotels, but want you to know that they also “place and distribute Scriptures in strategic locations so they are available to those who want them, as well as to those who may not know they need them.”
To elaborate, they also distribute Bibles to “hotels, motels, hospitals, convalescent homes, medical offices, domestic violence shelters, prisons, and jails.” Also, members of The Gideons will personally hand out a free Bible to “police, fire, and medical personnel; prisoners; military personnel; students in the fifth grade and above.”
This is where it gets even more cringy.
“A Worldwide Impact.” Digital Image. Gideons. 10 September 2019.
Their website is littered with images of Black children in presumably African nations holding up free Bibles. The Gideons were founded by a group of white men and has evolved into a group of men “and their wives” proselytizing to young children of color. The presumption that their culture’s spirituality trumps another’s is spiritual colonization of the 21st century. In fact, the ACLU has gotten involved in a case against Gideons International for going into public schools and proselytizing to children in the 5th grade and above.
But, hey, we’re glad our abuelas are comforted by the free spiritual literature found in their hotel rooms.
Credit: Public Domain
Next time they thank God for the Bible in their hotel room drawer, you can remind her that the man who placed the Bible there, wouldn’t allow her to hand the same treasured book to someone else.