Located on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, Centro Islámico is a mosque unlike any others in the United States. Thanks to its largely Latino congregation, services at the mosque are conducted in Spanish. As the Los Angeles Times points out, both Muslims and Latinos have faced harsh political and religious scrutiny in the past, and this is why Houston’s Latino Muslim community has only further embraced their faith. Members of the mosque share stories about receiving the “stink-eye” from strangers, and they share their fears of the future. But they also turn to their faith to find the positive, seeing the negatives they face today as a chance to thrive.
As Bolivian Susan Barrientos told the Los Angeles Times, “For us, I think it’s helpful because it really changes your behavior in public because you want to represent Islam in the most positive way.”
The Los Angeles Times has just written an article that really captures both the highs and lows the members of Centro Islámico have faced since President Trump has come into office. As bad as it is today, they remember, it has been worse in the past.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For those that believe Latinos automatically do well in Spanish class think again. The Spanish language among Latinos continues to decline. According to Pew Research, 73 percent of Latinos spoke Spanish at home in 2015, which has dropped from 78 percent in 2006. That’s to say, the younger generation of Latinos do not go hand-in-hand with Spanish as it is believed to be, and that’s what makes this story so extraordinary.
A 17-year-old Chicago student got a perfect score on his Spanish AP exam.
Before you think, well, of course, he got a perfect score, he’s Latino. That assumption that young Latinos understand Spanish and write it perfectly is entirely ridiculous. Speaking Español with mom and dad is not the same as writing comprehension in Spanish.
Out of 189,658 students, Arturo Ballesteros from Chicago was one of 100 to get a perfect score.
“I saw I had gotten a perfect score and was like, ‘Oh my God,’” the high school junior told NBC News. “I was blown out of the water.”
Ballesteros was in shock because he didn’t believe he did that well on the test.
“On some of the sections, I felt like I could’ve done better,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
His teacher, Benita Arguellez at Back of the Yards College Prep and Principal Patricia Brekke, knew Ballesteros had it in him.
“He has an incredible level of humility,” Brekke told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Yes, he’s incredibly smart, we all know that. But he’s a really good person, and that’s what makes him great.”
“Everything comes natural to him. He’s able to elaborate with the richest vocabulary,” Arguellez added.
So what exactly does this Spanish AP test cover? Lots.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the exam includes 65 multiple choice questions, a written persuasive essay that must outline “the value of digital library resources over physical texts,” a business email response, “an impromptu two-minute presentation comparing the cultural norms around keeping pets in Mexico and the United States, and discuss the merits of a career in law with a hypothetical acquaintance. All in conversational, college-level Spanish.” Holy cow.
Ballesteros credits embracing his Latino culture and the Spanish language for his perfect score, and of course, his parents.
“Spanish is a really great language. It’s the second most spoken language in the world,” Ballesteros told NBC News. “So I would say to students and young people who come from Spanish-speaking families to embrace that and learn from a young age, because it will be useful in your professional and academic life.”
He added that it is because of his parents that he will hopefully attend the University of Chicago when he graduates.
“I told my parents because I owe my accomplishments to them, but I don’t like to randomly talk about myself like that or come off as arrogant.”