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

Organizer-activists Rida Hamida and Benjamin Vazquez are bringing taco trucks to mosques all over Orange County, Calif. in an attempt to help bridge the divide between the Latino and Muslim communities. Their event, #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque, seeks to bring together two communities facing increased scrutiny — and hate crimes — in recent months. According to Hamida and Vazquez, the best way to achieve their goal was to get people to sit down and eat together when Muslims break their fast at sundown during the holy month of Ramadan. But they didn’t pick just any food, the organizers knew the importance of being culturally sensitive and appropriate, so they found a taco truck that would serve halal food. Mitú was at the latest meet up and spoke with the organizers about why this event is so necessary right now.

We are currently in the holy month of Ramadan, a time when practicing Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset to get closer to God.

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“Ramadan is an Arabic name for the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This month is observed with fasting. During this month, the Prophet Muhammad received God’s first revelation. We fast every day this month from sunrise to sunset,” Muzammil Siddiqi, the Religious Director of Islamic Society of Orange County and attendee at the event, told mitú. “It does teach you discipline and helps you focus. It also teaches you patience and lets you reflect and be thankful. Many times you take food and water for granted, so when we fast and finally have food and water we are thankful.”

#TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque is a nod to the #TacoTrucksOnEveryStreetCorner moment from the 2016 presidential campaign.

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Hamida told mitú that early on, food seemed like the best way to get these communities together. They discussed finding a taco truck that was willing to provide culturally and religiously appropriate foods to the Muslim community they were looking to serve. They remembered the “taco trucks on every corner” moment from the 2016 presidential campaign and knew that to really send a message, they needed to get taco trucks to the mosques.

The idea of using halal tacos to create cross-cultural conversations has been working, according to Hamida.

Julie Leopo / mitú

“We are seeing people learning how to be patient, open-minded, and open-hearted. They are learning to do that through food, because you know, when you are protesting you are angry, and you don’t get to know the people around you when you’re protesting,” Hamida told mitú. “You are just fighting that fight, but we aren’t really nurturing one another. It’s a one-way conversation and we are fighting for justice in front of these institutions, but this is a different type of protest and resistance; this is a very nurturing resistance, a very soulful resistance. We are coming together and really feeding our souls through our food and our culture.”

And it isn’t just Latinos and Muslims exchanging ideas. Hamida told mitú that the last event attracted some Trump supporters who were curious about the event, but did not want to talk politics.

Julie Leopo / mitú

“When you are able to sit with people that you don’t meet eye to eye with you’re also able to grow with them,” Hamida told mitú about reaching across cultural and political divides to foster a true sense of community and understanding. “The feeling is uncomfortable but you’re serving these people food and generously, how could they say no to that? We are inviting them whole-heartedly, to experience our culture and faith. This is not a demonstration — this is about community and connecting. He [a Trump supporter] didn’t want to talk politics with me, but he did want to sit at the same table and eat with me.”

This isn’t the first time that Hamida and Vazquez have worked together to bring these two communities together.

Julie Leopo / mitú

“We have been teaming up together the past two years to do Little Arabia tours with the Latino community to see how we are connected,” Vazquez told mitú about the work he has done with Hamida. “Going back to a time in Spain where Jews, Muslims, and Catholics lived together for 800 years in Spain, and just to reconnect through that and bring people into Little Arabia having the food and talking about food. This year we did a hijab day where women who weren’t Muslim came and wore a hijab, and we had traditional women who wear hijabs give their experiences and what it meant to them and the feminism behind that.”

Vazquez wants for other Latino and Muslim communities to follow suit and bridge the cultural divide to discover how similar the two cultures truly are.

Julie Leopo / mitú

According to Vazquez, there is something powerful about getting together with people of different walks of life and sharing food that breaks down those barriers that we think make us different.

“You’ll come to find that we are all alike, and there’s nothing to fear; we are just human beings,” Vazquez told mitú.

Julie Leopo / mitú

Vazquez also told mitú that it is important not to let fear becoming a driving factor in who you meet and talk to. Instead, try to look past the political rhetoric and media narratives that are pulling us apart and build a larger community.

Siddiqi also has a message for people who might not understand or know the Muslim community.

Julie Leopo / mitú

“I would say come and visit us, come eat with us. See how Muslims live, don’t leave it up to your imagination, because people are enemies of things they do not know. So know us, that way you can have the chance to appreciate our culture and understand that we do not represent what prejudice people say about us.”

If you would like to learn more about this unity movement, visit Latino Muslim Unity on Facebook or their website.

Julie Leopo contributed to the reporting of this story.

READ: These Muslim Latinos Practice Their Faith At The Only Spanish Speaking Mosque In The Country

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