- 9/11 Is No Excuse for Bashing Muslims
- The September 11 Lessons I’ve Learned
- Experiencing The Post-9/11 New York City
Feel free to share your 9/11 experiences or memories with us here in the comments or on Facebook.
[Photo By Meda]
Feel free to share your 9/11 experiences or memories with us here in the comments or on Facebook.
[Photo By Meda]
I moved to New York City the summer after 9/11, though I was actually born in Brooklyn, but raised in Miami, so it was a return of sorts. The city was still visibly stunned and the country was astir with its color-coded thing. “Ground Zero” had stopped smoldering months ago, but the clean-up was well under way. Thousands had died, which meant that hundreds of thousands were being directly affected, which then affected the millions grinding it out in the city.
A deep sense of distrust, especially towards Arabs and East Asians, descended on the city like some medieval plague. The summer after 9/11 jobs became scarce as state and federal monies were put on hold so that our “response” might become apparent (nation building price tag and all). The Department of Ed and City University of New York had freezes; this or that association was only hiring internally. The summer after 9/11, New York City still reeled from the pelagic psychic pain and ultra-deep remorse inflicted by those two planes.
The summer after 9/11, the subways were thronged with anti-terror police in body armor, scaring the crap out of everybody. Of course, though, it was for your safety, so unless you were heading up your own cell you shut your mouth and shared the platform with the swat squadron.
We were told numerous times a day that it was the new price of freedom. According to the Daily News, by 2008, the NYPD was already “reinventing itself as an intelligence and homeland security agency” as well as “the nations’ largest police department.” As the country’s hawks played with smoke and mirrors at the United Nations to obtain legitimacy for their eventual invasion of Iraq, New York City became one of the safest and best patrolled cities in the world with “37,000 officers,” and “tens of millions of dollars – much it from federal grants – on an array of high-tech security measures designed to thwart threats.” This is the reason that the NYPD is the only police force in the world with an international presence as many of its officers work in conjunction with Central Intelligence Agency analysts.
I lived in New York for a total of eight years, in handful of neighborhoods. The last five living in a Harlem enclave (Striver’s Row) in a neighborhood were I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was Latino but not Black. I have lived in an attic on Church Ave in Brooklyn, and right on third Ave in Spanish Harlem, in a Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood where the world would shut down on Friday evenings in preparation for Shabbat. And I have been out and about to the wee hours of the night, intoxicated and stumbling, bumbling through wind-slapped city streets, industrial zones, and hipster kingdoms. And nothing has ever “happened.”
I have never been mugged or pistol-whipped or knifed in the gut or taken advantage of in a violent and aggressive manner. I also taught high school for three years in the Bronx in a poor neighborhood with a large gang presence. So, I have seen fights, melees, and minor bar brawls, but I benefited directly from the safety and surveillance of a post-9/11 heavy police presence. Which is to say, 9/11 was more than a day in history for New York City, it was a pivotal moment in that city’s identity which, for better or worse, becomes your reality as soon as you step into the city.
[Photo By join the dots]
Re-visiting the Past: Ancestral Memory of Islam
Although many U.S. Americans of all ethnicities are embracing Islam, I often wonder if ancestral memory plays a role in the number of Latino/as embracing the faith of Islam. Latino/as may be first or even third- and fourth-generation in the U.S., and many more of are indigenous to the Southwest.
While Latino/as embody an ancestral mix of Indigenous, Spanish, and African blood and have been referred to as a “cosmic race” because of the roots in these three ethnic cultures, their ancestral mix of religious cultures is not talked about as much. From the geographic branches of their Spanish and African heritage, many Latino/as have a religious mixture that includes the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three religions have a long history in Africa, particularly North Africa, and a long history in Spain, specifically southern Spain.
Thus, the ancestral memory of Islam for many Latino/as who feel urged to convert to Islam may be rooted in four types of ancestors: 1) with a Moorish Muslim ancestor in Spain between the years of 711 and 1492 when the North African Moors ruled Andalusia, Spain; 2) with African captures, many of whom practiced Islam, who were taken to all parts of the Americas as slaves; 3) with amorisco ancestor who feigned Christianity and blended in with the mass of Mozarab Spanish migrants from Andalusia (approximately 36.9% of all Spanish migrants) who arrived in the Americas between 1493 and 1600, and 4) with Indigenous ancestors who were introduced to Islam by both North and West African traders and runaway African slaves (cimarrones) with whom they built and cohabited in freetowns or palenques.
With all the possible sources of the memory of Islam within the Latino/as community or on individual bases, one cannot ignore the more obvious roles Islam has played in naming practices and the Spanish language itself. Latino/as use given and last names that are Arabic, Arabic-derived, or reflect figures in Islamic history.
Just a few examples are: “Omar” (an Arabic name and famous figure in Islamic history means “one who lives a long life”) is a name that is common among Mexican-Americans in my area of Southern California; the surname “Medina” refers to an Islamic holy city in Saudi Arabia and also to center of a town (downtown); the Mexican city of Guadalajara is an Arabic term (Oued al-hidjara) meaning “the river of rocks”; the Spanish word “ojalá,” which is “nshaAllah” in Arabic or “if God wills” in English; and the scores of other words in Spanish that are derived from Arabic (e.g., granadilla,alfombra, algodon, sofa, alberca, almohada, camisa, etc.).
The Search for Peace and Tranquility
Many Latino/as have left the Catholic Church for Pentecostal Churches, Seventh Day Adventist Churches and Kingdom Halls, but the rising number of Latino/a Muslims is a testament to the universality of the faith of Islam and to the struggle among Latino/as to find inner peace and tranquility by following a religious path that is not as common as others in the community.
Latino/as whom I know have converted to Islam for many reasons: the absence of intermediaries like a priest, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary or la virgin de Guadalupe, santos, santeros or the spirits of dead family members who are remember in altares. Many Latino/as see it as a breath of fresh air that they can be their own religious teacher in the absence of one and that they can have a direct relationship with Allah at any moment and in any place. Although there are no intermediaries in Islam, it is not too much of a stretch for Latino/as to accept Islam because it does accept and protect the roles of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and all the similarities in prophets and messengers beginning with Adam and including Abraham, David, Moses, Lot, Enoch, and others. Another similarity that Latino/a converts notice is between the Catholic rosary beads and the tasbih or dhikr beads used by many Muslims to keep count of supplications.
The challenges of being a Latino/a Muslim most obviously come in the form of familial confusion and rejection and the loss of “friends.” For many Latino/a families, Catholicism is so ingrained to the point that it is sometimes indistinguishable from Latina culture, especially by the older family members who see Catholicism as part and parcel of being Latino/a. For this reason, some Latino families feel a deep sense of cultural and familial betrayal when one of the family members is exploring or, worse yet, choosing to embrace Islam. It can be seen as a total rejection of the heritage and not simply as a question of religious re-affiliation.
For example, my best friend, who is Cuban American, converted from Santería to Islam in 2002. Her mother, a santera, took her daughter’s conversion as a complete rejection of her family and a renouncement of her Cuban identity. However, nothing could have been further from the truth. My best friend continues to love, eat, sing, write, breath, and celebrate her Cuban culture and family even with continued rejection from family; her Cuban flame has not been extinguished by the wind of Islam. Although her story does not appear and my essay focuses on challenges of racism and Islamophobia in the new book, I Speak for Myself: American Women on being Muslim (White Cloud Press, May 2, 2011), I encourage Latinos and US Americans of all ethnicities to learn more about the great experiential, ideological, and ethnic diversity by reading the collection of 40 essays by 40 women working on coming full circle in their own ways.
Jameelah Xochitl Medina is an educator, a business owner, a published author, a poet, an artist, and a student. She first began writing poetry at 12 years-old, and has been drawing since 2001. Jameelah is the author of The Afro-Latin Diaspora: Awakening Ancestral Memory, Avoiding Cultural Amnesia published in 2004, the owner of Hijabified 24:31 line hosted at Cafepress.com, and the owner of The Medina Academy of Overachievers. Jameelah’s research and activism has won her the honor of being listed in Oprah Magazine as one of 80 women leaders of the future, nominated by the White House Project.
[Photo By Daniel Zanini H.]
Gas prices keep inching toward $4 nationwide, albeit in some places it already costs more than that for a gallon of gas. Unrest in the Middle East is being blamed for the rise. Drivers are starting to drive less as a result.
A French ban on burkas, garments women wear to completely cover themselves in public, takes effect today. Several women have been detained already in protest over removing the clothing.
President Barack Obama is set to redo the budget, tackling Medicare and Medicaid, as well as taxes on the wealthy, in an effort to bring down the country’s debt.
A third major earthquake hit Japan; this one was a 6.6-magnitude quake.
The U.S. government has spent $608 million on the military’s Libya operation so far.
[Photo By Ashi]
People across the country commemorated the 46th anniversary of the Selma, Alabama march known as “Bloody Sunday.”
The GOP is looking into how Muslims are a danger to the U.S., while the White House is trying to promote religious tolerance and the Muslim community as a part of the U.S. culture. I guess they got tired of blaming immigrants for everything?
Libyan rebels and military forces continue to go at it, with the military now advancing on the rebels. Oil has hit $107 a barrel, causing gas and airline prices to rise.
Democrats and Republicans continue to fight over the budget, with the Democrats now rejecting GOP cuts.
[Photo By Rert16]
I think a good modern name for this would be “Monroe Doctrine FAIL!” The United States has been woefully ignoring Mexico, Central and South American politics since at least September 11 — that’s about a decade — except in short spurts when Hugo Chávez did something crazy or Fidel Castro could get enough wind to say something. Now, this is what you get, United States, a Latin America that cares very little for your foreign policy prerogatives.
This is what I’m talking about: Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador and Uruguay are poised to join Brazil and Argentina in recognizing Palestine’s 1967 borders as a state. That’s a lot of Latin American clout behind something that pisses off Israel, and by proxy the U.S., a whole lot.
But, really, it’s a simple formula: The U.S. ignores Latin America, then Latin America grows its own way without U.S. interference, so when U.S.-led Israel-Palestine talks break down and world leaders have to choose sides, Latin American leaders choose they side they want to — not the side the U.S. would have them choose. Israel really has no clout in Latin America without U.S. influence, and since the U.S. has practically ignored Latin America in favor of the Middle East and Asia for so long, neither one of them is going to get their way.
Another way to look at this is that Latin America is starting to catch up to other regions in terms of political sway, backed by economic power, and if the U.S. doesn’t start turning its gaze southward again, by the time the other shoe drops it’ll be too late for this country to gain any influence back.
[Image By Yug]