Latino Muslims Build Identity



An Islamic conference hopes to give greater voice to a developing group 

that lacks a large cultural background or network in the Chicago area

James Janega, Chicago Tribune, 7/5/02

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-0207050024jul05.story



Yolanda Rodriguez considers herself a Muslim first, then Mexican- 

American, 

but on her regular walks down 18th Street in Chicago, she does not wear 

a 

hijab, the traditional head covering worn by many Muslim women.



Well known in the Pilsen community as general manager of Radio Arte, a 

youth-oriented offshoot of the Mexican Fine Arts Center offering 

Spanish-language radio experience, Rodriguez, 33, often finds herself 

negotiating between her public persona and her personal faith.



She is comfortable in both worlds, but has chosen not to make her 

religious 

beliefs stand out. At least, not for now.



That decision is common among Chicago's Latino Muslim population, a 

group 

consisting of perhaps tens of thousands of Spanish-speaking individuals 

who 

share Islam, but privately, without an overarching network or broad 

cultural background to support them.



Among more established Muslim groups in Chicago and nationwide, 

however, a 

growing conviction has emerged that this subset of American Islam 

deserves 

a greater voice. One sign is that issues particular to Latino Muslims 

will 

headline a series of lectures and presentations at an Islamic Society 

of 

North America convention beginning in Chicago Friday.



"The phenomenon is so big, but it's not unified. It's not in one place, 

they don't know each other," said Sayyid M. Sayeed, secretary general 

of 

the society. The convention at the Holiday Inn O'Hare in Rosemont will 

feature lectures on Islamic literature in Spanish, religious education 

for 

Latino Muslims, and profiles on Islam within various Latino cultures.



"There may be thousands, but we don't have a sense of them," Sayeed 

said. 

"This is our way of providing a forum for those of them who are 

Muslims--they can come and share and interact and discuss their 

problems 

and issues…"



More established populations of Latino Muslims in Los Angeles and New 

York 

City have their own cultural centers and community support groups. In 

Chicago, activities are coordinated through informal webs of 

individuals.



Entrance into those networks is often gained through personal 

introductions, and often by chance meetings. Few know precisely who or 

how 

many are in the groups, or how exactly to contact them.



Nevertheless, their existence is invaluable to Latino converts, said 

Rami 

Nashashibi, director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network on West 

63rd 

Street. His storefront religious center acts as an informal 

clearinghouse, 

introducing this teen to that mentor, or this Islamic group to that 

neighborhood association or religious printer. People, Latinos 

included, 

literally walk in off the street...



Also taking notice are established Muslim organizations like the 

predominantly African-American Muslim American Society, said Ayesha K. 

Mustafaa, editor of the Muslim Journal in Chicago.



Cultural centers affiliated with the society have begun deliberate 

efforts 

to reach out to the expanding Spanish-speaking populations who live on 

the 

West and Southwest Sides.



Edmund Arroyo, 27, a school social worker who married an Indian Muslim, 

said Hispanic Muslims in America cannot yet draw on a distinct culture 

of 

their own for comfort.



"People ask, `What's Latino Muslim culture like?' And really, it hasn't 

been created yet," Arroyo said. "We're just kind of figuring out what 

it 

is, exactly, that works..."






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