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

Yolanda Rodriguez considers herself a Muslim first, then Mexican- 


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


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 


beliefs stand out. At least, not for now.

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


consisting of perhaps tens of thousands of Spanish-speaking individuals 


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 


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


headline a series of lectures and presentations at an Islamic Society 


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 


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

feature lectures on Islamic literature in Spanish, religious education 


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

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


"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 


and issues…"

More established populations of Latino Muslims in Los Angeles and New 


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

Chicago, activities are coordinated through informal webs of 


Entrance into those networks is often gained through personal 

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


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

Nevertheless, their existence is invaluable to Latino converts, said 


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


Street. His storefront religious center acts as an informal 


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

neighborhood association or religious printer. People, Latinos 


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 


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


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 


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 


is, exactly, that works..."


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