It’s a great time for Latinos and Arabs alike in Anaheim, California. Best of all for the Latino Muslims, who are probably having a ball right now.
In Anaheim’s Little Arabia, some interesting alliances have been formed. The Latino community and the Arab community of Orange County have decided to band together in face of troubling nationalist rhetoric.
The Arab-American Muslim community in Orange County is centered in Little Arabia, with the majority being Egyptian, Syrian, or Palestinian Arabs. However, their 25,000 total seems small when compared to the estimated one million strong Latino population in Orange County. Both populations often find themselves in the middle of the nasty rhetoric currently dominating some circles of our political arena. Coming together can benefit both in the future as it has in the past.
Previously, Latino activists sued the city of Anaheim in protest of unfair district representation policies, asking the city to allow district-based elections. This would require council members to live in the area they represent. The Latino activist community reached out to Arab-Americans for support, both communities collaborated in drawing district maps. The measure was put on the ballot and passed last year.
This collaboration continues both politically and personally in making personal connections between the two communities. Arab Muslim and Latino leaders are working to bring people together to get to know each other. You see this in the program Adventures of Al-Andalus, a joint effort of Rida Hamida and Benjamin Vazquez. Hamida is a well-known Palestinian American Muslim activist and community organizer, Benjamin Vazquez is well-known activist and Santa Ana Valley High School teacher. Together they work to bring Arab-American and Latino communities closer together in Orange County.
Adventures of Al-Andalus hosts a serious of public events, starting with tours of Little Arabia that help people to get to know Arab culture in a real, genuine way. They tour restaurants, markets, hookah bars, hair salons, and compare Arab and Latino cultures. Especially with word games, like trying to guess what the other language calls everyday things (sugar is azucar in Spanish, succar in Arabic; “God willing” is Ojalá in Spanish, Inshalah in Arabic). People often learn about how much culture is shared between Arabs and Latinos because of that one time in history that Arabs kind of ruled southern Spain (for oh, like eight centuries or so. So definitely a lot to talk about).
Hopefully seeing similarities in culture leads to recognizing common interests in policy both locally and nationally.
These types of activities show that solidarity building between Arab Muslim and Latino communities in OC is not all about politics, thought that is an important part. In a time when blatant hate speech by one of our country’s presidential candidates against both communities is regularly broadcasted on all mainstream media, it is more important than ever for minorities to support and strengthen one another politically. But furthermore, it feels really good to get to know your neighbors. We know Islam teaches us that 1) we are made in different tribes and groups so that we may get to know one another and 2) that treating your neighbors with the utmost kindness is part of our behavior. Collaboration in Anaheim is a beautiful example of two vibrant cultures and minorities coming together and strengthening one another, expanding horizons. We can all learn so much from them!
Various quotes from community members:
“When the community eats together, it stays together,” Hamida about sharing Arab and Latino food.
“The turnout is a little more than we expected and there’s so much diversity in this group.” Ben Vazquez on a dinner during the tour.
“We must create synergy since we have the same battles for equality and for justice… [not] just about political power. We’re also in the business of promoting personal relations. It could start with a meal or going to a wedding. You have to leave your comfort zone.” Hussam Ayloush, director of the LA chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (office based in Little Arabia).
“We can sympathize with what they’re going through because we’ve been through it,” he said. “The big takeaway is we both are marginalized groups … facing a backlash in this election.”” Carlos Perea, student who attended Adventures of Al-Andalus.
“I want them to know we are just like you. Our fight is just like yours every single day,” Rida Hamida.