Latinas, like any other culture, have a slew of stereotypes associated with us. We’re expected to be these fiery, loud women with long hair and sensual curves that love to cook and dance and bare children. We’re either sashaying our hips to salsa in the kitchen, praying with our rosaries or over our candles to Santa Barbara for guidance or even doing brujeria(witchcraft) on a neighboring woman who has wronged us in some way. At least that’s what we see in telenovelas. I’ve come to realize that’s how a lot of the world sees us, actually. Whether we’re Boricua, Dominicana or Mexicana, we’re expected to have some semblance of these standards.
I won’t lie, I uphold several of these stereotypes: I dance salsa, I love cooking, and in high school I was known for my long hair. There is one very stark difference now, though: I’ve traded in the rosary for tasbih and I only pray to Allah (SWT.) All that may have been well and good, except I decided to cover my hair. With this very apparent change in my faith, I started to get some very interesting questions.
Here are 5 common questions I commonly receive as a Latina revert, and the answers I give (most of the time).
1) Why did you convert?
Anytime I bump into someone from my past or the topic comes up that I haven’t been a Muslim for very long this question pops up. To be honest, I haven’t pinned down my speech yet. Sometimes the question comes out of nowhere and I’m not fully sure what to say. Sometimes I’m not particularly close to a person and I don’t know how deep I should go into my journey. I’m afraid I’ll disappoint the masses by giving them what may seem like a generic answer: “I became a Muslim because Islam is beautiful” or “I became a Muslim because Islam changed my life.” Often times I try to give a few sentences just to make sure they feel fulfilled by my response.
The truth is I’ve always loved Islam, even before I ever decided I should apply it to my own life. I’ve been reading books on Islam by Muslims since I was 10 years old. I studied it in high school. I had Muslim friends. My “reverting” wasn’t exactly a surprise to me, but I guess no one ever really knows you like you. Still, I’m working on my reversion story spiel in order to tone down what may come out as very dramatic, maybe even appearing like I’m acting in a novela.
2) Did you convert for your spouse?
My husband was raised in Islam and he is Puerto Rican, just like me. Before I met him I wasn’t Muslim. Islam came to me later.
I can see where the question comes from and I’m never surprised when I get it, but try to be very careful when answering. Not because I did convert eventually, but because I know there’s a perception of Muslim men controlling women and I don’t want to perpetuate this stereotype.
The honest answer is no, I did not convert for my husband. In fact, I kept the fact that I was reading the Qur’an and looking into Islam a secret for several months in the beginning because I didn’t want him to question whether I was doing anything for him. I wasn’t sure at the time where my journey would lead and I didn’t want anyone to discourage or make me more afraid than I already was.
I was also intrigued by the fact that my husband was both Muslim and Puerto Rican. I had never met a Latino Muslim before him, and certainly not a Puerto Rican Muslim. Like I said earlier, my people have santos and rosaries all over the place, not Qur’ans and prayer beads.
Meeting him prompted me to look into Islam in Puerto Rico. What I found was not only are there several mosques on the island, but there are actually thousands of Puerto Ricans in the world who are Muslim. It was after finding this information that I became curious as to the connection between my people and Islam which prompted me to read the Qur’an. This was where my journey into Islam actually began.
3) Are you Arab/Do you speak Arabic?
This question is another one I’m not too surprised by. Even in high school, way back before I was ever thinking about Islam as part of my life, people would ask me if I was Arab, Indian or even Bengali. Maybe it’s the shape of my my nose or my cheekbones. Now that my hair is covered, cultural expectations are becoming more prevalent. I’m never offended by this question, and it’s always kind of fun to let people guess what I am. Puerto Rican is never their guess unless they’re Hispanic (and if they are Hispanic and they guess what I am, we go back to question number one on the list.)
As for my Arabic, I’m trying to learn some beginner’s prayers and how to pronounce words properly. Spanish and Arabic have and use similar sounds in a lot of their words, but sometimes my Arabic can have a very Spanish accent, which I’m working on.
4) Will you change your name to an Arabic one?
This question is not asked too often, but I do get it. The shortest answer is no. I love my name and I am proud of my name, it is who I am and I don’t expect to change that for anyone. I try to emphasize to people that I am not a completely new person, just working to be a better version of myself. That means I am a Latina and a Muslimah.
5) Are you bald under there/why do you care about your hair if none can see?
I absolutely love these questions because they’re so outlandish to me. What I find most interesting is that it’s people I knew before who ask these things and whether they’re asking out of genuine curiosity or sheer ignorance it’s always a fun time. Usually my response corresponds to their level of genuine curiosity. I explain I’m a human who has hair and hair can be quite messy, even when others can’t see it. I also tend to emphasize that I wear hijab for God and for myself and that even when I didn’t, I did my hair for myself.
This road has definitely been an interesting one and I know I have a whole lot left to learn, but I am so thankful that I am able to experience what I have thus far. Islam truly has changed my life for the better, and although it hasn’t been easy, it’s always been beautiful.