I grew up waking up at 7:00 A.M. on Saturdays to the sounds of Spanish music as my mom opened my bedroom door to find my sister and I hiding under the covers in our twin beds. She would yell, “Vamos a limpiar la casa, vamos!” And boy, did we clean.
My mom was born and raised in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico; one of the most beautiful places in the world. With the sounds of Vicente Fernandez, Alejandro Sanz, and Alejandro Fernandez in our house, it reminded me of the early days (when I was like, 5) in Mexico. It made the cleaning a little more tolerable.
Every afternoon we would get ready and head to my tio’s house where at least 60 family members would gather for pool parties. Tacos and ceviche were obvious to the eye, but so were Coronas and Pacificios in the ice chests near the bar.
I grew up waking up at 8:45 A.M. every Sunday to the sound of my papa coming into our room yelling, “Chalo, Sunday School! No excuses. You can dedicate three hours a week to learning about your faith.”
My dad was a born in Lahore, Pakistan. He was Punjabi and part Iraqi, but his Punjabi pride always seemed to outshine anything else.
We would head to Sunday school and learn about Islam every week until we were 18. That was the deal. Thank God we were within a five mile radius of three mosques growing up. My dad always saw that as a blessing — and now that I’m older, I see it too.
We also had a Qur’an teacher come twice a week to teach us how to read, pray, etc. I began reading the Qur’an at the age of 3 or 4 and finished it by the age of 5. I still remember the look on my father’s face when I recited Surah Yasin to the entire mosque. He smiled so bright that day.
I grew up with a lot of people who were also mixed; however, a lot of people were judgmental toward my family because my mother was not “raised Muslim.”
My parents always placed a huge emphasis on religion and I always wondered why. I wondered why people looked at me different because I was not fluent in Urdu (and yes, I’m talking about the “aunties” whose daughters were fluent in Urdu.)
I could tell Rasmalay from Barfi and understand my dad when he spoke. I was even fluent in Urdu and Punjabi when I was a kid and would run outside when the airplanes would fly over our house and yell “Ja’has” to my parents in awe. Later in life, I dropped the Urdu and picked up the Spanish.
We would not get invited to many parties and as I got older and I understood why. It was because my parents were one of the first mixed-ethnic couples in our area where the wife actually converted.
Though my mother converted to Islam, she never compromised her culture. She still cooked Mexican food, listened to Spanish music, and we would go to church sometimes with our Mexican side of the family. My mom wanted us to understand that although we were Muslim, we had to respect all faiths.
My mom’s childhood best friend was Jewish; my dad’s best friends were Sikh and Hindu. It was a beautiful thing growing up learning about different faiths.
Being so closely exposed to and learning about so many different faiths was a big no-no to many of the people we knew. For me, going to church with my family was a beautiful thing. If anything, it made me analyze the different faiths and allowed me to embrace my Muslim identity even more.
In today’s society, where there are constant people-mixing, I am surprised to still find people holding on to such strong sentiments against mixed marriages – where a person who holds more than one ethnicity to their blood line is not favorable.
I understand that it may be easier to keep it simple and stick to one race or ethnicity – similar foods, same languages, compatible lifestyles, etc. Many people who identify as multi-ethnic can tell you how they feel like they have to justify their mixed breed, and how they are asked frequently to choose which ethnicity they align with more.
Yeah, it’s hard. However, the beauty that comes from embracing different cultures and realizing that there are indeed similarities is even more beautiful. Let me give you an exmple – Pakistani and Mexicans have many similarities, including the importance of faith, food, and family, to name a few (except I will add that chisme at desi parties would make many Mexicans go loca.)
The Prophet once said:
“Surely all of mankind – from the time of Adam until our time – are like the teeth of a comb (all equal to one another) and there is no greatness for an `Arab over a non-Arab and no greatness for a red-skinned person over a black-skinned person, except due to one’s consciousness of Allah (swt) (taqwa).”
While there is a push to hold onto the cultures of our parents, we are, in the process, forgetting to respect and be open to other cultures – and this is just within our ummah. We are putting people in boxes by making them choose ONE way to identify themselves. People, we are going backwards!
Though many of us are the first to be born and raised in America as Muslims, we have to realize that embracing our culture is one thing, but preaching ethnocentrism is another. Sticking to our roots is vital, but educating ourselves on different faiths, cultures, and ethnicities are as well.
Are we forgetting that converts and reverts to Islam did just that? They explored faiths and found a haven within Islam, yet get treated as second-class citizens within our community centers and mosques. And yet we wonder why so many converts stick together. It is because many of them do not feel welcome or have had negative experiences with members of our communities. I know this to be true because my mother was one of them.
In life you will inevitably run into someone like myself who is mixed. You may feel the need to point out that I am only half of one full ethnicity. Don’t do it. Don’t say it. Don’t come my way – just don’t.
I no longer have the energy to defend my Latina-ness or my Desi-ness, or how “religious” I am. You can be all of the above.
In my case, I am Pakistani. I am Mexican. I am Latina. I am Iraqi — but above all, I am Muslim. I refuse to allow people to treat others like my mother with hate, or force her to defend her Muslim-ness. I take pride in all four identities that make me whole, so don’t make me choose because there are parts of me that coincide with every side of these cultures. I might “look” Pakistani (and trust me I know how to call someone out in Punjabi) but I have the feistiness of a Latina raised in La Puente. You better trust that “she” comes out when necessary.
Written by Sofia