Denise De La Cruz*
Orange County’s Muslim and Latino communities broke bread—or rather, tortillas—last night at the second “Taco Trucks at Every Mosque” event this month, this time at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove.
The event celebrates the breaking of fast (iftar) during the month of Ramadan and is meant to educate and unite the public in a simple way about the purpose of fasting with a side of tacos.
The name of the event is, of course, a clever pun on the infamous warning self-hating Mexican Marco Guiterrez said on national television that America would have “taco trucks on every corner” if Latino culture isn’t stopped.
Local Muslim activist Rida Hamida and Santa Ana Valley High teacher Ben Vazquez thought of the idea in the wake of Trump’s presidency and now it’s come to fruition as a full-blown event of unity.
Yesterday, it drew in about 1,400 people of all ethnicities and religions. The line for halal tacos was so long, it stretched out to the mosque’s parking lot.
From al pastor tracing its roots to shawarma to most Spanish words starting with “al” being Arabic in origin such as algodón and almuerzo, (“al” means “the” in Arabic—see more fascinating Spanish and Arabic lingual connections here), the shared history of Muslims and Latinos dates back to 1492, that titanic year that saw Columbus “discover” America and the fall of Islamic Spain.
“There’s a lot of shared history. This [event] is an opportunity to share that common history,” says attorney Todd Gallinger, a Muslim convert and one of many organizers of Taco Trucks at Every Mosque. “The message for tonight is let’s come together and get to work.”
While the event focused on Latino and Muslim unity, anyone was welcome to join the halal taco feast. “One of the highlights for me was an Asian Muslim sister from Cambodia who spoke about her personal experience [on] what it was like to be Asian American and Muslim,” Gallinger says, “Hopefully, it’s the start of a movement for a different change.”
“These are two communities that have been under attack with the Muslim ban and the mass deportations that Trump wants to have,” said organizer John Hernandez. He had fasted all day in a show of support. “And, as well by separating our communities by building a border—so, this is about cultural resistance.”
Hernandez says he couldn’t help but feel proud when his young daughter voluntarily wore a hijab at the first Taco Trucks at Every Mosque event earlier this month to show support for her new Muslim friend. “That, to me, is beautiful. That’s what we need more of our young people to do…With Trump recently being elected, it really brought our communities closer together than it had been.”
While the majority of folks in attendance agreed that the event was a unifying experience there were some critiques in the crowd. “I see a lot of Latinos here tonight but I hardly ever see Muslims at Latino rallies,” said Jesse Clavel, an attendee who says his sister asked him to come, “I can’t help but hope that this unity project inspires some reciprocation of support for Latinos from the Muslim community.
On the other hand, Moises Moreno, el taquero of the El Moy taco truck which dished out halal tacos at the event, said in Spanish “El convivio (banquet) that has happened here between Latinos and Muslims is beautiful—people from different cities, different countries, I like that we’ve all become one family.”
Sonia Ahmed, an attendee and OC resident originally from Guatemala who met her Pakistani husband in the United States, says that the event helped people become more aware of the Muslim faith while debunking myths about it. “Sometimes ignorance can hurt people, the more you know about something the better you can communicate.” Ahmed converted from Catholicism to Islam when she started studying the religion.
At first, Ahmed felt like an anomaly but now, 20 years later, she says the Latino Muslim community is on the rise in the U.S. “About a year ago my friend and I wanted to check how many [Latino Muslims] there were and in a weekend we got over 100 people from this area in a WhatsApp chat. It was overwhelming.”
Hamida described the event as a simple act of unity during contentious times. “Latinos and Muslims are fighting hate in the most delicious way, one halal taco at a time,” says Hamida. “Take that Trump. We are united by taco trucks at every mosque!”