The myth says that Malinche, an Aztec princess, betrayed her people, her culture and faith, for the love and the desire to be loved and accepted by the foreign Spanish conquer, colonialist and exploiter. Her name, said with contempt, is used in Latin America to point those who sacrifice their identity and tradition in order to please foreigners over their own people and family.
Latin America has experienced in recent years an increase in the presence of Islam on the continent. As Muslims, we support and promote freedom of conscience that leads to our brothers and sisters to embrace Islam as their spiritual journey, as we did ourselves. However, we also know, because we have lived and learned from other latin muslims, that converting to Islam for Latinamericans means assuming the position of Malinche; this means to undertake a violent process of detachment and alienation of everything that identifies them as Latin, to prove their love and desire to be recognized as part of Islam.
From White to Arab Colonization
“You are not Puertorrican/Chilean/Mexican anymore, now you are one of us”
Mosques in Latin America and the Caribbean are colonized spaces of worship. Some were founded by Muslim immigrants, others are the product of a policy of Islamic Republics like Saudi Arabia and Iran to expand Islam abroad, in which imams and sheikhs are a sort of public employees.
Both have failed miserably (if it ever was part of their purpose) to embrace local customs and culture.
They are controlled spaces in which epistemic violence and spiritual abuse are enabled under the veil of Dawa, where a convert has no agency: Maintained by the rich people of the community, gender segregated, Middle Eastern decorated, services in a foreign language (that you should learn it if you want to be a True Good Muslim) and a dress code that resemble Egypt, Qatar, Turkey or Pakistan, all is there to serve as a frame for alienation.
Islamic authority is unquestionably male, personified in the almost saint and holy Imam. The “legitimate” Imam is an adult man, from Middle Eastern origin or a trans-culturized latin who will speak of his own original identity as the source of all sin and deviation. He will make sure to reinforce his importance avoiding anything related to spiritual autonomy and responsibility of the individual, a key principle in Islamic practice.
All this effort of Dawa does not seem to translate into happier Muslims, willing to take their part of Caliphate to relief injustice and bring mercy to the world. It is impossible for the new Muslim to get involved in anything in their own context: Every book is Haram except the Quran, all knowledge is Haram except the opinion of the Imam, all social activity is Haram, except Eids and their own family is a troop of infidels or Kfars.
Our Radioactive Latin Vulva
“You are not Carmencita anymore, now you’re Khadija”
As a Latina muslims, we are second-class women and presumed incompetents in our Muslim communities. No matter how much we know about Islam or if our knowledge surpasses that of a lay-born Muslim, we never know anything. Not having the appearance, name, language, cultural codes of an Arab, an Indian or a Pakistani, make us daugthers of a lesser God, in ways that links to the misogyny that exists already in the narratives, spaces and practices of mainstream Islam in Latin America. Everything that defines us as a strong educated latin woman invalidates us as a Muslim.
Not to mention our sexual past. A convert must be a person with a shameful non-Islamic past or, at least, is expected they feel so about their previous life. This is very violent because most Latinos who come to Islam are adults who had couples, children or a previous marriage; ie, a life! like most people on this planet.
To be a convert requires to be a person without history and context and this is especially true for women. If you are a single mother or divorced, your morals are doubted and you’re the last of the list of “potential wives.” If you are a married woman you will need to divorce your non-Muslim husband, leave your work, join the ranks of “divorcees” and hope for some born “musulmacho” willing to grant you with a “legit” Muslim marriage and family, so you can be financially supported, complete your religion and become a “True Muslim Woman”.
We were taught to love our captor, to value his customs and language above ours. 500 years of cultural and spiritual colonization that we’re looking for deliverance from, only to find we are exchanging again our souls for crystal colors, pushed to live the Curse of Malinche in order to live as Muslim, to perceive ourselves as incompatible and unworthy of The Sacred in the authentic and original way we are.
As Latina Muslim women, we are proudly latina and sincerely muslim. We regret that many of our brothers and sisters are conditioned to accept the violence of Arabization, above the spiritual freedom of Islam. Converts have become hostages in their own house, foreigners in their own country, encouraged to give up their history, culture, identity to be loved for a God who never asked that, because Allah created us “in cultures and groups so we can meet and learn about each other” and celebrating this diversity is part of the plan.
We want to tell those who have embraced, like us, the journey called Islam, that noone is in power of accepting you as a believer, but God, since there’s no compulsion in religion. But, above all, who should accept you as worthy and beloved creation of God is yourself. Love yourself as perfect creature of God, who is meant to be joyful and free in the race, body, language, culture you have been given as a blessing.
If you ask the foreign sheikh: What can I do to be part of Tawheed? Our answer is: Nothing, you’re already part of God and one with God. You’re in tune with the Divine Oneness since the moment you were created. The spiritual journey we embrace is to get awareness of the Unicity that already exists. You’re part of Tawheed since you’re part of Creation. Your life is the best proof and enough credential. Don’t allow anyone to tell you otherwise.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social communicator, writer, mentor in digital activism and community educator in gender and capacity development. She has led initiatives for grass roots female leaders’s empowerment in Latin America and Africa. She is an intersectional latin muslim feminist in the crossroads between Religion, Power and Sexuality. Her academic work adresses Feminist Hermeneutics in Islam, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. Vanessa is the founder of Mezquita de Mujeres (A Mosque for Women), a social media and educational project based in ICT that aims to explore the links between feminism, knowledge and activism and highlights the voices and perspectives of women from the global south as change makers in their communities.
Sumayah Soler is the Founder of the Islamic Society of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Co-founder of the Colectivo Interreligioso de Mujeres (Interreligious Women’s Network). First State Licensed Muslim-woman marriage official in the Caribbean. She Has officiated marriages for LGBTTQ Muslim and non-Muslim couples. Speaker on Gender and Religion. Bachelor in Social Anthropology . Master in Education. Scholarship from UAE, Graduated from Islamic Studies. Professor of Public Speaking AlAzhar University, Egypt. Mother of 2
Photo: Malinche and Hernan Cortés. Google