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”.
Hyper sexualized stereotypes about Latina women in mass media feed the prejudice of lay muslim men with devastating effects for our sisters, as you can read here and here.
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
14 thoughts on “Latin Identities and Muslim Malinches by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente and Sumayah Soler”
Interesting article. But for a bit of a historical note: Islam came to the Americas. The first Muslims there were enslaved West-Africans. Up to 30% of the enslaved West-Africans were Muslim, but a few exceptions set aside, they weren’t able to hold on to their faith, due to the extreme opression&forbidding any religion but Christianity by their masters.
The second wave of Muslims came from the contract workers/indentured labourers from India, Indonesia and Malaysia. In my country of origin, Surinam, a country in South-America, which is bordered by Guyana, Guyana Francaise and Brazil, most Muslims are Hindustani-Surinamese and Javanese-Surinamese, descendents of contract workers. But now, more and more Afro-Surinamese/Creole folks (like me) and even some Native Americans are turning to Islam.
Salam Rosalinda: I am aware of this because I am south american and I don’t ignore what happen with my own history and faith. Is their right to practice their faith and express their tradition. What is not their right is to treat locals who want to practice that tradition as second class believer or impose them the adoption of a foreign culture and practice. Islam is foreign in Latin america, it came on ships as Christianism and have adopted the same narrative against locals than Vatican against aborigins in those time. It’s terrible to see now how impoverish natives are converting to Islam and one have to wonder how donations of food and toys from Islamic Centers abroad have to do with this. My next article will adress that
I meant to say: Islam came to the Americas on the slave ships.
Yes. It’s foreign and also many muslims are such by way of colonization, like Indians or Indonesians. So we can´t forget that Islam have been a sort of cultural imperialism and that spiritual abuse have been part of their history, even if arabs are in denial about it.
And yes, lots of the racist sexist stuff Latina Muslimas are facing, is the same & even worse for black converts of every ethnicity (Caribbean, Afro-Latinas, African American, etc.)
Born Muslim have a lot of racial pride and you don’t need to press them too much for them to display it. So with other Latinos, we think that: talking about a Latino Islam not only means a mosque where Spanish is spoken, but the development of a critical perspective and radically decolonial stance on the presence of Islam in Latin America.
And yes, down with Arab supremacy in Islam! And down with the heartland theory!
This is an interesting (and revealing) post about Afro-Latino/a/x identity.
Though not specifically about Latinx identities and Islam, for me as a black, Afro-Caribbean, South-American Muslima, this resonates, just as your article does. (Even though I’m Afro-Carribean and not Latina and I don’t have the issue of “double identity” as a black woman, I can relate. Just as I’m not a Latina convert but a black Afro-Caribbean convert, your article about Latina converts resonates)
Much of the piece about Afro-Latinas can also be applied to Afro-Arabs, Afro-Turks, Afro-Persians, Afro-Pakistanis, etc.
I didn’t know or imagine any of this but it sure sounds familiar. Is Malinche a Latin “Eve”, guilty and inferior? It seems to me that if religion is going to become more of “G-d” (however we understand it) and less of Man, it will be largely from the courage of women like you who speak up with knowledge and wisdom and perseverance.
Hi Barbara. Malinche is a real character of Mexican history with this infamous popularity of betrayer but now there’s feminist revisionism about her what I think is fair. You mention something very enlightening: Spaniards bring Catholicism and their narratives of blaming on women for the disaster of society and this trait is also present in Malinche… “if Aztec Empire fell in the hands of Hernan Cortes was only and of course because a woman”.
Thanks for the history lesson. Like most ignorant norteamericanos, I’ve always imagined that everyone in Latin America was either Roman Catholic or a member of a so-called cult, though the “cults” were really pre-
Christian religions. It’s good to read what courageous women like you two have to say about your lands and cultures. My apologies for my ignorance.
Thank you Barbara. Catholicism is still the massive religion and spiritual identity/sensibility in Latin america being still the oficial religion of many states. But during the last 40 years, Protestants and their various denomination as well Mormons have found many followers.
Although I don’t agree with all the points you exposed, there are many aspects that you brought up that are very true. I am Latina but not a Muslim, however I have a background in Middle Eastern Studies, speak Arabic and have contact with the Muslim community in my country. What I have noticed is that indeed converts (both male and female) are expected to adopt a more “Arab” lifestyle, in their clothing and even their home decorations, they are also pressured to eat more Middle Eastern food like dates and other sweets, and the fact that they don’t know any Arabic has basically turned into an excuse to see them as “less in faith”, In fact, I have even been given murderous looks of what I would think is envy because I know Arabic and I’m not even a Muslim.
The sad result of this is a bunch of converts that don’t even make it through a year of being Muslims before they simply give up and never return to their congregation, a bunch of local kids that are forced to “dress up” as Arabs during Islamic festivities, and a lot of single Latina mothers that have no chance of finding a partner within their communities because they are seen as “spoiled goods” by both the men and the women at their local masjid no matter how pious and practicing she is , Muslims love to brag about how many people embrace Islam every day but they refuse to even acknowledge the fact that many of those converts will eventually leave in complete disappointment or after traumatic experiences. To make things worse, a lot of women that approach these communities end up backing out when they realize that other women in the community perceive them as “gold diggers” that are only looking for an Arab sugar daddy.
Yes. All that, when you have to live it is extremely violent and what it worse, if you dare to say it you’re accused of islamophobia and automatically alienated, sometimes with the agreement of other muslim converts who fear to be alienated too if they don’t accomodate to the arab style.