Latina Immigrants: The New Ambassadors of Islam
Special to The Informer from New America Media | 1/22/2013, 1:12 p.m.
"I have heard from Latina women that they seek protection, and they find [that] protection and respect in Islam," he adds.
Juan Galvan, executive director of the Latino-American Dawah Association and author of Latino Muslims: Our Journeys to Islam, believes that Islam may also hold another, distinctly religious appeal to Latino immigrants because it reveals to them what he calls a more profound understanding of monotheism.
"Most Latino Muslim converts have had personal experiences with Muslims that first drew them closer to Islam," he explains. "These Muslims may be their friends, acquaintances, classmates, coworkers, bosses, marriage partners, or others. By interacting with Muslims, a non-Muslim learns about Islamic monotheism for the first time."
Because Islam emphasizes God's, or Allah's, oneness, Galvan says, it presents Latinos with a unique alternative to traditional Christian theologies that accept the existence of holy deities - Jesus, the Holy Spirit, saints and miracle workers -- which are connected to, yet distinct, from God.
"While Protestantism may have fewer intermediaries than Catholicism, Latinos come to Islam because they believe in a concept of God that acknowledges Him as the Most Powerful and therefore, needs no son," says Galvan, who is himself a Mexican-American convert to Islam.
Morales found her own place in Islam after a turbulent past.
In 1979, Morales' mother risked crossing the border into the United States illegally and alone, leaving her infant daughter behind in Mexico under her grandmother's care. When Morales was 5 years old, she was finally reunited with her mother, who by that time had settled in Los Angeles. Mother and daughter gained amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. However, even as a U.S. citizen, Morales recalls feeling out of place.
"It was a very difficult adjustment since I did not speak English," says Morales. "I remember entering the school system and not being able to communicate with my teachers or peers. I wanted to go back home [to Mexico]."
Adding to her difficulties, Morales was the victim of years of neglect and abuse at home, and as a pre-teen she was removed from her mother's custody and placed in foster care and group homes, until ultimately she was able to settle on her own and finish college.
She moved to New York in 2001. Shortly after her relocation, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred at the World Trade Center. When news reports blamed Muslim extremists, Morales began to research Islam.
"I was watching the news and they were always showing [Muslim] people shouting 'Allahu-akbar,' God is great, so I thought, if your God is so great, why is he allowing you to kill people? If Muslims say Islam [is about] peace, then this doesn't make sense." She decided to find the answers herself and purchased a copy of the Quran, Islam's holy book. Morales also began befriending Muslim women on MySpace.
"They were so nice, and I became more curious. One of the Muslim women I met happened to be Puerto Rican, and she got in touch with someone in California that could send me an information package about Islam with books, a Quran, a prayer rug, and a hijab [headscarf]."