Building A Latino-Muslim Coalition with #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque

Gustavo Arellanom, The Salt, February 8, 2018

The connection between Middle Eastern and Mexican food goes all the way back to the Moors, and is well-known in culinary circles. {snip}

But it wasn’t until Orange County, Calif., residents Rida Hamida and Ben Vazquez created #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque that someone tried to explore the political potential between Muslims and Mexicans in the United States with their shared foodways. The two put on events that are exactly what the hashtag promises. A lonchera parks at a mosque and serves free tacos after a religious service that includes a talk urging Latino-Muslim unity. Visitors feast on tacos of carne asada and chicken prepared by a halal-certified butcher.

#TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque is more than an epicurean evening of education, though. “There are layers of sharing beyond just food,” says Vazquez, a history teacher at Valley High School in Santa Ana, Calif. “It’s our job as activists to nurture understanding and build relationships. And we are developing deeper relationships as we build this.”

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It’s a perfect meeting ground for Latinos and Muslims in Orange County, a long-conservative place that has changed dramatically since Hamida and Vazquez attended high school there during the 1990s. Today, Orange County is majority-minority; Latinos make up about a third of the county’s 3.2 million residents, while an estimated 120,000 Muslims live there.

But the two groups continue to lack political power: There is only one Muslim elected official in Orange County, while Latino politicians are concentrated mostly in the cities of Santa Ana and Anaheim, cities that happen to have sizable Latino and Muslim communities. And the groups suffered the majority of documented hate crimes in Orange County in 2016, the last full year for which the Orange County Human Relations Commission has statistics.

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The friends also organized #IStandWithHijabis, an evening presentation at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, where Muslim women talked about wearing hijabs with non-Muslim women who wore them throughout that day in solidarity.

The two would’ve continued with similar, relatively mainstream workshops if not for Marco Gutierrez. In the fall of 2016, the Latinos for Trump founder appeared on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show and declared, “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”

The statement became instantly infamous, and is mocked to this day in Mexican-American circles. {snip}

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The first #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque happened last June during Ramadan at the Islamic Center of Santa Ana, a mosque comprised mainly of Cham, Cambodian and Vietnamese Muslims. Latinos and Muslims alike initially had concerns about the food that was served – though for different reasons.

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{snip} Since then, #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque has traveled as far south as Baja California, in Mexico, and as far north as Sacramento, where they held an event last week. All told, Hamida estimates they’ve served 7,300 people — and nearly 29,000 tacos – at the seven events they’ve held so far. (They’ve also inspired imitators.)

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