The Similarity between Tortilla and Chappati
By Ras H. Siddiqui

Vanessa Colon with a group of Muslims

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Sacramento Valley (SV) Chapter held an interesting meeting with Vanessa Colon a writer and reporter with the Fresno Bee newspaper on February 3, 2005 at the Fortune House Restaurant in Sacramento, California. Vanessa has been doing research on Muslim community in the Central Valley recently, work that has included studying trends amongst Muslim teenagers in the area and within various segments of our community such as Latino Muslims.

The Muslim community population changes and the evolving patterns are also in her sights at the moment. Mr. Rashid Ahmad the President of CAIR (SV) made the necessary introductions and laid the groundwork for this meeting of minds. He shared his views on the importance of the Muslim community in the California heartland. He also very briefly touched upon the fact that Fresno is almost the size of Sacramento and can easily be equated to the larger metropolitan areas within the Valley. About fifteen community leaders joined this meeting, sharing Chinese food and interacting with Vanessa in an open forum where both the tea and conversation along with ideas/observations flowed in generous proportions.

Venessa Colon of Fresno Bee with others

First and foremost it was pointed out that Muslims in the US are of very diverse ethnicity as Afghans, Arabs, Somalis, Pakistanis, Vietnamese and African Americans were all represented here at this small gathering. Vanessa Colon was also interested in the interaction post-9/11 of Muslims and Hispanics in the area. She also pointed out that Hispanics/Latinos too had borne the brunt of the new tightening of US Immigration regulations and even wondered whether it was the overwhelming opposition that Mexicans (85%) had shown to the Iraq war that made them the object of mutual affection of Immigration authorities as Muslim Americans.

That Pakistanis too were singled out is no secret. In spite of being a “frontline state in the war against terror” and the relationship between the US and the Musharraf regime (minus 150 million other Pakistanis who are not yet acknowledged by President Bush?) the Pakistani-American community and immigrants from that country have been treated quite shabbily. At this meeting, one just had to ask why? Another topic of discussion was the Hijab, the head-covering worn by Muslim women worldwide. The discussion also covered Muslim-American women and how they choose whether or not to wear the Hijab, and the varieties available to them here in the US and in other countries. Vanessa seemed very much interested in what the women at this meeting had to say about why the Hijab is part of their regular attire.

Rashid Ahmad

A short discussion was also held as to how young Muslim males here are not as uniquely visible as females in publicly identifying themselves as believers in post 9/11 America. The French ban on the Hijab also came under the critical eye here. As to Muslim-Americans themselves, some self-criticism came into view. On the pre-9/11 Muslim participation in America Mrs. Durriya Syed said; “We did not market ourselves correctly.” In post-9/11 America, the topic of civil liberties has certainly taken center-stage and generated quite a discussion. On Muslim-Hispanic relations, besides sharing a somewhat common pigmentation, the topic of intermarriages between Muslims and Mexicans that have been going on for almost a century in California’s Central Valley was brought up.

Known as Punjabi-Mexicans, early settlers from South Asia (almost all males) started coming to this area during the early 1900’s. Due to the Asian Exclusion Act they were not allowed to own land in California, and since their women did not accompany them, they married Hispanic women who could own land and reminded them of their own (brown) people back home. The similarity between a tortilla and a chappati was not lost to either culture. In conclusion, the current reaching out between Hispanics and Muslims is commendable. And beyond that, the interaction between the sympathetic media (e.g. Vanessa Colon) and the Muslim community, can prove to be beneficial to both.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
© 2004 . All Rights Reserved.