Shannon Melero is the Co-founder and Creative Director of MissMuslim, an online web portal that aims at providing a collective experience for women of all backgrounds. Here, she shares her story in belonging and carving out an identity for the Latino American Muslim population.
“So you’re not Catholic? But your family’s Catholic right?” This is the start of conversation whenever someone discovers that I – a Puerto Rican New Yorker – am in fact a proud and practicing Muslim.
Catholicism is the common practice amongst many Latinos. I went to Catholic school from kindergarten to my senior year of high school. I even went to confession and took communion a few times out of sheer curiosity. But my mother always made sure that I knew where we stood religiously. I used to tell people my mother was a biblical scholar before I actually knew what that phrase meant. Now that I do know what it means ,I still stand by that statement. She passed down as much of that knowledge to me as she could and with it I went into college as a biblical scholar in changing.
Alas, all the knowledge in the world cannot interfere with fate. Slowly, surely, and secretly I made my way to Islam and found, what I believe, to be absolute truth. I also found insurmountable cultural barriers. Of the 3.3 million Muslims living in America, 6% of them are Latino. While that seems like a substantial number, I discovered that almost none of that 6% seemed to be living in my neighborhood. They weren’t at the mosque I was attending and they weren’t on the online chat rooms in which I was skulking. Muslims are outsiders in America and I found myself lingering on the outskirts of the outside. There was no path into this tight knit sphere. So instead, I pulled a typical Puerto Rican move and made myself at home in the loudest manner possible. I took part in starting a website.
MissMuslim is a collective of voices that are often ignored in the Muslim community because their experience is atypical. Latino Muslims are largely ignored because we are a small contingent and because for the most part we don’t speak Arabic. We aren’t the cool kids. But when we’re into something, we are IN IT. Latino Muslims are a group of passionate and curious people that just want to do our best in Islam. Latinos are also people of community. We freaking love community stuff from block parties to neighborhood fundraisers. That’s why we travel in groups for the most part cause you never know what awesome stuff is about to go down. So with that strong community background we’ve come to Islam ready to build up this brand new group we’ve entered. We don’t want to be left out, I don’t want to be left out. I want to bring a plate of food to an Eid party, I want to hear Quranic verses in Spanish, I want to grow with this community and see it expand. Muslims call each other brother and sister and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I’m simply here to remind everyone that they’ve got hermanos and hermanas too.