Think your life is challenging? Then try being both Muslim and Latino as Donald Trump has ginned up the hate against both communities during his campaign.
“My first thought was, ‘Why does Trump hate me so much?’” Juan Galvin, a Latino Muslim American community activist in Texas explained to me. Galvin added painfully, “I’m the perfect embodiment of all he is demonizing: I’m a Mexican-American Muslim.”
To Galvin’s point, on Saturday in Wichita, Kansas, Latino and Muslim groups were both ejected from a Trump rally.
I bet some reading this are stunned to hear about Latino Muslims. “Aren’t Muslims all Arabs or South Asian?” many of you are probably mumbling to yourselves. Actually Muslims, especially in the United States, come in all different races and ethnicities. The largest group of American Muslims are African-American (one-third of the Muslim community.) And Latinos are reportedly the fastest-growing group in the Muslim-American community. In fact, in January, a momentous event occurred in Houston with the opening of “Islam in Spanish,” a first of its kind, state of the art community center catering to the Muslim Latino community that even offers Friday Muslim prayer sermons in Spanish. (Trump’s white supremacist supporters must be going crazy upon hearing there are black and Latino Muslims.)
And now, with Trump scapegoating both Latinos and Muslims, the Latino Muslim community is getting it from both ends. “As a Muslim and Latino, I’m being used by Trump as a political prop,” Wilfredo Ruiz, a United States military veteran and currently communication director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, told me Sunday. Ruiz added that “Trump has taken anti-Muslim and anti-Latino hate to a new alarming level and has sadly been rewarded for it with free media coverage as well a spike in voter support and even campaign contributions.”
Tony Lopez, a Duke University student who recently converted to Islam, explained last week on my SiriusXM radio show that Trump’s approach is to “divide and conquer” Americans for political gain, as opposed to uniting Americans of different backgrounds. Lopez couldn’t be more correct. Trump’s demonizing of Latinos and Muslims is a strategy designed to tear at the very fabric of nation by pitting Americans against each other based on faith and religion.
Now there is potentially a Trump-sized “yuuuge” silver lining for the Latino and Muslim American communities thanks to The Donald. “Trump’s words are getting people off their couches!” exclaimed Ruiz. “We are seeing an increase in Muslims becoming involved in grass-roots organizations over the last few months as Trump has ratcheted up his bashing of Muslims.”
And Will Giron, a New York Latino and Muslim activist, noted that Trump’s attacks on Latinos and Muslims are encouraging coalition building, bringing not just Latinos and Muslims together, but also the black community as well. Nivia Martinez, also an activist in New York’s Latino-Muslim community, echoed that sentiment, explaining that communities of color are increasingly working together to counter Trump’s hate since they understand that it potentially can impact all American minorities.
The tangible impact of Trump’s hate-filled campaign appears to be to speeding up the rate by which the Latino and Muslim communities both become involved in American politics and vote in 2016. As The New York Times reported Monday, Latino legal residents in the United States who have never pursued U.S. citizenship before are doing so now for the specific purpose of voting against Trump. And while in 2012 only 48 percent of eligible Latino voters cast a ballot (overall turnout was 62 percent), the activists I spoke with expect to see Latino voter turnout jump big time—regardless of their faith. In addition, I can personally attest to Muslim Americans of all backgrounds gearing up to counter Trump in the election.
But what if the GOP nominee is not Trump, but rather Ted Cruz? The response of all was similar, noting Cruz’s hard-line views on immigration and his past comments that he only wanted to allow Christian Syrian refugees into the country and block Muslim refugees. “Cruz is just as egregious as Trump, just less overt about it sometimes,” Giron noted. And Galvin remarked pointedly, “Trump’s words are getting all the press so Cruz’s alarming remarks are escaping notice.”
Yet I could sense that the passion to counter Cruz was a notch down from defeating Trump. And several I spoke with candidly noted that while they don’t know any in either community supporting Trump, they do know some who are fans of Cruz.
Regardless of whether the GOP nominee is Trump or Cruz, the concerns of the Latino Muslim American community are palpable. Their comments are filled with emotion and even trepidation. As Martinez stated, she fears that younger people in the community “will shy away from being proud Muslims or Latinos for fear of backlash or discrimination.” And Giron commented, “I fear greatly for my Latino Muslim sons,” adding, “I dread the day when one of my three sons experiences bigotry directed towards him based on his heritage and religious beliefs.”
And many believe the spike in hate crimes we have seen in the last few months versus Muslim Americans was at least intertwined with, if not inspired by, the alarming rhetoric of Trump. “Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric is particularly disturbing because it’s laced with inciting violence, like his recent comment about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs blood,” Giron noted.
As you hear the concerns of these the Latino Muslim Americans, it makes you wonder how have we come to this place in American history when a person like Trump could appeal to so many people. And even more frightening is that if Trump is successful, it’s very likely in the future that we will see politicians use even more extreme hate-filled rhetoric to capture votes. Is this what Trump means by making America great again?