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How Tacos and Rida Hamida Are Bringing Latino and Muslim Communities Together

By March 29, 2022COVID-19

The first thing one notices in Rida Hamida is her hot pink hijab, tied in a turban style at the nape of her neck. She laughs calling it her signature color.

“Everyone calls me the pink hijabi of Orange County,” Hamida, founder and executive director of Latino & Muslim Unity says.

A reflection of her vibrant, energetic personality, she says, she dons the hijab every Ramadan as she takes her #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque initiative to local mosques in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove. The trucks serve halal meat, which has been prepared in adherence to Muslim law, alongside her latest civic mission. This Ramadan, with the primaries around the corner, her goal is to register Muslim and Latino Americans to vote. She also has a summit in the works to empower women to be financially free.

Four people stand side-by-side, with three holding up their vaccine cards and the woman in the middle holding up a handwritten sign that reads, "Ramadan. Mubarak. We got vaccinated! We hope you do too!" Three of the women in the photo are wearing hijabs and all four of them are wearing PPE face masks.

In 2021, founder and executive director of Latino & Muslim Unity Rida Hamida used the taco trucks to start a vaccine drive. | Jeanette Duran

In 2021, she used the taco trucks to start a vaccine drive. In 2019, the focus was on the Census and in 2018, voter registration was her priority.

“This is more about celebrating life and celebrating the human spirit and not how resilient we are, but how empowered we are as humans as individuals,” Hamida says about what distinguishes her movement from others. It doesn’t fight a cause but rather humanizes two marginalized, often misunderstood communities.

In 2017, Hamida was triggered with Donald Trump in the White House as president. Trump had been elected on a campaign that was rife with the anti-Muslim and anti-Latino sentiment. The campaign, she says, demonized and dehumanized the two groups so that people were in fear of them.

“Instead of making a statement of who we aren’t, we were making a statement of who we are,” Hamida says about what prompted her to start the #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque initiative. Initiatives like the Women’s March and the anti-Muslim ban protests at the airport existed but she says there was no “sense of celebration.”

Rida Hamida poses next to a lime green taco truck with a sign that reads, "Halal Tacos" across the front and a sign that reads, "#LatinoMuslimUnity" on the windshield. Rida is wearing a pink hijab and is holding up a plate of tacos.

Founder and executive director of Latino & Muslim Unity Rida Hamida poses next to the #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque taco truck that serves halal tacos. | Berania Barraza

“I wanted to create a space where we would be celebrated and we would have a sense of joy, even in that resistance,” Hamida says. This space was through food, a place where two communities in the spotlight could find common ground and break bread, or in this case break tortillas.

Hamida’s first order of business was to partner with a local halal butcher. Next, she found a taco truck on her street corner. She decided to host the first #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque event at the local masjid (mosque) because “a lot of times people are unaware that there’s a mosque in their backyard.”

Hamida sought to create an experience where neighbors could gather and bond over food. Her events did not have a formal speaker or a plan, people connected while waiting in line for free tacos.

“We learned that there was still a lot of internal Islamophobia within the Latino community, and there was a lot of internal anti-Latino rhetoric in our community,” Hamida says. “A lot of Latino Muslims are struggling in our community, and they were sharing those experiences.”

People gather around a table, holding plates of food. They are reaching below to the table to serve themselves a plate.

Attendees gather and share food at a #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque event organized by Latino & Muslim Unity. | Jeanette Duran

The experience also helped dispel some of the stereotypes of Muslims. “Muslims are not monolithic. The movement showcased Cham Muslims (Muslims from Vietnam and Cambodia) in Orange County,” Hamida says. “Muslims are not Arabs, all Arabs are not Muslims. The largest Muslim population in the country are Black Muslims. The fastest growing Muslim population in this country are Latino Muslims.”

The taco truck owner Hamida works with did not know what halal meat was and was the catalyst to conversations about Islamic dietary requirements and slaughter methods.

Muslim Americans and Latino Americans also found a shared history and other commonalities.

“From 711 to 1492, the Muslims ruled Spain and a lot of the communities forgot about that history,” she says. “Everyone was coming to celebrate each other but also to share a history and share our language.”

Arabic heavily influences the Spanish language with commonalities for some words.

A young girl reaches out to grab a plate of food amongst many that are arranged on a table. She is wearing a head scarf and a pink shirt. The plates are filled with tacos.

A young attendee picks out a plate at a #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque event organized by Latino & Muslim Unity. | Jeanette Duran

“Camisa like shirt, gato like cat and there are hundreds of words,” says Juan Galvan, author of “Latino Muslims: Our Journey to Islam.” Language was not the only cultural similarity that he found. The Latino convert saw part of the foods he grew up with when he visited the mosque.

“Something I was surprised with was going to the mosque and seeing chicken biriyani, which is chicken and rice,” Galvan says. “It’s something that my mom would make as a kid.”

Food, language and the family-first mentality were not the only similar characteristics of the two groups.

“People are really apathetic when it comes to voting, or when it comes to the census or when it comes to vaccinations, we had to be really creative and innovative,” Hamida says. She created access by bringing electoral registration, census and vaccines to a social setting and helped address some of the concerns Muslim and Latino Americans felt about their vote not mattering and vaccine hesitancy.

“They were the hardest to reach communities because it was a very privileged experience that you would know how to go online and, and put yourself through this system,” she says about the vaccine barriers some of the people she serves had.

Two young girls hold up yellow signs that read: "#LatinoMuslimUnity. We are all in this together. We have to defend one another." They smile at the camera while they hold up the signs.

Attendees hold up signs at a #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque event organized by Latino & Muslim Unity. | Jeanette Duran

The #TacoTrucksInEveryMosque initiative is simple but effective. Around 40,000 people have been registered to vote through her campaigns and approximately 12,000 people got the COVID-19 shot.

“The reality of Orange County is that we are the real Orange County, we are the real faces of Orange County,” the Anaheim native says defiantly. Hamida spent her formative years in the former conservative bastion and through her programs has helped change some of what she calls the stereotypes of the area: that OC is Laguna Beach and surfers.

“I have made an effort to use this platform to highlight a lot of the stories that I’m not speaking to, but they’re speaking to, and they’re telling their own stories,” she says about the different communities she has empowered.

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