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At the Islamic Center of Santa Ana, Tacos Pave the Way for Latino-Muslim Solidarity | Lost LA | A People’s Guide to Orange County

By April 15, 2022COVID-19

A People’s Guide to Orange County” is an alternative tour guide that documents sites of oppression, resistance, struggle and transformation in Orange County, California. The following series of stories explore how the Cold War shaped Orange County in unexpected ways.

Near the Interstate 5 and squeezed in between a Holiday Inn Express and a small shopping plaza stands one of the few Cham Muslim mosques in the United States. The Cham community in Santa Ana is one of the largest in the United States, centered around a row of modest apartments on Minnie Street. Chams, an ethnic group with roots in Cambodia and Vietnam, were displaced by the U.S. War in Vietnam and Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia.

In 1979, a Christian nonprofit resettled the family of Ahmath El in Santa Ana, from their refugee camp in Thailand. El sponsored 10 other Cham families and more followed them to Orange County. In 1982, they formed the Indo-Chinese Muslim Refugee Association and the community was able to buy a condominium on Minnie Street, which they turned into a mosque and staffed with two imams.

Explore some of the spaces in Orange County shaped by the Cold War. Click on the starred map points to read more in-depth stories.

The Cham community eventually grew enough — and more Southeast Asian Muslim refugees moved to Santa Ana, a predominantly Latino city — that a full-fledged mosque was required, which led to the 2017 purchase of what is now the Islamic Center. While remaining a community resource, it has also become a site of inter-ethnic collaboration through Taco Trucks at Every Mosque, a food festival and political gathering started by activists Rida Hamida and Benjamin Vasquez to foster Latino-Muslim unity during the anti-immigrant presidential administration of Donald Trump. Now staged nationally, Taco Trucks at Every Mosque launched within the Islamic Center’s first year and has continued there every year. Hamida and Vasquez expanded its mission beyond free halal tacos to include a voter registration drive in 2020 and a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in 2021.

The Cold War displaced Latino, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian people, who now live side by side in Santa Ana and create delicious activism.

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