II New communities

Puerto Rican Muslims in post-9/11 documentaries: authenticity, cultural identity, and communal belonging

Yamil Avivi

In his chapter, “American Muslims; 1965 to the Present,” Zain Abdullah explains that “African American, Latino and other Muslims . . . have popularized Islam in locales across the country, although they rarely receive adequate media attention. The lack of exposure for converts is obviously related to the stereotyping of Muslims as Arabs.”1 It also reflects the history of media texts that present incomplete or shortsighted images of Latino Muslims as prison converts, “bizarre” brainwashed followers, or potential radical terrorists.2 Here, I examine films about being a Latino/Puerto Rican Muslim that generate complex understandings about Latino Muslim males. In light of Abdullah’s words earlier, this chapter examines post-9/11 film representations in Jennifer Maytorena Taylor’s New Muslim Cool (2009) and Yoni Brook’s and Musa Syeed’s A Son’s Sacrifice (2007), rare films that have centered real-life portrayals - for non-Muslim and U.S. mainstream viewers - of two U.S.-born Latino Muslim males of Puerto Rican descent, Imran Uddin and Hamza Perez. While Imran is raised as a Muslim, Hamza converts at the age of 21. These two films together not only challenge the stereotype of Muslims as Arabs but also illustrate how Latino/Puerto Rican Muslim males negotiate mixed ethnic and (inter(cultural identities in their everyday lives.

In New Muslim Cool, Hamza is a U.S.-born and urban-raised Puerto Rican Muslim convert who lived a life of delinquency, drug dealing, and crime but seeks a new life after converting to Islam. In Latino and Muslim in America: Race, Religion, and the Making of a New Minority, Harold Morales writes, “New Muslim Cool focuses on Hamza Perez’s intersecting identities as a Latino and Muslim, as a father and husband, as a brother and son, and as a morally conscious individual and law abiding citizen.”3 New Muslim Cool, therefore, walks the viewer into Hamza’s life as the son of Puerto Rican parents, an anti-drug community mentor, and prison counselor who marries Rafiah Daughtry, a second-generation African American Muslim. An ambitious and recorded Puerto Rican Muslim hip hop artist, Morales adds, “Those who are introduced to Hamza Perez via New Muslim Cool learn much more about his family life and social service work than they do about his militant hip hop.”4 Rafiah and Hamza move to Pittsburg with their children (from previous marriages) and other Muslims to found a mosque there. As Chan-Malik explains, Hamza is emblematic of “.. . the realities of Islam in urban post-9/11 America that [have] begun to be more fully explored in American film and cinema.”5

One significant occurrence in this film, for example, is the raiding of the Pittsburg mosque, which resonates with the profiling of new Muslim converts as potential radical terrorists. During that scene, Hamza explains that the police warned him that he is being watched with suspicion. Later, the viewer finds out that the FBI investigated him and took away his security clearance as a prison counselor due to anti-American sentiments expressed in his Muslim-inspired hip hop music, which the film does not portray necessarily as “militant.” Therefore, the production as a whole, according to Morales, is “more widely consumable,” or safe viewing for a mainstream American audience; it does not sell militant ideas but incorporates Hamza’s experience as a U.S. Latino after 9/11. Further, according to Kelly J. Baker, “it’s hard to really not like Hamza,” overall “[t]he film provides the visual evidence of the prejudice, discrimination, and Islamophobia that Hamza and [his brother] Suliman faced . . . and the power of fear mongering and political maneuvering to harm the lives of those unfortunate enough to be targets [in urban post-9/11 America].”6

New Muslim Cool, in effect, offers a racially diverse, interconnected and everyday lived perspective of living in Islam as a Latino convert. According to Chan-Malik, the film would be a production that “is representative of Muslim Americans of all races, ethnicities, and national origins . . . articulating] and defining their identities as Americans [post 9/11] .. . and commonality within their communities but also recounting] their experiences as a community under suspicion.”7 Similarly, Baker, who used New Muslim Cool (2019) as a tool in her classroom, writes that the movie challenges the perception that Muslims are only Arab by “introducing” Latinx Muslim converts as “one of the fastest growing segments of the Muslim community.”8 Chan-Malik further describes this urban post-9/11 America as tied to an “urban cultural milieu of hip hop and spoken word” deeply connected to the plight, urban culture, and interconnectivity of people of color, including African Americans, Puerto Ricans, other Latino Muslims, and non-Muslims often living in the same neighborhoods.9 In one scene, Hamza, speaking in Spanish, shares his Islam-inspired hip hop lyrics with neighborhood gang members near the mosque in Pittsburg. Toward the second half of the film, Hamza helps organize an interfaith Muslim and Jewish poetry project that includes hip hop and spoken word to promote interfaith dialogue and connectivity. At the same time, Baker also writes how the movie eases the conflation with Islam and terrorism by offering a complex life of Hamza’s every day survival, “. . . as a Muslim, rapper, father, husband, brother, and son as well as the difficulties [and prejudices] he faces because of his religious faith.”10

In A Son’s Sacrifice, Imran is the son of a Puerto Rican Christian mother and Bangladeshi Muslim father. He lives in New York City, where he was born and raised. Imran comes of age and resides in a tight-knit urban and conservative South Asian Muslim ethnic enclave that is outside . . inner cities where mostly African American coverts and other minorities lived.”11 A Son’s Sacrifice offers a life story about a second-generation Latino/Puerto Rican and South Asian/Bangladeshi Muslim whose ethnic and cultural makeup as a mixed racial subject within the immigrant Muslim community is highly uncommon and therefore on the margins. In centering his life story, A Son’s Sacrifice creates visibility for such uncommon intermarriages between traditional immigrant Muslims and non-Muslims of different races and ethnicities. Yet among Muslims, the probability of intermarriages between Latino/a converts and Arab, Desi, and South Asian Muslims, while infrequent, are occurring more and more with the rise of post-9/11 Latino Muslim conversion. Abdullah writes, “American Muslims (referring also to U.S. immigrant Muslims) have rarely shared a life across these boundaries and have only reluctantly started to marry outside of their ethnic or racial communities.”12 The storyline for the film is Imran’s challenge in successfully taking over his father’s (Riaz Uddin) halal business, which he must manage while gaining respect among the “conservative” or “old school” tristate Arab, Desi, South Asian Muslim community/clientele for the feast of Qurbani. During the Qurbani feast, “Muslims are commanded to slaughter a goat, lamb or bull to honor the Koranic story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God.”13 Even while Imran has the college business skills and work experience (in advertising) to take his father’s immigrant business to the next level, he deeply struggles with belonging among the Muslims in his community due to being of Puerto Rican descent and not speaking Arabic. Most of his father’s community does not perceive him as a “real” Muslim, which could make him inadequate for his father’s halal business if in the end he cannot achieve respect and full membership from within the community. As his father explains in one instance in the film, “I built [my business] from nothing and my son could destroy [it] in one minute.”

This chapter brings to light these two significant representations of Latino Muslim males and puts them into conversation to consider how these protagonists overall challenge static concepts of U.S. race, ethnicity, and culture despite conservative dominant ideologies that still influence the production in certain scenes. One important similarity between Hamza and Imran is that they are both U.S.-born and of Puerto Rican origin. I address, in particular, the similarities and differences in how Hamza and Imran express their Puerto Rican subjectivity as well as their sense of cultural maintenance in their everyday lives as U.S.-born children in their surrounding communities. I argue that the depiction/centering of Imran’s and Hamza’s subjectivity as Muslim subjects overall challenges and expands discourses and representations of Muslims and Latinos/xs.14 Specifically, I compare and contrast how these film narratives package each protagonist’s life experiences with those of their mothers as bearers of cultural identity, and their everyday dealings with authenticity and interculturality that enlighten their audiences about how they navigate their Latino/Puerto Rican and Muslim identities.

In the first section of this chapter, I examine the cultural maintenance of identity through the specific ways in which their mothers and fathers shape Hamza and Imran. In the second, I analyze how the producers of these films portray Hamza and Imran around questions of (in)authenticity. In the third, I examine the role of intercultural marriage in shaping Hamza’s and Imran’s proximity to specific ethnic groups or minorities.

Mother as the bearer of Latino cultural identity

In the two films, both mothers of the protagonists are Puerto Rican and Christian. In this section, I make comparisons regarding how the protagonists’ mothers articulate their own Puerto Rican identity and whether or not their mother’s cultural identity is instructive for these men (or not) as they articulate or preserve their own Latino cultural identity. The weight of the mother’s cultural identity in each film, whether strong (Hamza’s case) or weak (Imran’s case), gives the viewer a sense of how the protagonists articulate their Puerto Rican identity in their everyday lives.

Imran’s parents met in New York City and married despite being from different religious faiths and communities, his mother Natividad is a Christian and his father a Muslim. Hamza explains, “Having a father that is Bangladeshi Muslim and a mother that’s Puerto Rican wasn’t exactly easy.” His comment alludes to how navigating these two contrasting identities could mean forfeiting one for the other. Hamza’s mother, Gladys Perez, is portrayed without a husband. We also do not know the whereabouts of Hamza’s father. The viewer can assume that the mother is Catholic and married accordingly given that one of Hamza’s aunts, Aurora Ritter, states, “We are all Catholic here.”

In Imran’s case, there is only a brief scene in which he and his mother engage with their Puerto Rican identity; however, in this film, it is virtually an act of symbolic ethnicity or dehistoricized cultural tradition with little everyday meaning and value. Imran and his mother share a moment making pasteles, traditional Puerto Rican tamales. Imran fondly recognizes this dish as a cultural Puerto Rican family pastime. He is sitting on the kitchen table beside a pile of homemade pasteles that are waiting to be cooked while listening and talking to his mother. While preparing the pasteles, she is also singing a humorous chant in Spanish about eating them “caliente” (hot) or else you’ll get a stomachache. In the scene, we see that Imran’s mother translates the chant not only for the English-only speaking viewer but possibly also for Imran, suggesting his limited ability to speak, write, and understand Spanish. It is undoubtedly an intimate exchange, involving food and laughter, unlike the pressure and stress Imran faces with his father and his father’s halal business. Imran is lively during this moment and

Puerto Rican Muslims in post-9/11 films 59 pronounces “pasteles” in what could be assumed to be his limited Puerto Rican Spanish. The production does not leave room for Imran and his mother to have a sustained discussion in Spanish, which could have provided more information regarding Imran’s Puerto Rican (linguistic) identity. Hamza, on the other hand, is shown speaking in Spanish with other family members or Spanish speaking Latinos/Puerto Ricans, suggesting an ability to build Hispanophone family and social ties. Despite this limitation, Imran may still identify as Puerto Rican/Latino, as we see in the next section. Riaz is also sitting in the kitchen; he does not add anything about the pasteles, leaving behind a rigid boundary between the Puerto Rican/Christian and Bangladeshi/Muslim ethnic identity markers of their home. In this way, the production sustains static ethnic boundaries that do not illustrate how Puerto Rican and Bangladeshi culture are mixed in Imran’s everyday life. These portrayed boundaries resonate with Imran’s remark that growing up with two differing cultural identities was not “exactly easy” as he navigated his life with his parents’ intermarriage. Further, Imran’s father’s cultural identity and legacy (his halal business) is privileged and centered in the film and reflects the couple’s decision that Imran’s cultural and religious outlook be Muslim foremost. Throughout the entire film, the mother is not given the agency to articulate anything deeply about the significance and presence of her Puerto Rican identity in her marriage and the passing on of that cultural identity to Imran. In the rest of the film, Imran’s mother is silent and literally looks on while Imran’s Muslim identity evolves and he assumes his father’s halal business. She is portrayed primarily doing household chores like cooking and laundry.

In contrast, Hamza’s mother has a pronounced matriarchal presence throughout New Muslim Cool that is deeply symbolic of his Puerto Rican and Christian identity. Unlike Imran’s mother, Gladys often expresses both the cultural difference and hesitation involved in Hamza’s decision to convert to Islam from his traditional Christian upbringing as the son of Puerto Rican parents. Imran’s mother is portrayed in a dominant patriarchal marriage in which Riaz deeply influences Imran’s cultural identity. For example, Riaz explains, “You have to show your child, who you are, where you are from, and what is your obligation to Almighty Allah.” Imran’s mother is not given the floor to make a substantial comment about her cultural identity and the impact to her son. Gladys, on the other hand, is the matriarch among her family and frequently expresses concern or a sense of foreignness regarding Hamza’s decision to convert to Islam. Gladys’ central vocalized presence throughout the film, representing her and her family and her/their Puerto Rican/Latino culture and religion, is a deep indicator that Hamza and his Muslim family will not lose ties with those cultural roots. These attitudes about maintaining their Christian/Catholic Puerto Rican upbringing are similar to those of other Latino or Latin American Muslim converts in work by Martinez Vazquez (2010) and Sandra Cuevas (2015). For example, Cuevas’s empirical study on female Maya Muslims in Chiapas,

Mexico speaks to how their “ethnic identities are redefined in relation to Islam ... [which] ... does not undermine their ethnic identities ... it is possible to be both Muslim and Maya at the same time.”'5 With Imran, we do not see any engagement with other Puerto Rican family members or friends. Thus, it is not clear just how rooted he might be in his mother’s Puerto Rican identity, which could further weaken with the present dominant patriarchal role his father plays in his life and the legacy of his father’s business.

In/ authenticity

Both protagonists face questions of authenticity from different communities, including the Latina/o, Puerto Rican, and Muslim communities. They face the burden of being “not quite,” or in an “in between” or liminal positioning within these communities. In light of this, I compare how both of these men handle their struggle with authenticity while living as Latino and Muslim subjects. In the case of Hamza, I show that even while he is in a similar liminal positioning to Imran, Hamza takes a more eased and individualized positioning by owning and authoring his mixed Puerto Rican and Muslim identity without the pressure of proving his authenticity. Early in the film, for example, Hamza and his brother discuss unashamedly in a kitchen scene their lack of linguistic proficiency or speaking of “Puerto-ronics” with broken English, Spanish, and Arabic that ultimately is a bold statement about their inauthenticity as Latino Muslim coverts and liminal positioning among three cultures. On the other hand, as explored below, Imran faces a great sense of alienation, feeling like he does not truly belong within the South Asian Muslim-majority mosque where he worships with his father or among the community at large.

In the documentary, Imran’s life and quest for authenticity are portrayed as deeply rooted with his father’s Bangladeshi and Muslim identity; yet, he also articulates his sense of identification as Puerto Rican and his resentment of his father’s community for not being accepting of his mixed ethnic identity. Imran articulates that his authenticity is questioned when he says, “When I go to the mosque, I definitely get looked at differently.” Imran faces a great sense of alienation, feeling like he does not truly belong within the South Asian Muslim-majority mosque and community. Further he explains, “The Bangladeshi community, they’re thinking that Riaz’s son can’t be Muslim, he’s half Puerto Rican. Puerto Rican people aren’t Muslim.” His statement challenges the standing dominant discourses of simplified racial, ethnic, and religious categories among South Asian, Desi, and Arab Muslims. At the same time, Imran represents Latino/x Muslims in a way that is currently sidelined in post-9/11 Latina/o convert discourses as the son of an uncommon interracial and interfaith marriage. Unlike Hamza’s eased outlook regarding his mixed ethnicity, which I examine in the second half of this section, Imran articulates an acute mestiza consciousness or hybrid awareness for being of Puerto Rican and Bangladeshi Muslim origin, dealing with

Puerto Rican Muslims in post-9/11 films 61 liminality and feeling as not belonging amidst the patriarchy of his father’s Arab, Desi, and South Asian Muslim peers/clients.

Some work on Latinas converting to Islam is also relevant to understanding Latino Muslim men, Imran and Hamza. In their compelling chapter, “Double-Edged Marginality and Agency: Latina Conversion to Islam,” Yesenia King and Michael P. Perez point out that Latina Muslims offer a contemporary example of women at the border, or “at the edge of patriarchal and colonial hegemony,”16 and draw from Gloria Anzaldua’s borderland theory, including her concept of “mestiza consciousness,” which Elena Aviles refers to as . a path [between borders] of hybridization of thought.”17 King and Perez posit that these women live “. . . at the margins of U.S. dominant society, Latina/o communities, and Arab-and South Asian-dominant Muslim collectivities . . . that create alternative identities,” invoking mestiza consciousness in them.18 Homi Bhabha describes such subjects living in a third space in which they articulate their hybrid, transnational, and intersectional experiences amidst what Kaplan and Grewal term “scattered hegemony” or “... multiple systems of power intersect and come to bear on social actors.”19 That is, in the case of Latino/a Muslims, they navigate the “multiple systems of power” among global, nationalist, and ethnic contexts. These alternative identities not only add new meanings to Latinidad but are also transcultural identities that challenge dominant notions of Latinidad.

While the authors above are writing specifically about Latina women, mestiza consciousness could also be applied to men’s experiences, including Imran’s and Hamza’s, and how their male subjectivity and sexuality are impacted by patriarchal domination of multiple communities. Imran says, “Why do [South Asian Muslims] look at me [my mixed Bangladeshi and Puerto Rican heritage] as being different? What’s the objection? What’s wrong? Why is it strange to them?” The use of “different,” “objection,” “wrong,” and “strange” describes Imran’s sense of inauthenticity in the Muslim community’s heteropatriarchy, which is tied to his maleness and sexuality being questioned or unwelcomed for not being “Muslim enough.” Importantly, among his Muslim community, his inauthentic status marks him first as an undesirable candidate to be a husband and son-in-law within the Bangladeshi patriarchy, which therefore queers him with an unfamiliar gender and sexuality as a heterosexual male figure of Puerto Rican origin. In an article, written about eight years after the release of the documentary and passing of Imran’s father, Mallory Moench writes that he is perceived as “unconventional candidate” because “his mother is Puerto Rican, he doesn’t speak his father’s native language, and he married a woman of Norwegian descent.”20 His questions are challenges to this South Asian patriarchy viewing his Puerto Rican identity as different, undesirable, and ultimately queered by defending his mixed cultural identity and expanding -from his lived subjectivity - simplified notions of what counts as an authentic Muslim.

However, the overall failure to genuinely center Imran’s sense of belonging among the Puerto Rican community indicates the production’s amnesia regarding his Puerto Rican identity. In another moment Imran explains, “It pushed me away from that community for a while.” “It” in this sentence is synonymous with “their rejection of me being Puerto Rican.” Further, Imran clearly establishes here an actual occasion when he left (“pushed me away ... for a while”) that community. Imran does not specify the timing or length of his departure from that community or where he went. Did he seek belonging with the Puerto Rican community? Did he consider converting to Christianity? These kinds of questions are left unanswered in Imran’s journey of authenticity centered within the Arab, Desi, and South Asian Muslim community.

Instead, the documentary spends time on Imran’s American consumer identity, highlighted by his hobby of collecting Star Wars and Lord of the Rings action figures now that he can afford it, because as a child his parents did not have the money to buy them for him. He says, “I felt this urge to complete my childhood as an adult since we didn’t have the money to buy all that stuff when I was a kid. So I buy it now.” However, this development in A Son’s Sacrifice resonates with the documentary’s emphasis on Imran’s South Asian Muslim identity, which according to Abdullah, points to economic and social mobility achievement that moves these immigrants and their children away from urban Latino and African American Muslims and non-Muslims.21 In other words, the focus on Imran’s consumer identity also suggests how the production is influenced by conservative white supremacist ideologies and avoids portraying Imran’s possible deep cultural and political relationality with less-privileged urban Puerto Ricans and African American Muslims and non-Muslims and their (potentially oppositional) grassroots activism, organizing and community empowerment through hip hop and spoken word literary and cultural production.22 Ultimately, the production focuses on the mobilized college educated Imran as one who can relate and assimilate to mainstream consumerism and having virtually no ties to lesser privileged urban Latinos and African Americans unlike the way Hamza and his brother have them.

Toward the second half of the film, the storyline celebrates Imran achieving belonging among his father’s Muslim community. In one symbolic, lifechanging moment, Imran had to slaughter lambs on a day when the butcher grew ill and could no longer continue. When Imran assumes and efficiently performs the role of slaughterer, Riaz says on the screen, “My son to slaughter [the lamb]. I’m shocked. Inside of me I was crying. The Muslim brothers and sisters, they trusted him.” Riaz’s reaction indicates that this moment is symbolic of Imran achieving respect among his father’s Muslim community and clientele. By the end of the film, the viewer sees his relationship with the community change as slaughtering multiple lambs ensures his insider status. We see screen images of a client taking a picture of Imran and engaging with other community fathers, husbands, and children as a dependable

Muslim and halal business owner. In a voiceover, Imran’s voice is heard saying, “The ones who gave me funny looks and what not and now all of a sudden they’re depending upon me; they’re coming to me now.” No longer perceived as “not Muslim enough,” Imran wins not only membership but also leadership and even successfully defends his queered sexuality among the Muslim community/clientele, which now re-centers the community’s heteropatriarchy that had sidelined his Puerto Rican subjectivity. Meonch’s article raises years later how mosque leaders heavily value Imran’s leadership as crucial to the survival of the local community after his father’s death despite being an “unconventional candidate.”23 The chapter suggests this Muslim leadership leaning less conservatively than how the film portrays it. Yet his mestiza consciousness of his lived Puerto Rican subjectivity still remains foreign and at the margins among the patriarchy of Arab, Desi, and South Asian Muslim men.

While Imran voices the pressures of being inauthentic in the film yet defends his Puerto Rican identity, Hamza’s sense of inauthenticity is much less stressful (if stressful at all) as a Puerto Rican, Muslim, and American male. Hamza and his brother Sulieman explain in one scene in a lighthearted gesture, “We don’t speak English well, Spanish or Arabic . . . welcome to Puertoronics [or Puerto Rican Ebonics, referring to different hybrid languages and their nonstandard grammars].” Like Hamza, Imran is also fluent neither in Spanish nor in Arabic, which further casts both of them as inauthentic in dominant Arab speaking immigrant Muslim and Hispanophone communities. Hamza faces a particular battle that U.S. Latinos face in a Hispanophobic culture. According to Morales, all Latinas/os, despite being U.S.-born, are “subjected to stereotypes of Latinos as undesired immigrants or foreigners [or with cultural or diasporic excess to white or Judeo Christian American mainstream culture and citizenship].”24 A Harlem Muslim radio host, Imam Talib, in New Muslim Cool lists for Hamza in a live interview all the markers that make him culturally undesirable together as a racially brown hybrid subject within the U.S.: “You’re Muslim, You’re American, You’re Puerto Rican, you’re from the hood, you’re an artist, you’re a rapper [with potential radical ideologies] . .. sounds like America’s worst nightmare.” In contrast, Imran’s downplayed (and forgotten) Puerto Rican/Latino identity in this film, his education and professional career in advertising among whites (shown in the opening of the film) along with his consumer American mainstream identity (collecting Star Wars and Lord of the Rings action figures as explored earlier), actually makes him more relatable to white mainstream American identity and less undesirable than marked Latinos like Hamza, who is trying to (im)prove himself as a good citizen after a life of delinquency.25

Yet Hamza uses his music to articulate his Puerto Rican, Muslim, and American identities in ways that, according to Ramadan-Santiago, suggests an unapologetic and determined “creative work of self-making” through music and culture that “. . . reexamin[es] and reconstructs] what it means to be Puerto Rican and Muslim” despite achieving authenticity or not.26 Further, according to Ramadan-Santiago, Hamza is part of a global umma hip hop phenomena that not only imagines their self-made identities outside state boxes but also, . creates a [translocal] identity and therefore a community for themselves within which this identity fits.”27 For example, in a segment where Hamza and his brother as the “Mujahideen Team” are going to perform before an NYC/Harlem crowd, Hamza and Suleiman describe themselves as “matcheteros” or “machete handlers,” which invokes a diasporic dimension as Puerto Ricans and translocal subjects. Hamza acknowledges the macheteros’ “finely crafted art” of a struggling and laboring class in the unequal socio-economic hemispheric and global system of white Judeo-Christian imperial power and racial profiling in which U.S. Muslims find themselves. The brothers go on stage with flaming machetes and sing, “We don’t care about no Patriot Act! We don’t care about surveillance! We don’t care about no FBI agents in the crowd, this is for y’all!” Morales further alludes to an interconnectivity the Mujahideen Team have with their audience by saying, “The camera cuts to several Muslims, diverse in many ways [mostly black and brown subjects], but ... all nod their heads in agreement with Hamza’s pronouncements.”28 In effect, New Muslim Cool portrays Hamza as a Latino Muslim who, while in an in-between positioning relative to different communities, is finding belonging, connectivity or making space for himself in different black and brown communities translocally and globally from his self-lived experience and perspective.

Interculturality through marriage

Imran is not married nor is there any discussion about when he plans to get married. However, in A Son’s Sacrifice, Imran is destined to marry a South Asian/Bangladeshi female Muslim when three developments are considered. First, the film’s peak arrives when Imran has no other choice but to slaughter the rest of the lambs, which insures membership for him within the community of South Asian, Desi, and Arab Muslims. Now that Imran has gained that authenticity he has yearned for, marrying someone outside his immigrant Muslim community could risk reversing the acceptance he has gained even though intermarriages between South Asian, Desi, Arab Muslims, and Latino Muslims are more possible with the emergence of Latinas converting to Islam since 9/11. Secondly, Riaz’s central role as parental figure in this film and his passing on of his business to his son suggest the great influence he will have over Imran’s selection of a spouse in an endogamous marriage. Third, as previously explored in this chapter, Imran’s mother plays a secondary role to his father, and as a cultural bearer, that is deeply symbolic of her yielding to Imran’s Muslim and Bangladeshi cultural identity. In effect, Imran’s overall limited portrayal as intercultural both in the past and present suggests that he will marry a woman within his father’s

Puerto Rican Muslims in post-9/11 films 65 ethnic community (not his mother’s) and not likely a Latina Muslim or nonMuslim. This strong possibility that Imran will marry within his Muslim community and particularly someone his father prefers is comparable to the findings in Karen Isaksen Leonard’s study Making Ethnic Choices: California Punjabi Mexicans (1992) regarding how sons of Punjabi Muslim fathers and Mexican-American mothers often dutifully married Punjabi Muslim women even abroad to please their fathers and receive full inheritance of land, businesses, and other forms of material wealth.29

In contrast to Imran’s experience, Hamza’s marriage to Rafiah in New Muslim Cool portrays an exogamous marriage and intercultural family and social life between Puerto Ricans and African Americans. In a segment before Hamza is going to get married, he is getting his haircut with a young African American barber. Hamza is giving the barber details about his wedding, first saying that it will be “a clash of civilizations,30 Latinos meeting blacks at the wedding.” Using “clash of civilizations,” Hamza explains that intercultural exchanges between Latinos and African Americans are not always culturally or racially settling. However, Hamza, who came of age in urban demographic areas with a Latino and African American majority, envisions his own wedding as an intercultural celebration. Hamza proceeds to describe an intercultural exchange between African Americans and Latinos through food in which the “Latinos will eat what the blacks bring (fried chicken and macaroni and cheese) and the blacks will eat what the Latinos bring (rice and beans).”

While Hamza’s suggestion about the exchange of food between blacks and Latinos is slightly superficial, his mother, Gladys, is portrayed as more reflective and anxious about her family’s experience with Rafiah. For example, once inside the mosque on the day of the wedding and wearing what looks to be a hijab, Gladys is portrayed uneasy, looking slightly unsettled or confused about the religious procession. Not long after, Gladys says, “[Rafiah] is like a nice girl. My family is kind of hard to accept people so it’s going to be a little bit, you know (nervous laugh). There’s a lot of stuff I don’t understand. I hope that we get along.” While Gladys affirms the challenge that she and her Catholic Puerto Rican family are facing in fully “accepting” the interracial and interfaith dynamic that Hamza has brought them, she suggests moving forward with “hope.”

The interfaith and interracial dynamic of Hamza’s and Rafiah’s marriage portrayed in this film involves different family members of Hamza’s that strengthen the family’s intercultural outlook. Both Hamza and Rafiah had children from previous marriages and now with their union, their children will enter and face their own intercultural experience especially with the arrival of their sibling (Hamza’s and Rafiah’s son). In scenes that follow, the viewer watches Rafiah and Hamza visiting Hamza’s family in two instances. In the first, it is evident that Hamza’s family is not comfortable with Hamza’s new faith and African American wife. Looks of bewilderment, silence from most of the family members and staring at Rafiah are shown. However, in the second instance, when Rafiah is just days away from giving birth, Hamza’s grandmother, Gladys Mercedes Colon, directly addresses Rafiah and says, “I want you to have the baby now.” Unlike in the first scene in which only Gladys spoke to her, the grandmother’s warm address to Rafiah in this second instance is instructional to the other family members, forging love and acceptance for this interracial and Muslim union and newborn.

Gladys’s and Hamza’s grandmother’s acceptance and hope strengthens Hamza’s and Rafiah’s intercultural dynamic with their children. However, this does not always go smoothly, especially when Islamic traditions are neither understood nor appreciated by the Catholic family. For example, one scene illustrates Gladys reacting when her granddaughter Mayla she raised from Hamza’s first marriage wears a hijab. Gladys asks rather bluntly with a nervous giggle, “Mayla, you look funny with that thing on! I have never seen her with a hijab.” Undoubtedly, this is a moment of cultural tension; Gladys articulates her slight discomfort seeing her granddaughter wearing a hijab. Hamza tells his mother, “She likes it. She wants to wear it everyday.” The daughter’s decision to wear the hijab shows how well she is adjusting to living with her biological father and stepmother in her new Muslim upbringing. In another scene, all the children are together with Hamza and Rafiah, who are asking them what name should be given to their sibling. In a voiceover Rafiah suggests that their new mixed ethnic newborn sibling will unite them and help to forge an interethnic and intercultural bond between them as African American and Latino Muslim children.


In this chapter, I have examined the ways that the representations of Imran’s and Hamza’s Latino Muslim experiences and subjectivity are amplifying dominant notions of male Latinidad through Latino/Puerto Rican Muslim male subjectivity. As documentaries, these productions offer representations that complicate sensationalist mainstream discourses of Latino Muslim identity found in post-9/11 coverage of Latino Muslim conversion. Imran, who is of Bangladeshi Muslim and Puerto Rican descent, is not even among the Latino Muslims who are identified in current discourses because of their parents’ uncommon intermarriage, yet he represents a male with this hybrid identity. In contrast, Hamza, a convert of full Puerto Rican descent, fits the long-standing prototype of the urban Latino who becomes Muslim. Comparing the stories of these two Latino Muslims opens a multiplicity of possibilities about such men’s lives and experiences that represent lived experiences of U.S. Latino Muslims whose numbers continue to grow and complicate male Latinidad and articulate their mestiza consciousness by breaking racial, ethnic, and social boundaries. The discussion in this chapter should remind producers for future representations of Latino Muslims to take their time and tell the whole story and not only part of it by considering and valuing the entire family history, cultural subjectivity, and social

Puerto Rican Muslims in post-9/11 films 67 connectivity of such men as multiethnic individuals. If in case such future film narratives only tell part of the story, this discussion reminds viewers to critically question what family, cultural, and social details the portrayals may have been left out and (ideologically) why.


  • 1 Zain Abdullah, “American Muslim in the Contemporary World,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, eds. Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 76.
  • 2 Ana Ramos-Zayas, “Delinquent Citizenship, National Performances: Raciali-zation, Surveillance and the Politics of Worthiness in Puerto Rican Chicago,” in Latinos and Citizenship: The Dilemma of Belonging, ed. Suzanne Oboler (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006); Harold Morales, Latino and Muslim in America: Race, Religion, and the Making of a New Minority (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Hjamil A. Martinez-Vasquez, Latina/o Y Musulmán: The Construction of Latina/o Identity Among Latina/o Muslims in the United States (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010).
  • 3 Morales, Latino and Muslim in America, 147.
  • 4 ibid., 148.
  • 5 Sylvia Chan-Malik, “Cultural and Literary Production of Muslim America,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, eds. Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 294.
  • 6 Kelly J. Baker, “ ‘New Muslim Cool’ as Teaching Tool,” Sacred Matters Magazine, September 8, 2016, https://sacredmattersmagazine.com/new-muslim-cool-as-teaching-tool/.
  • 7 Chan-Malik, “Cultural and Literary Production of Muslim America,” 293-294.
  • 8 Baker, “ ‘New Muslim Cool’ as Teaching Tool.”
  • 9 Chan-Malik, “Cultural and Literary Production of Muslim America,” 294-295.
  • 10 Baker, “ ‘New Muslim Cool’ as Teaching Tool.”
  • 11 Abdullah, “American Muslim in the Contemporary World,” 72-73.
  • 12 ibid., 72.
  • 13 Independent Lens, “A Son’s Sacrifice.” n.d., www.pbs.org/independentlens/sons-sacrifice/film.html. Accessed 1 June 2020.
  • 14 “Latino” refers to male heterosexual subjectivity for this essay; “Latinx” represents subjectivities that fall outside conventional understandings of being Latino or Latina. In the case of Hamza and Imran, the fact that their hybrid and mixed ethnic subjectivities as Latino Muslim subjects fall outside dominant understandings of a Christian/Catholic Latino, Latinx represents a cultural excess to those dominant understandings. Secondly, Latinx also represents queered genders and sexualities. Specifically in Imran’s case, I explore how his maleness is queered given his in-between positioning within different communities as a Bangladeshi/ Puerto Rican Muslim.
  • 15 Sandra Cañas Cuevas, “The Politics of Conversion to Islam in Southern Mexico,” in Islam in the Americas, ed. Aisha Khan (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015), 166.
  • 16 Yesenia King and Michael P. Perez, “Double-Edged Marginality and Agency: Latina Conversion to Islam,” in Crescent Over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, The Caribbean, and Latino USA, eds. Maria del Mar Logroña, Paulo G. Pinto, and John Tofik Karam (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2015), 308.
  • 17 Elena Aviles, “Reading Latinx and LGBTQ+ Perspectives: Maya Christina Gonzalez and Equity Minded Models at Play,” The Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe 33, no. 4 (2017): 41.
  • 18 King and Perez, “Double-Edged Marginality and Agency,” 308-309.
  • 19 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994); and Caren Kaplan and Inderpal Grewal, eds., Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994); and Maylei Blackwell, “Lideres Campesinas: Nepantla Strategies and Grassroots Organizing at the Intersection of Gender and Globalization,” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 35, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 15.
  • 20 Mallory Moench, “Madani Halal: After the Founder’s Death,” Voices of NY, February 23, 2017, http://voicesofny.org/2017/02/madani-halal-preserving-tradition-after-founders-death.
  • 21 Abdullah, “American Muslim in the Contemporary World,” 72-73.
  • 22 Chan-Malik, “Cultural and Literary Production of Muslim America,” 294-295.
  • 23 Moench, “Madani Halal.”
  • 24 Morales, Latino and Muslim in America, 138.
  • 25 ibid.
  • 26 Omar Ramadan-Santiago, “Insha’Allah/Ojala: Yes Yes Y’all: Puerto Ricans (Re) examining and (Re)imagining Their Identities Through Islam and Hip Hop,” in Islam and the Americas, ed. Aisha Khan (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015), 115-138, 117.
  • 27 ibid., 121.
  • 28 Morales, Latino and Muslim in America, 140.
  • 29 Karen Isaksen Leonard, Making Ethnic Choices: California Punjabi Mexicans (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992).
  • 30 This use of “clash of civilizations” is not the same as Samuel Huntington’s definition. See Chapter 5 in Morales, Latino and Muslim in America.

Works cited

Abdullah, Zain. 2013. “American Muslim in the Contemporary World.” In The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, edited by Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi, 65-82. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aviles, Elena. 2017. “Reading Latinx and LGBTQ+ Perspectives: Maya Christina Gonzalez and Equity Minded Models at Play.” The Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingiie 33, no. 4: 34-44.

Baker, Kelly J. 2016. “‘New Muslim Cool’ as Teaching Tool.” Sacred Matters Magazine, September 8, 2016. https://sacredmattersmagazine.com/new-muslim-cool-as-teaching-tool/.

Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge.

Blackwell, Maylei. 2010. “Lideres Campesinas: Nepantla Strategies and Grassroots Organizing at the Intersection of Gender and Globalization.” Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies 35, no. 1 (Spring): 14-47.

Chan-Malik, Sylvia. 2013. “Cultural and Literary Production of Muslim America.” In The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, edited by Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi, 279-298. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cuevas, Sandra Canas. 2015. “The Politics of Conversion to Islam in Southern Mexico.” In Islam in the Americas, edited by Aisha Khan, 163-185. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Independent Lens. n.d. “A Son’s Sacrifice.” www.pbs.org/independentlens/sons sacrifice/film.html. Accessed 1 June 2020.

Kaplan, Caren and Inderpal Grewal, eds. 1994. Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

King, Yesenia and Michael P. Perez. 2015. “Double-Edged Marginality and Agency: Latina Conversion to Islam.” In Crescent Over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, The Caribbean, and Latino USA, edited by Maria del Mar Logrona, Paulo G. Pinto, and John Tofik Karam, 304-324. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Leonard, Karen Isaksen. 1992. Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Martinez-Vazquez, Hjamil A. 2010. Latina/o Y Musulmdn: The Construction of Latina/o Identity Among Latina/o Muslims in the United States. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Moench, Mallory. 2017. “Madani Halal: After the Founder’s Death.” Voices of NY, February 23, 2017. http://voicesofny.org/2017/02/madani-halal-preserving-tradition-after-founders-death/.

Morales, Harold. 2018. Latino and Muslim in America: Race, Religion, and the Making of a New Minority. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ramadan-Santiago, Omar. 2015. “Insha’Allah/Ojala: Yes Yes Y’all: Puerto Ricans (Re)examining and (Re)imagining Their Identities Through Islam and Hip Hop.” In Islam and the Americas, edited by Aisha Khan, 115-138. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Ramos-Zayas, Ana Y. 2006. “Delinquent Citizenship, National Performances: Racialization, Surveillance and the Politics of Worthiness in Puerto Rican Chicago.” In Latinos and Citizenship: The Dilemma of Belonging, edited by Suzanne Oboler, 275-300. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

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