On (Ad)Venturing Into Central America

Back in February, when I was blogging about planning an “adventure where ever you are“, I had not imagined that I would be writing a blog post sharing the news of my trip to Central America. What I had in mind, at the time, were a series of trips to Western National Parks like Death Valley and Yosemite.

I was invited by Interfaith Movement For Human Integrity (IM4 Human Integrity) to participate in the People of Faith Root Causes Delegation to Central America representing the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.  I am most surprised with this unexpected and humbling development.

I am doubly humbled by all of this because first, Shura Council is a organization that represents the majority of American Muslim orgazations and Mosques in SoCal, and I am going on behalf of all these folks as their representative. Secondly, IM4HI invited me along on this very important delegation, being part of a national diverse faith organizing endeavor around migration and foreign policy.

This trip is very much in line with my desire to give my Faith, activism, and social justice a fair oppurtunity to reshape peoples perceptions about Islam and Muslims. I believe that its my individual responsibilty to set- lead- by example, putting practice what the Prophet Muhammad taught and lived. Another seed for this trip stems from last years Israeli war against the civilians of Gaza, interestingly enough.

From Gaza to Guatemala, in Solidarity

During that time, I took solace in the music of Ana Tijoux, specifically Somos Sur (read more about her incredible story, including her path back from exile here, and scroll down to listen to it). In it Tijoux, a French Chilean, collaborates with Palestinian British female rapper Shadia Mansour to deliver an electrifying machine gun fire verses on identity, struggle, and solidarity. There are indigenous Andean influences such as women dressed in traditional knit clothes dancing while Shadia is wrapping in Arabic.

ANA TIJOUX con SHADIA MANSOUR ‘SOMOS SUR’ from Aldo Guerrero T. on Vimeo.

The spirit of the song, We are South, resonated in my soul and helped me not get dragged under the depression of yet another horrible assault and battery on the body of the civilian population of Gaza being played out live, like some sick Hunger Game reality show. The song provided a place to rest on, it says to me take “strength in these verses and these rhythm” and that made it a channel for my anger and feelings of incompetence in the face of a human made disaster. It was a riotous reprieve for me last year, when it was released, and as I have been delving into the history of Central America – which is utterly depressing- I find myself going back to listen to song, like a pick-up-my-spirit sort of thing.

I don’t know, maybe I am making to much of just one song. Wave off those feelings on motivation, and still, I can’t deny that the road to Guatemala lay through Gaza because the song got me interested in the indigenous struggles of Latin America. Not just from a distance but to read articles and follow the news more intentionally. So when it came time for People of Faith opportunity to present itself, I was willing to go with it, not let any issues like money, or personal security, or the challenges of language present a barrier and deter me.

Journeying to the Land Between Two Continents

But now, a tad bit of anxiety presents itself as I am reflecting on the unique set of opportunities; I also am imagining a significant set of challenges that keep tugging at me, making me anxious, and requiring my conscious and active effort to address them.  First, there’s the region- the weather, the violence, the degree (lack) of development, and the fact that I don’t have family or friends there. Then, theres the fact that there are barriars- language and cultural foremost. And finally, theres the personal internal intellectual sorting that needs to be confronted by a trip like this.

Right, I’m being as clear as a ‘June Gloom’ morning in Southern California. Part of being vague, has to do with weaving my biases into the stories I bring back from the trip. I don’t want to dump out my soul here and not have some redeeming quality to the initial post. Nor do I want to make this post about “patting Affad on the back” to reassure him. In being vague now, I will allow myself the opportunity of sharing my experience and link the bias to it, and take all of that a step further by showing what I learned.  And maybe, I won’t learn anything, which is okay. But I want to share details at my own pace and my own terms, but briefly here is the setup:

The desire for me is to be an active, informed, citizen-traveler. This trip isn’t a vacation in exclusive resorts across Central America, its about the people. To venture into their struggle of making a living. Its also about understanding the implications of those most impacted by American- our- foreign policy, not just the beneficiaries. Its to listen to their challenges, succeses, failures, and important to relate those stories back to folks in my network. So I am reading, talking, and engaging with all of this before I get on the ground there.

The personal intellectual struggle is sigficantly challenging. I am confronted with the consequences of globalization. I believe in globalization, I always have. However, criticism of it has been an intellectual endeavor because it requires that I examine neoliberalism. Which is a sticky topic and one that I find myself deeply conflicted over.

I assume that eventually with development through trade and democracy, everyone in the underdeveloped nation will see themselves rise above the crippling poverty. This is the crux of neoliberalism within the globalization framework. But even my visits to Pakistan, where I am confronted by extreme lived poverty, won’t prepare me for the reality of this trip.  In Pakistan, I am still shielded by the presence of extended family, who are part of the middle class, from the deep poverty that grips the majority of the country.

On this trip, I will venture into the homes of people living in that abject poverty. There will not be any shields. I will have to come face to face with the internal conflict I have had over the past decade and half. The question becomes- what good is theory, when in practice there doesn’t seem to be any change?

But it all of this doesn’t deter me. I am excited about this opportunity. In particular, I was most endeared by the fact that as I spoke to folks from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, I learned that this probably is the first time anyone- where I am venturing- will be interacting with a Muslim. They will see me praying. I will be asked questions about my faith. I will get to interact with people who haven’t ever heard of Islam, which is a foreign concept to me, given the post-9/11 reality I exist in. This is truly a vicarious Dawah oppurtunity in that I am sharing a first point of contact with folks when it comes to Islam- thats some heavy stuff!

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