by Mariana Aguilera, @demureista
Ricky Martin got it right when he sang 'Livin' La Vida Loca', that translates to 'Living The Crazy Life'. If you are the type of person with a taste for the acquired, I'm your mix! I have everything society deems to be struggling with; I am a woman, all my pants leave a gap somewhere, Latina and to top it off, I converted to Islam and was born and raised in America. A new class to society's already stressed life! I feel a bit unease about using the word 'happily' but truly, I do feel a pleasure and empowered with all my life decisions as those three parts of my personality characteristics--even the painful wrong decisions. I despise pity on my fights and my faith is not to be pimped-out--it is something I appreciate in a form of privacy with some permission when making a point like in this post. Anyways, this morning as my usual, I go through my morning waking customs and move on to reading what the world is up to--news! It happened as I was reading that I came across an article about an established model speaking out against being shamed for not being a certain size for agencies to find her work. Power to her, but not so fast! Personally I can tell you that it will never end to surprise me how creative people, whom are supposed to be considered artistic, open-minded and cultured, are very discriminatory. Heh! Not all, but many. Do you know what it is? It's just the bad human characteristics that play up--like arrogance among some! Anyways, the model goes into saying that it is a good time to be you! Is it when you have a mix like mine? or maybe yours?
This at first struck a cord and played some moments of my life. I have always fought to be me from what I can remember. I went into deep thinking and I said, easy for you to say querida! You are a light skinned girl or what some other might say a 'white girl'/Anglo. Not putting her down for her skin color, but the reality is that we live in a world where light skinned and colored eyes(flashback to my college forceful peroxide blonde hair and blue contact lenses days) are praised--basically a hell lot of racism! The next thought was, try being a woman, Latina and Muslim who wears a scarf all at the same time. Not asking for your pity--eww! But, I am want to put things into perspective with what is happening in the world today. To my advantage, I am light skinned but not enough to meet the status quo' though! I will only speak upon my own reality, because I disliked being represented by others or grouped. I believe in individuality with commonalities, but no one person can speak-up for an entire group. That's one of the first problems to start with, painting people with the same brush. So, here I am speaking for myself.
I don't have a sad story for you. My life has lots of commonalities with yours--full of ups and downs, good choices, bad choices, pain, joy, losses and gains. Living and learning! My motto! But, I think it is what we do with the experiences of life that set us apart. Do you recall your first life challenge? I was raised in a Latino household(again, even within the Latino households, some culture differs). For me, I was raised in a very traditional Mexican household and the first language I learned and is primary at my family's home is Spanish. Up to this day, I pronounced some English words oddly. When I say traditional, I mean praising and serving our men before us in one very small example. Another would be why my brothers had so much freedom growing up and when I tried to find a reason, my dad would only say, "They are boys." This was my first fight against normalizing both genders--a fight still in effect by the way! It wasn't until I converted to a Muslim(will get into that later) from a Catholic, that I learned how the level of a woman is raised(well, at least that is how it should be) and how the roles are both equal in God's eyes--music to my ears! The off balance between genders comes from us humans and our desires. Of course, things changed a whole lot at home!
The first time I felt my own difference in skin and hair color was in grade school, when I went to an all white kids school, but soon it was normalized once your friends see you for who you are instead for what you look like. Again, we were children. I recalled doing comparisons from time to time. Latino television didn't help either, always aiming for the blonde with colored eyes. It wasn't again until I was in college looking for a job in the corporate world, I would face my differences once again, this time against the stigma of Latina women being known as sexual beings and hardcore liquor drinkers. This is where I used dressing modestly as a defense mode to fight that stigma and it worked! But, I always felt like I had to work harder to prove myself by changing talking subjects from Mexico vacations, the macarena dance and tequila to current news stories. I disliked being tokenized for my culture and felt disgusted to be seen as an old white man's sexual Latina fantasy. It took a pair of years to win the fight. So, yes, it bothers me when I see Latina women over-sexualizing themselves to the point of being objects mainly because it is something I fought hard against. It bothers me that I can't even use the hashtag #Latina without looking at women over-sexualizing themselves. One can't even scroll without Instagram hiding the feed because it's against guidelines. Listen, sexuality is beautiful, but please be graceful with it, that's all! On the overall, I have been very blessed to be welcomed by my own community of Latinos and it has expanded my own scope to embrace probably the only type of women on earth that is very diverse culturally--you will see women of light skin, olive and black due to the colonization throughout Latin America. I, myself have roots from Spain, France and Germany mixing with natives that lived in Mexico before being colonized.
Just when I thought I had a grip on my life and the crazy women and cultural differences that I had to fight through and I am only giving you the condensed version, I decided to search for spirituality. After reconciling myself with my born-in faith, Catholic, something inside wanted something else(I was and still am that American that takes classes for everything and then thinks she knows everything)--so I learned and tried out different beliefs and push Islam as far as possible(yes, I was afraid and painted the 9/11 tragedy with Islam). I have always tried to consider myself fair and like to listen to all sides of a story, so I had to be fair to the religion of Islam. I read and read and read, studied and for the first time met with Muslims. Long story short, I found Muslims to be professionals like me and have lovely homes and beautiful gender balanced families, well at least the ones I met because later on I will not deny that even Muslims have social and cultural issues that deal with gender. But, as I kept learning, I couldn't walk away from something stronger calling me out and I converted to Islam and became a Muslim. All good and dandy, here I am an American Latina with a flair of arrogance and somehow privilage mind-set expecting everyone to understand and accept me--so damn wrong! If I thought I was living la vida loca, what came next was living la vida of reality!
I have been very fortunate maybe because of my own strong character and the love from my family and close friends. In the Latino culture although religion is at many times treated secondary, it is deeply embedded in the culture. So making a move to switch religion is like treason to some. I have my share of family members and their opposing views who still although our differences respect me and I respect them too--some who have decided to maintain a distance or cut ties with me due to personal beliefs or because they are in public office and do not want to be associated with a Muslim. That is perfectly understandable on my behalf, all views are to be respected in my world. The journey of experiences once I started actively embracing the lifestyle of Islam can go on forever! Mostly good, again, I really don't have a sad suffering struggle story you are yearning to hear, womp, womp! I had in my personal view, a healthy and comfortable life made possible of course through my cultural fights and other things; went to college, lovely familia, awesome leading position office job, friends from walks of life, exemplary family elders, I partied on the weekends, had facials every month, took classes from wine, violin and opera singing, traveled to my beloved Mexico and on. So for me converting to Islam, there was not so much of a character or life change since I have already been living a pretty healthy lifestyle and a lot of it already was in synced with the Islamic lifestyle, it was more about finding spirituality and a connection with God. I loved and truly enjoyed the beginning of my spiritual journey, it was exactly what I was looking for, very spiritual, so that I do have for you.
It wasn't until I fully started wearing the headscarf that a blindfold fell off my eyes and my arrogance and privilege mindset was wounded. This action allowed me to see the full-on racial, cultural and religion racism of the world through both experiences outside the Muslim and inside the Muslim community not as myself, but through assimilation of the Muslim Arab women, the Pakistani Muslim women--the two main type of women I always get judge by, well, until I start to speak that is. It opened my reality to see a glimpse into their reality as born and raised Muslims. Now, I felt I was not only trying to find my place in society, but also fighting someone else's battle of place in society through their scarf. I couldn't really understand it because again, although I had my women and cultural issues, I always found a way to get my place, but this new addition to my personality seems it will take a longer while.
One fight for me is finding people and communities to identify within the Muslim community. Arabs stick with Arabs, Pakistani with Pakistani, Black with Black leaving out Latino and White Muslim converts hanging in the wind and wondering from community to community. If you ask me, Islam promotes unity, but I am not here to preach, right? The other issue is finding the personalities and similar lifestyles I personally can relate to aside my belief. I fight it hard to relate with certain mentalities and communities, but definitely can relate somewhat to many in terms of spirituality. Although, it would be nice, I don't worry myself anymore about fitting-in to communities, I have always led a very particular lifestyle and long ago I decided to live my life as I want, those who understand, fine, those that don't, it's fine too. I find my place with people that share the same interests as me and I leave my spirituality as something private for myself. So, the only thing I bother myself is forming relationships with people let's say, I don't mind being stranded with. Another fight is the dress code! It's not just about dressing modestly for me, it is also about identifying with your clothing--everything is part of who we are. I like abayas(cloaked clothing) usually in black and although it is a very easy garment for modesty and don't mind wearing it from time to time, I can't fully relate to it because it is more cultural for me, like I can't also fully relate to saris(ok, maybe a bit, I love those rock encrusted gowns) or salwar kamiz, a South Asian cultural dress. I also can't wear a Mexican cultural dress, unfortunately, it is seen as a costume--ugh! But, I relate to separate Western pieces because I grew up with them and they say who I am; an American of Latino heritage who practices the Islamic faith. That is who I am, not a lot of people understand me, but as long as I understand myself, that is all that matters for now.
There are a few of perks as a Muslim in the outside world, like people giving you this unasked for extra nice treatment, cool! I hope you are not doing this because you think I am being mistreated(which I am not). But, there is also much discrimination due to again per my own experience not learning about the subject, that privilege American mindset that life should be for everyone as one sees it and then you got the media and our lazy minds. I can tell you stories and stories of moments that I just had to calm myself down before I snapped--like when people think I am a fake Muslim because I converted. Or at people's stares and snarky comments in both the English and Spanish language, but you know what? A person's ignorance is a fight for that person, not me(will pray for you). And, I tell myself, I used to be that arrogant sarcastic commentator; be patient! So, when someone says it's a good time to be you, I want to say: let's ask the woman wearing the headscarf, the black talk show host woman that struggled and fought too hard when she didn't have to, the corporate woman that has to fight through office politics for that equal deserved pay, the woman who needs to shop in a separate store with limited style clothing because of her size. Is it a good time to be you? 'Til next time chica!