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 The Act of Remembering: The Reconstruction of U.S. Latina/o Identities by U.S. Latina/o Muslims H J A M I L A . M A R T Í N E Z - VÁ Z Q U E Z When communities begin to establish an identity as a group, one of the steps taken is that members of the community start to challenge the ideas and stereotypes that have been imposed on them by the dominant culture. In the case of U.S. Latinas/os, the confrontation takes place not only as they deconstruct the historical narratives that silence their story but also as they re-member those silenced voices and introduce them into a new narrative. The predicament of this process lies in the fact that the stories and voices that make it into the new narrative and identity may then become the norm, and thus leave out or even exclude other voices. The new identity becomes normative and somehow homogenized, and those whose stories did not make it into the new constructions are left out. The homogenized identity is supported by an imaginary, which guides the images, representations, and discourses that are acceptable.1 The presence of the U.S. Latina/o Muslim community in society breaks the normative aspect of U.S. Latina/o identities, and thus threatens the traditional constructs of culture and identities. Latina/o Muslims are forced to demonstrate that their religious transformation does not situate them outside of the U.S. Latina/o community. At the same time, they are also forced to prove to the Muslim community that they fit within it, even if their ethnicity is not usually recognized as part of the religious group. This in-betweenness locates U.S. Latina/o Muslims in the complex circumstance of explaining that although conversion has PAGE 127 ................. 18125$ $CH6 09-19-11 07:52:20 PS 128 兩 h j am i l a. m a r t ı́ n ez - v áz q u ez transformed them, making them different from stereotypical U.S. Latinas /os, it did not evaporate their latinidad. In other words, their new religious practices and rituals do not change their ethnicities; they do not become what traditionally and stereotypically have been considered culturally Muslim, Arab, or Middle Eastern. Since U.S. Latina/o Muslims ‘‘go back’’ and create, or retrieve, connections with the past, they speak of their conversion as part of their cultural tradition. The dis-covery of the historical consciousness of a Muslim Spain speaks to both a Muslim and Latino past. In this essay, I explore the way U.S. Latina/o Muslims address this reconstruction of identity by revisiting the historical narratives and constructing a new historical consciousness. For U.S. Latina/o Muslims, the restoration of this past is not a simple process of finding stories that one can use to prove one’s location within a tradition; it is a process of ‘‘putting together’’ pieces of a silenced past in order to re-member.2 At the same time, this act of remembering includes a historicization of culture, in which the foundations of the normative constructions of culture are challenged. The idea of a culture based on a Christian (Catholic) past is deconstructed in order to speak of contested histories and thus contested cultural identities. These contested cultural identities have a past based on contact and exchange, both peaceful and violent, and choosing only some aspects of that contact and exchange not only limits the way historical consciousness is constructed but serves as the rationale for deciding who gets left out. For example, the Christian paradigm that dominates most U.S. Latina/o cultural-identity discourses leaves out the Muslim and Jewish voices from Spain and the voices of enslaved Africans. U.S. Latina/o Muslims engage in a dis-covery to break these discourses , and this leads to the eventual reconstruction of their identities. Now, while these seem to be different projects, in fact they are simply different phases of an extensive project that entails that the convert, in community, be an engaged individual in the process. Thus, the product of constructing cultural identities (ever-changing, never fixed) is never delegated to those outside of the community seeking the construction. U.S. Latina/o Muslims begin this project even before conversion through being engaged in a search to find answers to their spiritual anomie. Finding in Islam a place where they fit, they convert, but this decision then PAGE 128...


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