Halal Tacos & Civic Engagement

 jem Jebbia (she/her) is a doctoral student at Stanford University studying inter-religious labor movements in California's Central Valley. She is engaged in community-based research and the new academic field of Inter-religious Studies.  

I first heard about the #TacoTrucksatEveryMosque project (also called Latino Muslim Unity) while researching Halal food options for an interfaith event on Stanford University’s campus. In California, Halal tacos are a popular meal option for busy students. #TacoTrucksatEveryMosque was founded by Rida Hamida, the CEO of Latino & Muslim Unity, to bring together Muslims and Latinx residents at mosques for dialogue and action planning. The first event happened at the Islamic Center of Santa Ana, where participants gathered over Halal tacos and discussed how to increase civic engagement among their communities.  

This mosque was particularly important in hosting the event because it was founded by Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian Muslim refugees. These refugees are often under-represented in American Muslim communities, and the project sought to not only show diversity across religious lines but within religious communities as well. Rida and her team organized more events in California, and she helped others around the country plan similar events using her model. For me, the taco truck events are successful and important for interfaith activists to see because they consider religious, racial, gender, and citizenship status diversity, as well as employ imitable strategies- in fact, interfaith leaders at Stanford are hoping to host one when the pandemic is over. #TacoTrucksatEveryMosque names clear goals for participants- increasing voter turnout in Muslim and Latinx communities, and electing more Muslim and Latinx representatives to local, state, and federal officials.  

When the Interfaith Youth Core announced its inaugural Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation Awards for projects that would empower interfaith leaders to bridge dialogue and action for racial justice, I hoped to start a conversation with Stanford faculty, students, staff, and community members about the upcoming election and the importance of interfaith leadership in a year that continuously brings unexpected challenges. The #TacoTrucksatEveryMosque project was a perfect example of interfaith civic engagement and action for my community to see- it started local and has grown into a national movement. Not to mention, a project that builds community through food and the exploration of “American” identity matters for young leaders to consider their own positionality and identity in the spaces we occupy and offers a delicious way to do this work. 

To catalyze action on Stanford’s campus where I work as a doctoral student and staff member in the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life, we planned a film screening of Suppressed, a documentary that follows Stacey Abrams’ 2018 campaign for Georgia governor, and the terrible voter suppression that occurred. We invited a panel of interfaith activists that could speak to the importance of getting out the vote, especially in this 2020 Presidential election in the midst of a pandemic. Rida connected me to the two other panelists, Karla Estrada and Bambadjan Bamba, both influential immigration reform activists. Karla is a former undocumented immigrant and one of the many organizers that participated in the Dream Act, DACA, and CA DREAM Act mobilizations who founded UndocuTravelers, a platform that focuses on Advanced Parole (AP) for undocumented students. Bambadjan is an award-winning actor, filmmaker, and immigrant rights advocate. In 2017, Bambadjan publicly disclosed that he was a recipient of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which is in danger of being terminated to this day. The panel and film screening would take place the day before California’s online voter registration deadline, a particularly important date during an election that would see more mail-in ballots than ever before.  

That evening, Rida and Karla spoke to us from a drive-through #TacoTrucksatEveryMosque event in Santa Ana, where they served Halal tacos and helped over 100 residents register to vote. After giving the audience an update on the event, the panelists shared why they work tirelessly to get out the vote- even though two of them cannot legally vote themselves. This heartbreaking yet inspiring conversation represented the crux of the event for me- the notion each panelist shared that we truly are “each others’,” and thus, we have a duty to care and fight for each other. Karla shared honestly that voting is not the final action in the fight for racial, religious, gender, and immigration justice (among others)- but it is a way for those of us with the privilege to vote to elect leaders whom we can hold accountable. Voting also provides us a chance to advocate for progressive policies that will benefit those who cannot currently vote. Karla, Bamba, and Rida shared how they sustain themselves for a marathon, not a sprint in the fight for justice. Bamba noted that as a Christian, his own spiritual practices sustained him in his work and choosing joy whenever possible.  

Having participated in interfaith dialogue and action programs for over a decade, I admit it is still difficult to answer the first questions always posed to me: Why? What brings you to the work? What causes you to stay? The simple but honest answer is relationships. My friends do this work and I feel humbled and honored to be in the community with them. 

After completing our panel discussion and film screening, I can express another answer exemplified by Karla, Rida, and Bamba. As individual interfaith leaders, we cannot separate our religious, spiritual, or philosophical values from other aspects of our identity. This means we also cannot conceive of a just and liberated world solely through the lens of religious or spiritual equity- we have to fight for justice even when it seemingly does not directly affect us because liberation requires collective progress. Despite a form of voter suppression in which non-citizens cannot exercise the right to vote, Karla and Bamba work to progress and liberate communities that intersect with their own through voting and other mechanisms because they see the connection between the communities they inhabit and the broader potential for justice. I see this as an essential task for interfaith leaders to examine our own positionality- how do we envision “our” community as broad and wide, so we can pursue collective progress? Finding partners like Karla, Bamba, and Rida who advocate for their own communities and one another is a powerful and effective way to make progress- especially in honoring that we are “each others’.” 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.