The Muslim-Latino community in California is growing, but finding a place where they may exercise their religion isn't as easy as one might think. That's why a mosque run by Cambodian refugees has become their new home.
César Domínguez, a California-born Latino who spent most of his life in Mexico, went through a lot to find a mosque.
When Domínguez converted to Islam 12 years ago, he was afraid he wouldn't be able to be an active part of the Muslim community due to the language barrier.
“The first thing I said to myself was, ‘How am I going to become part of this Muslim community if my language is Spanish, and I go to the mosque and I interact with people in English, and the language of prayer is in Arabic?” he told NBC News.
After spending years looking for classes, religious texts, or even any services offered to Muslims that were in Spanish, Domínguez found a place to call home at The Islamic Center of Santa Ana (ICSA). Now, he's the one helping others like him feel at home thanks to the Santa Ana mosque.
Not too long ago, the Cambodian refugees used a makeshift prayer space in a one-bedroom apartment and called it the Indo-Chinese Muslim Refugee Association of the United States. As the community grew over three decades, they finally got enough money to purchase an old mortuary in Santa Ana in 2016, transforming it into the ICSA two months ago.
It's there where Latinos like Domínguez have been able to experience their faith as ICSA offers Friday prayer sermons in Spanish.
Knowing the city is 78 percent Latino, the Cham Muslims who are active in the community opened up their doors to those who follow Islam but who had nowhere to practice their faith in their mother tongue. By reaching out, Issa Edah-Tally, an advisor to ICSA, said, they are also serving their neighbors.
“It’s an opportunity to serve the community that you’re located in,” she told NBC. “About 78 percent of those who live in Santa Ana are Latino, and if word spread out to that 78 percent of the population that there’s an Islamic Center here, maybe more of them will gravitate here."
Domínguez, who's now more actively involved, was the first to deliver a sermon fully in Spanish at ICSA in June. The experience, which he described as “very beautiful,” was also very personal.
“Even if you speak English and you understand the language, it’s very beautiful to be able to listen to the Friday sermon in Spanish,” he said. “Religion is such a personal experience. For some people, me included, it’s always much more enriching to explore these paths from my culture or my language.”
“It has a special effect.”
It's incredible to see people with such different backgrounds and cultures coming together in such a peaceful way. Perhaps, this story will inspire others to do the same for their neighbors across the country, especially as so many Latinos and Muslims fear for their safety and freedoms due to the current administration's policies.