How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Ground Zero's distant past: Before Little Syria, a burial ground for slaves


Photo by Wally Gobetz/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A plaque outside New York's Civic Center in Lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero

Earlier this week, in a post about the so-called Ground Zero mosque, I highlighted a great post from KPCC contributor Marc Haefele on the history of the Ground Zero site in Lower Manhattan, lately tied to a vociferous controversy over the planned construction of an Islamic cultural center a couple of blocks from the location of the former World Trade Center. In the post, he described the area's history a century ago as Manhattan's old Arab District, referred to then as "Little Syria."

Mother Jones has now peeled away another layer of the historical onion, pointing out that before Little Syria existed, Lower Manhattan was the place where African slaves were buried. From the story:


A different take on mosque controversy: Ground Zero site was once 'Manhattan's old Arab District'

The controversy continues to rage over the Park51 site, where an Islamic cultural center is being planned a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero in New York (where protesters, seen above, clashed yesterday). Meanwhile, smaller-town protesters have been rallying against mosques under development from Temecula to Tennessee, and a shockingly large percentage of Americans have told pollsters that they think the president of the United States is Muslim.

So in the midst of all this, it was refreshing to come across this terrific post by veteran journalist Marc Haefele, published this morning on 89.3 KPCC Off-Ramp host John Rabe's blog. Haefele, Off-Ramp's literary and cultural commentator, delves into the long-ago history of the Ground Zero site, which may surprise some given the site's more recent past and what's happening today. From the post:


Answers to some of the questions swirling around mosque controversies


Photo by HORIZON/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The interior of a mosque in Ishafan, Iran, May 2006

The Huffington Post featured an interesting Q & A yesterday with Salam Al Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which has offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Al Marayati (also a member of KPCC's regional advisory council) addresses some of the questions and fears swirling around the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" in New York and related controversies elsewhere, including in Temecula, where some residents have protested against the development of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near a Baptist church.

Among the topics he addresses: Islamic law, national security, and terrorism. From the interview:

Q: What about Sharia (Islamic law) in the U.S.?

A: If what you mean by Sharia is what is practiced in the Muslim world -- no! Many Muslims fled the Muslim world because of corrupt regimes, injustice, misogyny, and downright discourtesy...When we see stoning of women in Afghanistan or Nigeria, or child marriages in the Arabian Peninsula, that is not Sharia. It is an exploitation of Islam to oppress people, especially women.

Q: Is terrorism ever justified?

A: No. Terrorism is evil...Yet, when terrorists tape video messages from the caves of Afghanistan or the jungles of Somalia, they get free publicity in all US markets. When we condemn terrorism, it is barely recognized.


Muslim employee files complaint against Disneyland, seek to wear hijab at work


Photo by IIOC Masjid Omar AlFarouk/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Two women in hijab at a Southern California picnic, June 2008

Learning about the First Amendment as she went about applying for U.S. citizenship inspired a young Muslim woman who works at Disneyland to challenge a company policy and wear her hijab to work.

Today, Imane Boudial filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging she is not allowed to wear the traditional head scarf while on the job, according to 89.3 KPCC and other news reports. Boudial has worked at the Grand Californian Hotel's Storytellers Restaurant for more than two years. More from the KPCC story:

"As long as she's been there, she took off her hijab before she went to work because it's against Disney policy,'' said Leigh Shelton, a spokeswoman for Boudlal's union, Unite Here Local 11. "But more recently she's gone through some experiences that have enlightened her a little, and she wanted to challenge the policy because it's illegal and wrong.''

Several months ago, Boudlal, who is Arab, applied for U.S. citizenship, Shelton said, adding her lessons on the First Amendment changed the way she started thinking about the issue.


Opponents of a planned mosque protest in Temecula

If Temecula were a state, given the attention it is drawing lately, it could well be Arizona, albeit with wineries. In mid-July, the city drew clashing protesters when it adopted an anti-illegal immigration ordinance requiring businesses with more than one employee to screen workers using E-Verify, an otherwise voluntary online program provided by the federal government that allows employers to screen for immigration status and check Social Security numbers. It became the third city in the inland region, along with Lake Elsinore and Menifee, to adopt an E-verify policy as the region embraces anti-illegal immigration measures.

During a small protest that took place there this afternoon, however, the anger was not over undocumented immigrants or the rule of law, but over Muslims. In particular, those building a planned new Islamic mosque and cultural center near a Baptist church.