My father comes from a long line of school teachers. After living amongst Japanese immigrants in both New Jersey and California, he learned that the top concern of many first generation Japanese parents was passing along the Japanese language to their nisei children. In 2005, he founded a small Japanese language school in Los Angeles.
Finding a venue proved to be difficult. Though the curriculum only took place on Saturdays, most LA County establishments presented him with a labyrinth of paperwork/astronomical admin fees or flat out refused to host a large group of “immigrants” on their premises. That was when he came across a full-time Islamic school in West Los Angeles. They kindly offered him a cluster of classrooms adjacent to their Prayer Room to open his school. Over a decade later, the campus is used jointly Monday thru Saturday and my father’s school has grown into a community of over 200 students.
In a society where immigrant populations are often pitted against each other through alienating rhetoric such as the “model minority,” the Muslim community in Los Angeles gracefully offered my father a helping hand. This had a profound impact on me as a young teenager, a mere four years after the 9/11 attacks and the starkly unfounded Islamaphobia that plagued the national conversation for many years to come. The same community that was demonized incessantly on cable television was also the only community that helped my father realize his dreams.
I have since been blessed with several Muslim friends. Fatimat is one of them. Her warm and welcoming personality belies her sharp wit and intelligence, which was evidently passed on to her delightfully clever daughter Amina. We met up one Saturday afternoon in her apartment in Newark and took some family portraits in the Prayer Room. The waning sun filtered in through the tapestry curtains as Fatimat and Amina kindly walked me through the modes of prayer in Islam.
There is very little I can do to repay the Muslim community in LA for offering us a space to preserve our own language and cultural practices. That being said, we are at a crucial juncture in our country’s history where minority communities can stand in solidarity or succumb yet again to inconspicuous divide-and-conquer tactics. Indeed, the longstanding relationship between my father and the Islamic school’s founder is a true testament to the fact that the former is possible.
Thank you for sharing these moments with me, Fatimat and Amina.