NU Cultural Groups Host Film, Rapper

By Maria LaMagna
The Daily Northwestern
October 27, 2009

For students of both Hispanic heritage and Muslim faith, an event Tuesday unified the two worlds as several women filed into McCormick Tribune Center’s auditorium wearing traditional Muslim hijab while others chatted in Spanish and embraced.

The students were scattered around the auditorium to view “New Muslim Cool,” a documentary about Hamza Perez, a Puerto Rican rapper and former drug dealer who converted to Islam 12 years ago and turned his life around.

He said after a life of dealing drugs and experiencing violence, he converted after his friend went missing for 40 days. His friend had spent that time with Muslim religious leaders and decided to devote his life to Islam, and Perez was inspired on the spot to do the same.

During the film, the audience laughed as Perez and his brother said jokingly they spoke a blend of Arabic, Spanish and ebonics, combining to what they called “Puertoronics.” This blend of culture Perez represented was a common theme throughout the evening.

The event took place last night as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, but because of Perez’s life and the documentary’s subject matter, it was sponsored by a range of organizations: Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc., the Muslim-cultural Students Association, Latina and Latino Studies, Hispanic/Latino Student Affairs, Asian and Middle East Studies Program and American Studies all were involved.

This was the first time Lambda Theta Alpha and Muslim-cultural Students Association collaborated to plan an event. Ivette De Moya, president of Lambda Theta Alpha’s Beta Psi Chapter, said they combined to expand students’ understanding of both Muslim and Latino cultures. She added that members of the sorority knew about the documentary and thought it would be fitting for this event.

“We wanted to feature a sub-group of Latinos that’s often overlooked and we really don’t know about because there’s a big group of Latino Muslims,” the Weinberg senior said. “Then we found out (Muslim-cultural Students Association) was trying to do something similar with finding a Latino Muslim, and they jumped on board with the film.”

Weinberg senior Dulce Acosta-Licea planned the event as the vice president of external relations for Muslim- cultural Students Association, and said she felt similarly about the importance of bringing Perez to Northwestern.

“We wanted to show there’s so much more to Latinos than eating and dancing,” she said. “There’s so much diversity among Latinos and Muslims. It gets you to think, there’s so much in common between these two seemingly disparate groups of people, what is there between other minority groups and other groups in general?”

This blend of culture became apparent in various scenes throughout the documentary screening, especially when Perez’s Catholic and Puerto Rican family talked about accepting his new religion, pronouncing Muslim names and meeting his Muslim wife.

“The film basically is about someone who is ignorant and discovers their ignorance,” Perez said after the film was over. “Some people, they think they’re smart, and they’re the most dangerous people. But the people who are ignorant and then realize they are ignorant, there’s hope for them.”

After the movie, Perez opened the stage for a question-and-answer session with the audience and had a booth where he sold T-shirts, CDs, prayer beads and scarves.

He also said he was especially willing to speak at NU not only because he wanted to support the multicultural groups that planned the event, but also because of its location.

“The history of Latino studies in Chicago had a deep influence in my life, so I have a lot of love for the Latino movements that came out of Chicago,” he said.

Acosta-Licea said she had an extra interest in planning the event because she is Muslim and Mexican herself.

“It’s good for people to understand there’s so much diversity out there, because there’s so much ignorance,” she said. “And who knows? Maybe people will stop asking me if I’m half-Egyptian.”

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