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The Mexican Muslim 'breaking borders'

By Patrick Abboud
Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)
October 10, 2012

Unifying his Latino culture with the principles of Islam, Mark is said to be part of a new breed in the US of first generation Muslim converts "making waves". Born into a Roman Catholic Latino family he converted to Islam in his early twenties.

Mark Gonzales is quite an anomaly.

He's Mexican, Muslim, a poet and a distinguished Professor at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University. When asked what he 'does for a living' he recites in verse, "I'm a poet, I'm an innovator, I use culture to leverage social power, to heal historical trauma and shift public discourse".

Unifying his Latino culture with the principles of Islam, Mark is said to be part of a new breed in the US of first generation Muslim converts "making waves". Born into a Roman Catholic Latino family he converted to Islam in his early twenties.

"For me, the religion I was born into stopped speaking to my soul in my late teens. I started sitting with and speaking to different communities and cultures in order to have a better understanding on what road or spirituality fit my soul better. I found that in Islam", he says.

Now 37, he lectures in the power of "spoken word" at Stanford and travels the world educating on how to build stronger communities through culture.

His YouTube videos are viewed in the thousands and he frequently trends on Twitter. This performance at the first ever TEDx Ramallah event put him "on the radar", so to speak.

As a self-prescribed "border-breaker", Mark was invited to speak recently at the United Nations tribunal on Social Exclusion. His creative approaches to suicide prevention and human rights activism around the world have earned him great respect.

Described by literary scholars as a "Khalil Gibran meets Pablo Neruda", Mark also performs his spoken word art and poetry on the popular HBO Def Poetry Program.

Although it may at times be difficult to clearly define Mark Gonzales' mission, his words are having a profound effect, particularly amongst young Muslims in many corners of the world.

Mark is in Australia presenting a series of forums on what he calls "leveraging social power".

SBS video-journalist Patrick Abboud spoke with him backstage at the Sydney event.

Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) link