A Brief History of 'Latinos' in the Nation of Islam
By David J. Muhammad
In the early 1930s Master Fard Muhammad, the supremely wise teacher of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught his student of the ultimate unity between Blacks and the native indigenous peoples of this hemisphere. This process began first with qualifying Black people through a process of re-education and civilization, undoing the damage done to them through their enslavement and free labor at the hands of White America. In the pedagogy of re-education to the ex-slaves of North America, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad planted seeds and alluded to this destiny of a new civilization in the West in the language of the Nation of Islam's "Lessons." In the answer to question #2 of the "Student Enrollment," which every member must recite before acceptance, the Indigenous and mestizo (mixed race) peoples of the Americas are referred to as the "2 million Indians" who must be added "with" the 17 million other members of the original nation, Blacks in the United States.
In "Closing the Gap," The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan gives deeper insight to the use of the term "with" in reference to the descendants of the conquered peoples of the West. "Seventeen million 'with' the two million Indians—well, if every man will go unto his own, and find refuge under his own vine and fig tree, then the question that must be asked is what is his own?... His own is Islam, the nature made by God in which He has created the human being."
How do members of the Black community view this critical aspect of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's teaching, particularly since commentators and academics have categorized the Nation of Islam as a "Black nationalist" organization? How does this relate to the rise of Islam among Latinos? Minister Farrakhan continues, "In Message To The Black Man and in the Muhammad Speaks and elsewhere, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote much on the Native American and their rise to divine prominence, along with the Black man. He did much too. For example, he placed a part of his family in Mexico. He established at least five Temples or places where his teachings were delivered in Mexico."
There are several significant events in the history of the Nation of Islam where this relationship between Blacks and the Native American and Hispanic peoples was solidified. One early account of this is the friendship of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad with Henry Almanza Sr., a Mexican living in Detroit who had married a Black American woman, Mary Almanza. Mary Almanza, along with her 10 children, had become some of the early members of Detroit's Temple #1 under Master Fard Muhammad. She became one of the first teachers in the University of Islam, even being arrested during the raids on the Temple. Her husband, who immigrated to the U.S. after the Mexican revolution, dined with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad frequently and was a great supporter of his cause, although never registering in the Temple himself.
Later on in his work, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad further demonstrated his desire for unity through his relocation to Phoenix, where he was known to frequently visit and meet with the Indigenous Nations of the region. He established diplomatic ties with the government of Peru for the importing of Whiting H&G and worked extensively with land sovereignty activist, Reies Lopez Tijerina, whom he commissioned as an emissary to the Mexican government on his behalf. His final relocation, before his departure was to a home in Mexico.
As Allah's Nation in the wilderness of North America grew, the repression and abuse from America's race struggles naturally drew Blacks and Hispanics together, with many finding refuge within the ranks of the Nation of Islam. By the 1950s many Caribbean born Latinos and Central Americans had served in the movements New York Mosque while on the West Coast a number of Mexicans became among the first Hispanics to embrace Islam. Mexican pioneers of the Nation of Islam included Brother Benjamin X Perez (Imam Benjamin Perez Mahoma) of Oakland, a friend of farmworker Activist Cesar Chavez; Minister Emanuel X Villalobos of Los Angeles who spoke during Saviour's Day 1968; and Manuel X Alva who established an outpost in Tijuana, Mexico.
The seeds of this unity planted by the Great Mahdi were now budding and coming into fruition under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his young National Representative of Caribbean parentage, Minister Louis Farrakhan. It was through the articulation of these teachings by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan that many Latinos embraced Islam, as well as impacting the Hispanic community outside of the Nation.
The first Hispanic-oriented Mosque in the United States was established by Brother Diogenes X (later Muhammad Abdullah Muhammad), under his leadership in the early 1970s. This outreach culminated in 1974 with "Black Family Day," which featured performances by Celia Cruz and Latin jazz legend, Machito, drawing over 70,000 attendees.
Today, more and more, young Latinos have found a voice against the racism and oppression experienced by their parents and themselves in Islam as taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad under the guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.