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Two Cultures Meet

By Erin Uy
The Orange County Register
May 19, 2006

Latino, Muslim youths share their heritage via human relations program.

When Endy Galindo, 12, takes snapshots of her life, she photographs parked Cadillacs in her neighborhood and her younger siblings.

Her new friend, 11-year-old Mariyah Saiduddin, takes photos of herself wearing a hijab, traditional Muslim attire, and glasses.

Galindo, a Mexican-American, and Saiduddin, a Pakistani-American, lead different lives, but they recently learned that they have common interests.

"It's cool because you get to learn that everyone has a different culture and that they speak their own language," Galindo said.

Similarities are cool too, said Saiduddin, who learned that she and Galindo share a deep love for their friends and family.

Through the Latino-Muslim Exchange project, an Orange County Human Relations Commission program to link youths from different lifestyles, ethnicities and economic backgrounds, more than 60 students met Thursday to share what they learned.

Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana hosted guests from New Horizon Elementary, an Islamic school in Irvine, to celebrate a school year's worth of sharing through dialogue, art and creative writing.

The connection allows youth to gain insight of other people and recognize their own identities, said Rigo Maldonado, project director for community programs.

The exchange program has included gays and lesbians, African-Americans and some religious groups.

The commission this time around focused on Latinos and Muslims in response to the experiences the groups shared after Sept. 11. Some Hispanics whom people mistook as Middle Eastern were harassed, said Maldonado, noting that many minorities understand what it's like to be marginalized.

For many Willard students, a visit to New Horizon for an Arabic celebration in April was their first encounter with a Muslim peer, said Michael Miller, a Willard teacher.

While they discussed their differences in culture and religion, they also shared their common interests: pizza, basketball and a lot of laughing.

That's important, because Muslim-Americans are often unfavorably misrepresented by the media or generalized by people who are unfamiliar with the religion, said Dina Eletreby, school head of New Horizon.

"At the meat and heart of it, we really are the same," she said.

"I am Orange County"

By Mariyah Saiduddin; sixth-grader, New Horizon Elementary School

I am from the light brown tiles on the floor

My grandfather's colorful paintings

Hanging on the walls

The Harry Potter posters staring at me from above my bed

My noisy and annoying alarm clock

Ringing at 6:35 a.m.

I am Orange County //

I am from the barbecue full of smoky meaty smells

The pond full of red, orange, yellow and black koi fish

The waterfall's soft and soothing sound

Ringing in my ears

The crows cawing and flapping their wings from tree to tree

I am Orange County //

I am from our neighbor's black poodle

The children laughing and playing in the park

The dark skinned boy who walks to school every morning

My little laughing sister

I am Orange County //

I am from my dad telling me to go to bed

My grandmother's cooking scents

Wafting through the house

Attracting hungry mouths

My grandfather's paintbrush creating wonderful worlds

My mom studying in her room

I am Orange County //

I am from the trip to Pakistan

That taught me more Urdu

My mom teaching me about life

My teachers giving me knowledge to me

The prophets of Allah who taught me Islam

I am Orange County

Orange County Register link