Adding Islam to a Latin American Identity: The Story of Mariana from NYC

Mariana Aguilera, 38, was born in New York and raised Catholic. She has always been attracted to spirituality, but she lost her faith after her mom got sick and died when Mariana was just 16: “I was 16 years old and that became a huge turning point for me in all areas of my life. I became angry with God because he took my mother. I really went through a period of just not believing in him.”

“Between 16 and 22, I was actually more angry than anything at God” she says. Years later, after graduating college and finding a job, she felt like something was missing: “I was trying to figure out what I wanted from life and the subject of God kept coming up for me. My life was becoming very repetitive, my spiritual side was lacking, and I felt myself yearning for something deeper and more meaningful.”

In 2006 she made a New Year’s resolution with a cousin to return to God. she started going to bible studies and attending a Catholic church on Sundays. “I started doing everything that I believed a Catholic person was supposed to do, but it just wasn’t enough. I started to feel dissatisfied again.”

This feeling of dissatisfaction led her to start researching other faiths. “I hit a point where I was like, What else is out there?” she says. “I started doing research online and every time I googled religion, Islam kept popping up in my searches, but I refused to look into it because in my head, at that time, es cosa del diablo, it’s evil. That was the only thing that I knew, especially after 9/11.”

Mariana decided to finally find out what the Muslim faith was all about and was surprised at how easily she connected with it. “It was just so simple and things immediately made sense to me. It was also very contradicting to the things I had heard about Islam in the media.”

“The first thing that appealed to me about Islam was how it explained death, which was a huge puzzle piece in my life because of my mom. Understanding this brought me so much healing and peace. It helped me to move forward.”

After months of research she ultimately ended up taking her shahada, or declaration of faith, when she was 27. Her family and especially her Mexican dad didn’t immediately accept her decision.

“It took a while for my dad to fully come to terms with me being Muslim. He initially thought I was cursed and would tell me things like I had the devil inside me. There were even times when he would trick me into going to places to get spiritual limpezas. It was one of the hardest things I had ever had to go through.”

Being a Muslim Latina in New York City is getting harder and harder especially with all the terrorism stuff going on around the world and the attacks that occurred on American soil. “I started noticing people giving me these hateful stares all the time. On the street, on the train, everywhere.” One time it even escalated to death threats: “I was at this pop-up shop in Tribeca for a fashion event talking to another Muslim woman who was totally covered up, when all of a sudden I hear this white man saying, ‘I would kill them all,’ referring to us. It was scary.”

Mariana looks forward to the day when people finally start to understand that Islam is not about hate or violence. It’s a faith that promotes peace and love. It’s a religion she says has motivated her to want to help others.