More than 200 Democrats of all ethnicities and religions came together Thursday night at Maverick Plaza in La Villita for an iftar, a meal that is typically served after sunset during the holy month of Ramadan, hosted by the Muslim Democratic Caucus of Texas to kick off the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention.
Caucus organizers welcomed delegates to the event with words of friendship and unity amidst the tense political climate in the lead-up to the November election.
Attendees celebrated with traditional Middle Eastern music, food, and the adhan, an Islamic call to prayer.
“(The Muslim community is) aligned with the Democratic Party because we feel that the Democratic Party is more inclusive than any other party,” Caucus President Emad Salem told the Rivard Report Thursday. “The Democratic Party is welcoming all of the minorities who have been marginalized in this society…and we want to bring our voters.”
Salem said he hopes to see a number of issues included in the Democratic National Convention (DNC) platform, such as raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, stimulating high-quality job growth, and the recognition of Palestine as a state.
“We’re faced with a situation today, all of us, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, at least not in America. Things like what are happening today in this election other people have experienced in other parts of the world where dictators have taken control using the same kind of hateful rhetoric that you’ve been hearing in this election,” Hinojosa said.
“Frankly, it saddens my heart that in the year 2016 that conversation is still going on. It does. It saddens my heart because I thought that we as Americans were so much further away from that than anybody could imagine, that we had passed that period of hateful conduct many years ago, that we had gotten to a new level in human relations.”
Hinojosa said that despite the fear and hate that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has spread, he is heartened by the country’s increasing diversity.
“I think that we all agree that one thing (Trump) has done for us as democrats, as people from different ethnic backgrounds and religions and cultures, is that it has brought us together. It has brought us together in a way that I didn’t think we could be so close as we are today,” Hinojosa said. “What (he) has done is made sure that we recognize that the only way we can move forward (and feel) the richness of this great country for each and every one of us and for our families, is to fight that evilness, right?”
Hinojosa closed his remarks with cheers of “Turn Texas blue” from the audience in the background.
Syed Fayyaz Hassan, co-chair of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus and an at-large candidate for the DNC, welcomed everyone to the event. He also addressed the recent tragedy in Orlando, Fla. where 49 people were killed in mass shooting at a gay nightclub.
“I want to observe a moment of silence for our brothers and sisters in Orlando and for the lives lost,” Hassan said.
After the moment of silence, Hassan said that there were two Muslim people in the news last week, but one was known for his extreme love and passion, while the other will be known for his extreme violence and hate.
“One was Muhammad Ali and one was the Orlando shooter. But I would not call the Orlando shooter a Muslim. When people think of Muslims, I want the legacy to be (that) of Muhammad Ali. He worked his whole life for the betterment of society,” Hassan said. “We’d like to have a positive impact, so tonight our theme is, ‘I am a Muslim, I am an American, I vote,’ just like the sign behind me says.’”
The speeches paused while people ate traditional Pakistani food such as basmati rice, chapati and samosas.
Casey Edwards, a gay, first-year delegate, said that the music and festivities attracted him to the Muslim Caucus event.
“I believe in supporting Muslim Americans. It’s about raising the party up. Nobody can be marginalized anymore (in order) for the party to move forward,” Edwards said. “I believe in the good that Muslim culture brings to our country. We’re all in it together. See how there are white, black, Christian, and Muslim (people) here? We have to respect everyone’s heritage.”
Many candidates for elected office and the National Convention echoed that the U.S. is stronger united than divided, and that the Democratic Party will play a key role in shaping the country’s future.
“Texas is a blue state and Texas is a Democrat state,” Hassan said. “We just need to claim it.”
*Top image: Musicians play traditional Middle Eastern instruments at the Muslim Democratic Caucus of Texas iftar Thursday night at Maverick Plaza in La Villita. Photo by Sarah Talaat.