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Two Continents, One Message of Justice

Written by Courtney Clemente
12/17/2008

MLK scholars Danielle Harrison '09 and Jared Azuma '09 at a mosque in Rabat, Morocco

Sitting inside the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, Morocco, Ithaca’s Martin Luther King Jr. scholars were immersed in a new, exciting, and radically different culture. During this service-learning trip, we carried ourselves as the global citizens and agents for social change that we strive to be as MLK scholars.

 Yet at times culture shock set in, and we were forced to closely examine our perceptions and preconceived notions of such a different way of life. During a question and answer session with students from Mohammed V University in Rabat, one Moroccan student asked us if, as Americans, we felt any fear coming to a Muslim country. Our answer, while shameful and uncomfortable, was yes.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a culture of fear has been created in the U.S., causing even well-educated Americans to associate Muslims with terrorism. As MLK scholars, we have spent years studying the racial oppression of African-Americans, Latinos, and other racial minorities, and we were quickly forced to face our own prejudices and stereotypes when traveling in a Muslim country.

The author at La Alhambra in Granada, Spain

MLK scholars take a guided tour of a historical mosque in Rabat, Morocco.

Each January, the MLK scholars participate in an international travel trip to research issues of social justice and perform service work. Last year, we went to Granada, Spain, and then to Rabat, Morocco.

Before traveling, we prepared by participating in a course that focused on social justice and racial issues surrounding immigration from Morocco to Spain. Then each scholar chose a social justice issue to research in the countries we would visit.

We began our trip in Granada, where we focused on the history and current political and cultural situation of Moroccan immigration into Spain. While there we had the honor of listening to Esperanza Fornieles, a worker for the immigration group FUTURO, discuss politics, women’s issues, race, and immigration in Spain. We visited the Mesquita de Granada, the largest mosque in Spain, and met a Muslim man and woman who live in Granada and work at the mosque. They discussed their struggles and the prejudices they endured as Muslims in a Christian country.

MLK scholars take a guided tour of a historical mosque in Rabat, Morocco.

The author at La Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Our trip from Spain to Morocco provided us perspectives into how these different cultures merge on the issue of immigration. We were also able to compare the political and social issues we learned about in Spain and Morocco to our own society in the United States.

Many of us found similarities between the racial and economic issues raised in Moroccan immigration to Spain and Mexican immigration to the United States. Because the border to Spain is so close to Morocco many Moroccans immigrate to Spain to find work. Just as Americans struggle with the identity and cultural issues that accompany the influx of Mexican workers, Spaniards also deal with the issues that arise when a different racial, religious, and cultural group enters their country.

In the end, it’s the people we met who brought our research to life and made these international experiences enriching. A highlight of the trip for me was the chance to eat dinner in the home of a Moroccan family. Walking into the house, I was amazed by the intricate Muslim architecture and design that surrounded me. As fellow scholar Jaylene Clark ’10 and I waited to be served, we sat in a large parlor eating Moroccan cookies that are traditionally served before the meal. The main dish was eaten with our bare hands. As we ate, we attempted to chat with our six hosts, only one of whom spoke English. The kindness and hospitality with which we were welcomed transcended the language barrier between us, however, and their warm smiles communicated a sense of understanding and friendship.

Researching and studying other cultures is important, but it simply can’t compare to hearing firsthand accounts of life in Spain or Morocco. We now have a better understanding of the racial and religious struggles that Muslims face in Spain, Morocco, and even our own country. Through these travel experiences, my fellow scholars and I examined not only external prejudice but also the ways in which our own preconceived notions, especially as Americans, must be challenged. This perspective makes the world a smaller place and takes us one step closer to fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.



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