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Orange County Activists Want To Unite Arabs And Latinos To Build Political Voting Influence

Photo credit: Erika Aguilar / KPCC

Santa Ana high school cultural ethnics and history teacher Ben Vazquez, 45, invites guests on the food tour in Little Arabia to try some of Kareem's Restaurant hummus, salad and baba ganoush.

Special Feature California Counts

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

With the California primary and elections around the corner, a pair of Orange County activists is trying to unite the region’s ethnic groups to build minority-voting blocs.

Rida Hamida, a well known Arab-American community organizer based in Anaheim has teamed up with Santa Ana high school teacher and activist Ben Vazquez to launch a project they're calling "An Adventure to Al-Andalus." One of the aims: uniting ethnic minority groups to form bases of political power.

Central Orange County is home to dense, diverse neighborhoods such as the Vietnamese neighborhood of Little Saigon and the Latino-dominated city of Santa Ana. A smaller but growing ethnic pocket is Anaheim’s Little Arabia business district along Brookhurst Street where mostly Latinos live.

To bring the groups together politically, Hamida is starting with simply having people gather together and learn about each other.

“I want them to know we are just like you. Our fight is just like yours every single day,” she said.

Through a series of public events, the project reaches back to an ancient time when Muslims ruled parts of Spain and Portugal to show the parallels between Latino and Arab culture, starting with food.

“We are trying to get communities together that don’t know each other,” said Vazquez. “We live next door; we are each other’s neighbor, so what a better way to introduce each other than through food.”

Kicking the project off, the pair gathered about three dozen people for a restaurant tour of Little Arabia in Anaheim last week. The first stop was at the Fresh Choice Marketplace grocery store where shoppers can get tortillas and naan, and roasted meat on a pit that Latinos would identify as al pastor.

As the crowd sipped on Turkish coffee, Hamida asked them how you would say “God willing” in Spanish.

“Ojalá,” a few Latinos answer.

Smiling back, Hamida said, “We say, “Inshallah.”

Activists hope that if the communities can see cultural similarities, they’ll notice common interest in policy affecting issues such as immigration and small businesses.

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio. Our coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

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