Esteban Perez Cortez 0:00
Alright, good afternoon my name is Esteban Perez. It is Friday, April 19th, 2019. I am the oral
historian for this project. We are here at Augsburg University for an oral history interview with
Reies Romero. Reies, if you can introduce yourself to the recording giv... Show more
Esteban Perez Cortez 0:00
Alright, good afternoon my name is Esteban Perez. It is Friday, April 19th, 2019. I am the oral
historian for this project. We are here at Augsburg University for an oral history interview with
Reies Romero. Reies, if you can introduce yourself to the recording giving your full name and
when and where you were born.
Reies Romero 0:19
Peace. This is Reies Francisco Romero, I'm from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was born May
Esteban Perez Cortez 0:27
All right. Thank you Reies. So you're from New Mexico?
Reies Romero 0:31
Esteban Perez Cortez 0:32
Reies Romero 0:32
Esteban Perez Cortez 0:33
Do you usually say, when you introduce yourself your from New Mexico? Or do you say you're
Reies Romero 0:37
Um, I think it's, really depends who I'm talking to, but if they ask me, you know "Where were you
originally born?" You know, sometimes that's a question in -Esteban Perez Cortez 0:46
Yeah -Reies Romero 0:46
-- conversation, I always say Albuquerque, New Mexico, so. Part of my heart's there and part of
my heart is here in Minnesota.
Esteban Perez Cortez 0:55
I feel it. So what is, what is your background? What do you like, what do you usually say about
like your heritage?
Reies Romero 1:04
My background is New Mexican Chicano. New Mexico has kind of a unique position within the
Latinx diaspora of, of the Western Hemisphere. It's kind of a mix of, you know, indigenous
cultures and Mexican and Anglo, to some extent, Asian. But I mean, there's a unique mixture of
how a New Mexican identifies if that makes sense. New Mexico has a long history, of course, it
was the third to last state admitted into the union. So but, you know, when I usually identify
myself, I would say Chicano.
Esteban Perez Cortez 1:54
Reies Romero 1:55
Esteban Perez Cortez 1:56
Okay, right on, um, how impactful was your family's heritage on you, growing up, or even to this
Reies Romero 2:03
Um, very impactful. I mean, my father instilled a lot of valuable principles in me. He's passed
away now, but he was very smart in the areas of history and archaeology. I mean, that's what
he did. He studied archaeology in Guadalajara, Mexico for, for nine years. He would take me all
over New Mexico, looking for little pieces of pottery, you know, and, and, and Indian arrowheads
and, and Turquoise pieces. And, you know, the history of the, the indigenous nations in New
Mexico was very important to, to our family, and, of course, everything that comes along with
that, food, and traditionally, they were Catholics, right. So that was very important to, to my, my
Esteban Perez Cortez 3:06
Right on. So when, when did you move to Minnesota?
Reies Romero 3:12
When I was very young, so I was, I was about five years old -Esteban Perez Cortez 3:15
Reies Romero 3:16
-- Yeah. So I've been here ever since. It was kind of one of those situations where your mom
and dad got a divorce and so legal custody went to my mother.
Esteban Perez Cortez 3:27
Reies Romero 3:27
So she, for the most part raised me. But I would see my dad, you know, very often within, you
know, before, he passed away when I was 20, so I would visit him in the summertime.
Sometimes during holidays, all kinds of stuff. So -Esteban Perez Cortez 3:47
Reies Romero 3:47
-- but been here since five. Yeah.
Esteban Perez Cortez 3:50
Most of your life then?
Reies Romero 3:51
Yeah and I'm 40 almost 43. So.
Esteban Perez Cortez 3:54
Okay, not too bad. So what does, what does Minnesota mean to you and your family?
Reies Romero 4:02
I mean, it you know, it's basically just me and my mom, but Minnesota is home. I mean
Minnesota is a, another unique state in, in the Union (United States). It holds a lot of qualities, of
course, it's cold as hell, but I mean, I mean, Minnesota is, of course, another territory of
indigenous land. I mean, you have.. a uniqueness here, when regarding, it kind of depends
where you live in Minnesota. Because if you ask somebody that's from the Iron Range, or, or
somewhere else, they're going to have a different experience. So I think we, as Minnesotans
have a lot of the same experiences, but we have to differentiate them depending on where we
live. If your city dweller or you live in rural areas, so but you know, Minnesota is, it'll have my
corazon (heart in Spanish). So New Mexico's the other half. It's kind of weird, you know, apple
pie and enchiladas type thing, you know, so.
Esteban Perez Cortez 5:13
I mean, there's nothing wrong with that.
Reies Romero 5:15
I hope not.
Esteban Perez Cortez 5:16
Yeah. So what's your, what's your educational background? Where'd you go to school?
Reies Romero 5:23
I went to St. Louis Park High School (Minnesota Suburb), and then, Saint Louis Park Junior
High and then High School. It took me.. it took, I didn't go to college traditionally, right out the
bat out of high school.
Esteban Perez Cortez 5:35
Reies Romero 5:35
Okay. I didn't want to, and I, my mother couldn't afford it either. That's for sure. And it took me
until I was like 32 years old to go to college. And when I went to college, when I first went to
college, I went to St. Paul College. Because I just, you know, had recently moved to downtown
St. Paul, so, you know, why, go to MCTC(Minneapolis Community and Technical College)? Why
go to Ramsey Tech? Or, you know, Normandale (Normandale Community College), whatever -Esteban Perez Cortez 6:09
Reies Romero 6:09
-- Yeah, yeah, I mean, pick something that's close, right? So, going to St. Paul College, I really
didn't know what I wanted to be. I was like, man, you know, what am I doing here? It was really
kind of like the free money aspect of it, man they give you free money. So when you, but I, when
I got to St. Paul College, I understood, because all through my 20's I just lived off DJing and and
other extracurricular activities and some odd jobs here and there, but.. when I got to St. Paul
College, it kind of brought out a new era in myself. I found out that, wow, this is, you know, you
know, people are really becoming something through this collegiate experience. And I dove right
in with my, with no lifejacket, basically, so to speak, and try to do everything that I could on
campus. So whether that was student government or student organizations or joining this
committee or student ambassador, I mean, you name it, I did everything in the book practically
for St. Paul College. When I graduated St. Paul College, 2013, I took that same mentality, and I
brought it to Augsburg. I came to Augsburg and I took advantage of all the resources that I
could, here, you know, what I mean? You know, from the MSA (Muslim Student Association) to
ALAS (Augsburg Latin American Students) to starting my own organization Save The Kids,
Student Government, I mean, you name it, I jumped right in here. So, and I be, and I came here
studying to be a social worker and that's what I currently am, as a school social worker. So at
St. Paul College, I didn't actually know, even when I graduated, you know, there was this one
guy who came to the table there. I forgot the brothers name. He said, "You know, you should
come over and check out the social work program" I was like alright. So I did and, and one thing
led to another and that's what I decided to do with my career, with my life. So.
Esteban Perez Cortez 6:11
When did you graduate from Augsburg?
Reies Romero 6:32
Esteban Perez Cortez 7:03
Reies Romero 7:37
Esteban Perez Cortez 7:38
Alright, nice. You've been working as a social worker in St. Paul schools?
Reies Romero 8:22
Yup, for a couple years now. Yeah -Esteban Perez Cortez 8:24
You like it?
Reies Romero 8:24
-- It took me, yeah, I love it, actually. I love that I made this decision. I love being a social
worker. Most social workers are not me, though. They're, they're, they're usually middle age,
heterosexual, white women, you know? It's rarely that you have social workers that are male,
Chicano, Muslim, hip hop heads, you know all in one. I mean, it's, it's really, rare. Even in my
graduating class, it was only four, four males, right here at Augsburg out of you know, 28 of us
or something like that, so. Changing that narrative on what a social worker is, know what I'm
saying? -Esteban Perez Cortez 9:11
What they can be.
Reies Romero 9:11
-- Yeah, yeah.
Esteban Perez Cortez 9:15
So now we're going to be diving into a little bit more of the educator aspect of this -Reies Romero 9:20
Sure, let’s do it.
Esteban Perez Cortez 9:21
-- So how do you, how would you define an education?
Reies Romero 9:25
Education, in the context of this country, should empower the learner. Empowerment. It's not
just a series of.. facts and historical references or knowledge that is not beneficial to the receiver
of that education. That's what we have to move forward, is empowerment, and equality.
Diversity doesn't mean equality right? Learning about Martin on one day, and all the president's
every other day, not necessarily empowering the learner, especially if you're a person of color,
right? So education is key to understanding you know, the knowledge of self. The knowledge of
others, the knowledge of who is against you, and who's not. Right? Who can you, who is your
allies, and, and it's instilled in the, in the psyche of, of students from grade school, right? We
have this, we have a Eurocentric point of education system here in America, or what is called
America, that, can be brainwashed into your psyche, right? Through the false ideology of white
supremacy, so. You have to, you know, really differentiate between what is beneficial for you
and not, I think that's, you know, the real purpose of education. You know, so.
Esteban Perez Cortez 11:16
How would you, how would you define an educator then?
Reies Romero 11:19
Right. So an educator's someone that's truthful, that thinks outside the box that doesn't
necessarily follow textbooks that, that, that looks to, like I said that, that, that empowerment
piece, that looks to empower their students with knowledge that they can apply, that's
applicable, right? Knowledge, that you can't apply does really no good. The same concept in
Islam, too. And we'll probably get to that. But knowledge that is not applied is no good. How can
one use what the educator is giving them? How are they processing the information is the
educator, individualizing students understanding specific experiences, due to their cultural
background, their linguistic ability, all, everything should be, educators and teachers are the
heroes of the world, if they do it, right. But if they're damaging, more than hurt, you know, more
than helping, it's worse, right? Where they're just following a curriculum that was made by who
knows, right? So educators, you know, all the teachers, the teachers, at my school were white,
practically, right? White women, you know, what the hell do they know about the struggles of
African-Americans and, and Mexicans and immigrants and people from Southeast Asia? And,
and the Somali experience? I mean, they may eat Somali food, but they don't live this is
experience, right? So, educators have to, you know, really get their duckets in line.
Esteban Perez Cortez 13:09
Yeah, for sure thank you for that. Um, do you see yourself as an educator?
Reies Romero 13:14
I do, because I, you know, along with the principles of social work, right, so, social work, is
guided by principles, right, and ethics. One of those ethics is Social Justice , I'm always
advocating for social justice, you know, the, the, the right to be, you know, of the destiny of a
person, you gotta respect that, their right to determination of their, of their future, right? The
importance of human relationships as another social work as a piece, but I do consider myself
educator, because I teach hip hop history, right? And I'm always re-reading things, re-examining
things, re-understanding, re-talking to people that I get information from if like it's quotes, or
understand because along with hip hop teaching, you can get some false information in there
that someone, you know, made up, right? So you have to be very careful about where you get
your history lessons from. And you got to be kind of have to re-establish the truth all the time,
right? So and that, so with everything. I mean, you look back at, at historical references, how,
what is the validity of this, of your information that you're teaching others? I think that's very
important. You know, as an educator myself, especially when you're teaching hip hop history,
right? You don't want to just make stuff up, right? So.
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:00
It's just me absorbing a lot of this, don't worry. I kind of forgot to go over this at the beginning -Reies Romero 15:06
Oh, oh my god.
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:07
-- But so, you're Muslim, correct?
Reies Romero 15:09
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:10
Um, when, I think before you mentioned you're a convert or revert -Reies Romero 15:15
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:16
-- when did, when did that happened?
Reies Romero 15:19
It happened in November 2006.
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:21
Reies Romero 15:22
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:22
Reies Romero 15:23
So I don't know what is it, 2019 now? So, yep. I reverted to Islam in 2006. That's when I started
my journey as a Muslim.
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:33
Do you usually prefer revert over convert?
Reies Romero 15:37
I, I don't care. I mean, it's not a big deal. Convert, revert you know -Esteban Perez Cortez 15:44
I've heard both being used and sometimes people would say like, I'm a revert or some would
say you know, I'm a convert. So -Reies Romero 15:50
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:51
-- thought I would ask before I said like you know anything.
Reies Romero 15:53
I don't make a big deal about small linguistic stuff, though.
Esteban Perez Cortez 15:56
Do some people with terms like that? Sometimes?
Reies Romero 15:59
I guess I mean, you know? It, when you're using the revert term, it just really means reverting
back to your original state, of you know that, we were all created to worship the Creator. And
that's your original state. So you re, go back to that state, you know, when you accept Islam,
right, but convert or revert. Don't get hung up on the small things.
Esteban Perez Cortez 16:29
Reies Romero 16:31
Esteban Perez Cortez 16:32
Ok um, has your, has your religion changed your lifestyle?
Reies Romero 16:39
Oh, yeah. I mean, Islam is a lifestyle. It's not something that you do when you want to do it -Esteban Perez Cortez 16:45
Reies Romero 16:45
-- it's not something that, you just do on certain days, when you feel like it. There's set daily
duties. There's set daily rituals. You can't, it's 24/7, 365. There's no like, taking a break. Right?
Islam encompasses every aspect of your life. Of one's life if you, if you're a Muslim, and you're
actually observing the religion of Islam, or in Islam is called the "deen" (din) and deen translates
to religion in English, but it really means a way of life, right? So it's always at the forefront of my
lifestyle. Because you know, you really kind of shape your life, kind of around your prayers. And,
you know, your job has part of that, but you always got to figure out and you know, how you're
going to practice Islam in your specific environment and your experience. Does that make
sense? -Esteban Perez Cortez 17:55
Reies Romero 17:56
-- Yeah, so.
Esteban Perez Cortez 18:01
Was, before you converted, was Islam present in your life a lot like either in the friends you had,
or schools, you went to, anything like that? How prevalent was it?
Reies Romero 18:15
It was very prevalent, because that's how, well hip hop brought me to Islam. I'm going to say
that honestly, the first references I ever heard about Allah (God), or Muhammad or Islam, was
through rap music. It wasn't like through like, talking to the Arab store owner, or whatever it may
be, right? So the first time I ever heard the word Allah was in a song by Rakim, 1986. I was like,
who is Allah, right? "All praise is due to Allah and that's a blessing." He said in, in a verse in one
of the song.s I was like, what what, who was he talking about? So that sparked some kind of
interest. Reading auto, the autobiography of Malcolm X, is another big influence. Growing up, I
had Muslim friends you know, more so in high school, that were Muslim, but they were also
gang members too. They're also Vice Lords, you know, and Vice Lords tend t,o tend to lean
towards, you know, a version of Islam that they kind of created that kind of came from the
Nation of Islam and kind of remixed it all up, right? Most references that you hear from hip hop
music, refers to the Nation of Islam (NOI), or the Five Percent Nation, Nation of Gods and
Earths, you know, those type of things. Because the Nation of Gods and Earths been there,
since the inception of hip hop, they did security for Kool Herc, so. Hearing those type of
references, you start to wonder what this is, right? Especially as a little kid, right? Listening to
rap music at 10 years old, 1986, right? I mean, I was, really got into hip hop since 83' (1983),
and up 83'-84', I mean just dived in, as a B-Boy (Break Boy), so. You know the era that, you
know, first hip hop was about partying, and having a good time. But then, somewhere along the
line, they became conscious, where you started to have MC's (Master of Ceremonies) talk about
real struggles and knowledge and, you know, lifestyles, so. And that's kind of that,, that brought
a whole lot of people that I know, that became Muslim, to Islam, is through rap, that's through
hip hop. So that's how it started for me. And, you know, I could brothers, Zubair and Musa and,
and (Unknown) and all kinds of brothers that I grew up with, that did hip hop too, they were
rappers, graffiti artists, breakers, something. DJ's had something to do with hip hop, but also
were Muslim, right? So, some came from the Nation (NOI), some went straight into what is
known as traditional Islam or Muslims that follow the Sunnah so, yeah.
Esteban Perez Cortez 21:24
Are you, are you more of an educator or it can be both are you more, more of an educator in like
the hip hop community or in your, through the St. Paul Public schools, or is it equal with both?
Or what would you say?
Reies Romero 21:36
You know, when I joined Freedom School last year, you know, Freedom School's, is partly
funded by St. Paul Pubilc schools and the Children Defense Fund. So under that banner, you
would be an educator under SPPS (St. Paul Public Schools). But in the hip hop community, I'm
well equipped to teach, all kinds of things. History of DJ'ing, History of Hip Hop, History of
B-Boying and, you know. Know Your Rights training, because really, the elements of hip hop
are, are five there's actually around about 10 elements, but the five core elements, DJ'ing,
B-Boying, MC'ing, Graffiti and knowledge is the fifth element. Alright, so that's about education.
That's about knowing, knowing the ledge, get it? "Know-the-ledge", the "know-ledge". right? So
I'm always educating myself, getting educated myself by others, and then passing that
knowledge on. We're all educators in some capacity, right? But, formal classrooms, this can
happen in or it can happen non-traditional environments. Learning outside, learning in, learning
in the studio, you know, all kinds of things like that, so.
Esteban Perez Cortez 21:42
Um, let's see. Was your expertise ever criticized for being a convert slash revert at all?
Reies Romero 23:10
What do you mean? Like?
Esteban Perez Cortez 23:14
I don't know if this, like if this could have happened or if it didn't happen for like, if you're
educating somebody about something in Islam -Reies Romero 23:23
Esteban Perez Cortez 23:24
-- And then they knew like you just you just recently converted, was that ever challenged like oh
you know -Reies Romero 23:29
Esteban Perez Cortez 23:30
-- you're wrong.
Reies Romero 23:30
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Esteban Perez Cortez 23:32
Reies Romero 23:32
Like this, cause like, it really just happens, it happens in Minnesota, mostly with Arabs and
Somalis. Where you know, the old Somali saying "Oh, my uncle's a sheikh." you know, and or,
or what does a you know, what does a Mexican revert know about Islam, right? So, that, that
has always that happened a lot. But you have to learn too like, Islam is based off of knowledge,
I mean, is a knowledge based religion, right? And it's, it's rooted in proofs, and what is called
(Arabic) right, and proofs. You have to have proof of the rituals of Islam, the practices, what
you're doing, who is Allah, what is the historic, you know, all these things, but yeah, that does
happen. As a revert, you get all that BS, man that "you don't know nothing." You don't get
returned Salaam's. People look at you crazy. That comes with the territory. I mean, that's, that
happens now. Like me as an Islamic resource group official speaker, when I show up to like
community education speakings where I'm going to do Islam 102, 101, you know, "everything
you know, like to know about Islam and Muslims.". I go to, you know, usually it's some kind of
librarian or someone, they're leading the community education, they say "Oh, are you here for
the, for the class?" I go "No, I'm the speaker" you know? And they look at me up and down,
because I don't, in the psyche of American, you know, I should have a turban on my head, I
should have a big long beard, I should have a big long white thobe or something like that. It's
flabbergasting to them that I show up as the speaker, does that make sense? With the way I
look and, you know, and the way I dress, it's just like, they can't believe it. But there's difference
between challenging someone and then kind of like insulting them, like if you if you really want
to help someone like a revert, it happens, like even now 13 years later, like if I go into a Masjid
(Mosque), and for instance, after, its after Asr, right, which is the afternoon prayer, according to
Hanafi Fiqh which is the Fiqh that I follow, there's no prayer after Asr until the sundown prayer.
Okay, so some old guy might say, you know, "You sat down brother before you made two
Rakats of Salat" you know and "You're supposed to pray before you sit down." you know,
something like that or they want to play footsie with me and and in, in the in the prayer rows,
"You have to touch your feet." and you know, just all kinds of things happen as a revert. Like,
just yesterday I was speaking out at Masjid Hamza on Prior Lake of all places, Prior Lake,
Minnesota. And it's like a mini road trip. Right? They have a Masjid out there. And a small
Muslim community. Nice Mosque. It was a it was a church two years ago though, it went from a
church to a Masjid. And we spoke to 60 students, me and another sister from (Unknown) about
Islam and Muslims. It was but you know, some of the the high school, they were high school
students, and they were like, what, you know, what is this guy? You know, this dude. So being
challenged happens all the time as a revert. It does. Right. So, I hope that answers your
Esteban Perez Cortez 27:27
Yeah. Not like completely fishing for answers, so it can always be a short one so don't worry. So
I was looking at before this interview was looking at some criticisms based off some studies
about like Muslim students in school -Reies Romero 27:42
Esteban Perez Cortez 27:43
-- There wasn't too many for here in Minnesota. Because what I'm seeing there, there's like a
lack thereof of Islam, I mean, Muslims in Minnesota -Reies Romero 27:51
Esteban Perez Cortez 27:52
-- So thus far. But some, there were some studies, you had, like Toronto, Belgium, the UK,
about like Muslim students -Reies Romero 28:01
Esteban Perez Cortez 28:02
-- So some of the criticisms in like, the schools, you have like missing Friday prayer. Because
the teachers would always say "Oh, you know, you can't keep missing Friday, for Friday prayer,
because you're going to keep missing the same subject, you're going to keep falling behind in
that subject, you're gonna fail the test." you know? So sometimes they'd be like, they'd be the
parents, not the parents, the teachers would make a big deal that he -Reies Romero 28:25
Esteban Perez Cortez 28:25
-- tells the parents about you know, your, your student can't miss this because they keep
missing it every Friday -Reies Romero 28:32
Esteban Perez Cortez 28:32
-- But they're like, no, it's a religious thing. And a lot of the time, there's, I don't think they're
really, really willing to accommodate or they don't know how to they like, just, you know, what,
what else should we do here? Another one of the issues was like mixed athletics, you had like
swimming. And then sex education was like a big one -Reies Romero 28:51
Yeah I know, I heard that one yeah.
Esteban Perez Cortez 28:52
-- So just kind of just wanted to see, have you had any, as an educator, have you had some
exposure to kind of these issues either? In anything?
Reies Romero 29:04
So, I'm glad you asked this, because this, I was on a panel recently, I think it was a week and a
half ago, or something at the, Challenging Islamophobia conference at Metro State put on by
CAIR (Council of American-Islamic Relations) okay? And we had a panel of educators, you
know, the, the topic was "How to support Muslim students in educational system", right? So I'm
not going to speak on like, Belgium, and all the other places and stuff cause, I don't have that
experience, so. You know, when you're working with Muslim students, especially when you're in
the elementary level, which which I am K-5 (Kindergarten through 5th Grade), things like, so we
got Ramadan coming up, right? So you want to share some resources with the teachers about
what Ramadan is, right? The teachers might, you know, have their, whatever they think it is,
right? But it's good to clarify things because you don't want people that are not Muslim and
educators assuming things about Islam and Muslims, when they don't have any clarification. It's
very important, we got to take back our own narrative as Muslims, so. We, you know, I brought
up some of the, you know, fourth and fifth graders are intending to fast as best they can, even
though they're not even actually required to fast. So the requirements of fasting is puberty for
boys and menstrual cycle for girls. The fifth graders, maybe there might be someone a girl, and
that might have menstrual cycle or a boy that's reaching puberty pretty early, right? But it usually
happens when they get the junior high. So, and they want to pray too, they may not even know
how to pray, but they want to do the motions, they want to do what they can. We have to
support that. We have to understand, you can't separate Islam from the person for eight hours a
day at school. "I'm gonna go to school and I'm not going to be Muslim.", No, it doesn't work like
that fam (Family). You gotta you have to, you know, support the students in what they need and
their specific ability on what they know and according to the level of faith that they have. Does
that make sense? Because you'll have sometimes born Muslims have no idea what they're
talking about. Right? But when you get to junior high and high school, it becomes a little more
complicated and how to support Muslim students. That's what we're talking about, right? Yeah.
So when you, when you reach those ages, where, where it's obligatory for you to pray, it's
mandatory for you to pray, then it really depends on the specific person's relationship with God.
With Allah, right? Are they going to observe their prayers? Are they not? Is it too embarrassing?
Is it too, is it, it's not cool, right? To pray. You'll be made fun of. You don't want to be looked at
as the Other and things like that. I mean, there's tremendous pressure, being a Muslim in the
educational system in America, right? Especially if you're black man, especially if you're, you
know, a person of color. You know, you're already -- I remember this one brother, who
converted to Islam, he was an African American. And he went home and he told his mom, he
was a speaker, I can't, I can't remember where I saw him speak. But anyways, he said, Mom, I,
you know, converted to Islam. And he was like, and she was like, "Son, you're black already.
Don't you think you have it bad enough?" You know, you know, so like. You know, here in
Minnesota, we want to do everything we can to support our Muslim students. So in their journey
with their relationship with the Creator, you know. They can't just stop being Muslim when they
go to school, right. That hijab don't come off. I mean, it comes off, but I'm saying, you know what
I mean? They can't just take it off, you know, like, a light switch on and off, so. So doing, you
know, small things, to educate the teachers, right? And the, and the staff. The teachers aren't
the only people in the child's life. Nutritionists are in their, janitors, gym teachers, science
teachers, you know. Understanding specific experiences with Muslim students and supporting
that. It's gonna, it's a journey. Because, you know, we have this separation of church and state,
right? Can't celebrate this, you can't do that, can't wear crosses, can't wear Yamakas, can't do,
you know. It depends on, from district to district what they are allow and school to school.
So it's complex -Esteban Perez Cortez 30:05
Reies Romero 33:52
-- I hope that made sense.
Esteban Perez Cortez 34:07
Yeah, no. That definitely does, does make sense. Have you had students either in K through
five (K-5) or even like the hip hop community come up to you, due to issues of racism, and
Islamophobia in the school setting? Or personal lives?
Reies Romero 34:26
Yes, and no. And it doesn't really so happen -- Oh, man, there was a, conversation the other
day at lunch. You know, there was, I think four or five Muslim students, two Latino students,
Latinas were there. They were kind of having inter-religious conversations. But they're just, you
know, they're just kids, man, it doesn't get too complex with them, right? Where, even the
Muslim kid, right, said "Jesus is bad!". And I looked at him and I was like "Brother, where, you
know, where are you getting this from? Jesus is a prophet in Islam.". I'm thinking that's right, I'm
not telling I'm just kind of smiling at them. Like, oh, okay. You know, because they don't, they
don't know, at that point, you know, the inner workings in, and that the belief in Jesus is, is a
mandatory belief in Islam. If you don't believe in Prophet Jesus, that brings you out of the fold of
Islam, right? So, you know, this notion, you know, that little, students have, you know, K through
five, they're just going off kind of, what they've learned at home, or what they perceive as Islam,
things like that. You get older, you start to get more wisdom and integrity. And Islamophobia is
real, bro. It's a, it's a demonic machine that's fully funded by all kinds of people that'll want to
demonize Islam and Muslims. It's completely real. All right, look at, do the research on this
industry, because it is an industry, it's a business. And it's, it's funded by hundreds of millions of
dollars, okay. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on educating people, it's been
spent on demonizing people, alright? And, and whole belief systems, right, that has a 1.7 billion
adherence, like somehow they're all wrong, right? So, um, Islamophobia is something that's
damaging to not only Muslims, but everyone around us, right? Everyone here in Minnesota, in
this country, Western Hemisphere, don't matter where it is, right? I mean, you're not going to get
Islamophobia too much in Muslim countries, right? Because everyone Muslim, right? So, but it is
a serious threat to our safety here as Muslims, especially the sisters, because they're the crown
jewel of Islam, right? They are the number one sym, the hijab is the number one recognizable
symbol in Islam in the world, right? So, there's all, I mean, if you contact people like CAIR, and
who, who reports Islamophobia incidents, and it's, it could be harassing, it could be name
calling, you know. Students were being called a terrorist, girls, you know, we got to take those
reports seriously, too. Because it's, you know, the Islamophobia in schools in the form of
bullying, right? And bullying has got to be taken very seriously. So, there was that student who
killed himself, up in Osseo school district somewhere, from being bullied for being a Muslim, bro,
alright. Committed suicide, alright? So these type of things happen and we have to take them
seriously, no matter how small they are, because no matter how small that we got to have
restorative circles and restorative practices and in our school, you know. Suspending the, the,
whoever bullied someone or called someone a terrorist, ain't really going to solve the problem.
You know, why don't you go have lunch with the sister or brother, right? Get to know people.
Bind the hearts together, right. So yeah, I mean, it's very, very real, so. There was, in this, what I
mentioned before, in this Prior Lake visit, they had like four or five Muslim students in their class
that came to the Masjid. Masjid Hamza, so I was like, this is, you know, I didn't know there was
no Muslims out in Prior Lake, Minnesota, right. But do you have pockets of Muslim especially
Somalis in rural areas of Minnesota. Imagine what they go through on a daily basis. On their, on
their psyche. You know, look, stares, comments. God knows what, the city you're more
collected, right? You're more, you're more prone to critical thinking and understanding different
cultures, right? So.
Esteban Perez Cortez 39:30
We'll just kind of quickly go over how, how has your or did your cultural identity impact your
religious identity? Or, or I guess the way I want to phrase it is, has your religious identity every
impacted your social identity, either at school or at work?
Reies Romero 39:49
And that's, that's a man, you want to be here for two more hours?
Esteban Perez Cortez 39:51
How about like a quick five minute answer for each?
Reies Romero 39:54
Yeah, I mean, it's, anybody that's been, is Muslim around the world has their own culture,
whether you're African, Asian, Subcontinent, Bosnian, Japanese, they're going to have their
elements of their traditional foods, dress, clothing, language, music, that's not going to like go
anywhere, right? Unless you're, you know, there's like, no monk in Islam either like, we don't just
retreat to hills, and, you know. Islam is something that you have to do with others, right? You
have to you have to be around others for it to work, so. Me being Chicano, me being, you know,
raised by hip hop, raised by street culture, raised by single parent. I make it work. I don't really
think about who thinks if I'm Muslim or not, how good of a Muslim I am, about other people,
right? Especially, you know, if you Somali and you, you know, you look at me crazy, I could care
less, right? Or you're Arab, and you, and you think you know it all, because, you know. You
think you know what's best about Islam? You know, I don't pay attention to, I'm too old for that
bullshit. So, like, I don't need to prove anything to anyone except myself and the Creator. Does
that makes sense, so. But things will clash, you know, with what is perceived to be, you know,
Mexican culture and Islam, right? Are Mexicans, just people that drink tequila and eat tacos and
smoke marijuana and build houses and work on cars? Are we defined that way? We're not. You
can't actually define Mexicans, right? You can't define Chicano, you can't define us and put us
into some box, right? I love who I am, right. I love being Chicano. I love being from New Mexico.
And I love Islam too. There's, there's nowhere in the world that says that can't happen
simultaneously, right? So I think that's how I'd answer that man, that other people see, may see
clashes, but I don't. And I'm the receiver of this, right. I'm the one that's living this experience.
So who cares what other people think, right? Just do you. Does that make sense? -Esteban Perez Cortez 40:12
Reies Romero 40:13
-- So, you don't, I don't have to prove how Mexican I am to others, to other Mexicans or other
people of Latin diaspora, right? I don't have to prove how Muslim I am to Muslims. I'm kind of in
a unique, very unique situation. Because if you look at how Mexicans were formed, they didn't
exist 500 years ago, in the sense that we are now. We were all indigenous, right? We didn't
have a Spanish colonizer, right? And that mixing of blood between African, Spanish and
indigenous blood, is what created this diaspora we have of, of Latinos, right? Of Mexicans. It's
really, there's no other, there's no other race on earth or group of people that were shaped like
us. Chicanos as Mexicans. If you look there's nothing, nothing like this ever happened anywhere
else in the history of humankind in the world. Okay, this, this mixture is very unique, very unique,
you know what I mean? So, that's how I would answer that. There's no clash within myself, you
know what I'm saying? So.
Esteban Perez Cortez 43:57
Yeah, like I said I wasn't fishing for like a long answer. But I mean, we're kind of reaching the
end, the end of the interview from here on --
Reies Romero 44:06
Sure. I appreciate you having me man, I'm glad that you picked me.
Esteban Perez Cortez 44:10
-- No worries. So you know what, what's next for you, now that you kind of, so you graduated
already, just recently. You're working in St. Paul Public Schools -Reies Romero 44:20
Three years ago.
Esteban Perez Cortez 44:20
-- Yeah. What, what's the future looking like for you?
Reies Romero 44:25
Just keep plugging away at my career at social, my social work career, my community activism,
the organizations I'm part of, try to make a difference. Hopefully I can get married here.
Inshallah, that means God willing. I don't know who the heck is going to be listening to this, but,
get married, maybe have a kid, I don't know, there's a lot on my plate. But just keep trying to
keep busy every day. I think that's what keeps me sane, that keeps me grounded. That service
of others, the service of my community, service of betterment of this world that we live in man,
because it's, it's unbalanced. You see what I'm saying? So it's not, we always, evil never sleeps,
so neither can we. Okay --- evil never sleeps. So we, the constant battle for social change and social justice and, ending
oppression is every day, all day. It's not something that we do just at protests, or Facebook
posts, or whatever it may be. It's all around us, right? So we, I that's what I concentrate on man.
How can, you know, what am I doing to better myself in my community? Right? And my
students that I serve, they don't serve me, I serve them, right? That's what a social worker is. I
don't, I can't solve their problems, I gotta be able to facilitate how they can solve their problems
on their own. That's a, that's a social work ethic, right? Like, I don't don't have all the answers,
you do. Right? The person that I serve does. That's the right to self determination, right? And
self empowerment. So, expanding on my career in trying to master this, this social work thing,
right? Become tenured. You know, maybe, I like staying in schools though. I think I'm going to
stay in schools for a while. I think that's where I had the most impact, because there's all kinds
of social workers Esteban, you know. There's clinical, there's the ones that do policy, there's
private practice, there's mental health, there's you know, elderly, social workers, where they,
you know, they do elderly populations and things like that, so. All kinds of social workers, but I
think I fit best in schools. You know what I mean? -Esteban Perez Cortez 46:50
Reies Romero 46:50
-- because it's already F'd up anyway, so you gotta change it, you know, try and change it within
somehow, someway, so.
Esteban Perez Cortez 46:59
Okay, for sure. That's, that'll be the end of the interview. Do you have any final thoughts or
comments you'd like to say before we end?
Reies Romero 47:08
No, I just, thanks for having me and it's an honor. I'm glad you're getting out of here -Esteban Perez Cortez 47:14
Reies Romero 47:14
-- And moving on with your life. And I know, you got some great things ahead -Esteban Perez Cortez 47:16
Well it was my pleasure having you.
Reies Romero 47:18
-- and I'll support you, you know I'm saying?
Esteban Perez Cortez 47:21
Reies Romero 47:22
Transcribed by https://otter.ai