Storyteller: Melinda González

Dr. Melinda González, a native of Newark, New Jersey with an ancestral home in Moca, Puerto Rico, is an Afro-Indigenous scholar-activist-poet-storyteller of Puerto Rican descent. She is a socio-cultural anthropologist, focused on environmental anthropology, whose work maps how the disaster is differentially distributed across race, class, and gender, and she brings decolonial and indigenous research methods to the study of new media technologies in environmental justice studies. Melinda is also a spoken word artist and performance poet that has performed internationally over the past 15 years and has had her poetry published in various literary journals. Melinda is a revert to Islam and has been raising her Puerto Rican, Jamaican, and Trinidadian (read: Black Caribbean) 9-year-old daughter as a single parent. She loves reading stories to her daughter and has observed that few stories feature Afro-Indigenous, Black, and/or Caribbean Muslims and even less stories feature converts to Islam. This need of finding stories to share with her daughter has inspired Melinda to create her own stories based on her family’s experiences.

How will Muslim children see themselves in your stories?

“When I think of Muslim children seeing themselves in my stories, my mind immediately goes to my daughter. Over the past 9 years, I have sought stories that relate to her experience and developing personhood and often come up short with capturing the joys and challenges that she has lived through in her short life. I want to write for the Muslim child/young adult that doesn’t always fit the mold of what is envisioned when we think of Islam/Muslims.

At present, I have a series that I am considering drafting/developing. This series features an Afro-Latinx Muslim child, with brown skin, brown eyes, and curly hair, who is learning about Islam as her family make up changes. The series will consider the emotional complexities and lifestyle changes that come with divorce, parental abandonment, life with a single parent, travelling, participating in community activism, navigating remarriage, and blended families.

The reason I want to write this series is both personal and educational. The divorce rate in the Muslim community in the U.S. is about 32%, with the divorce rates for all married people in the U.S. close to 50% and 37% in Canada. Yet, when I tried to find stories about these experiences for my daughter, I came up short. I have not found many texts that cover talaq/divorce, family separation/disconnection, re-marriage, and blended families. A lot of stories for Muslim children start with the assumption of a two-family home with both biological parents. Writing stories about blended families will allow Muslim children who live this experience to see a reflection of themselves. Furthermore, Soraya’s experience as an Afro-Latinx, Caribbean, Muslim daughter of a convert reflects the changing face of Islam. My stories provide an opportunity to create stories for newly converted and raised Muslim children and highlight the diversity of who they are.”

Melinda Gonzalez

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