SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- San Antonio is known as a Mexican-American city. Yet it’s also home to a small but vibrant South Asian community, including Muslims and Sikh religious followers.
Most find the Alamo City tolerant, but there’s still ethnic tension here.
On a rainy morning in his leafy San Antonio neighborhood, Tahir Khan dashes from his home over to his neighbor’s house. Kenneth Malone greets him with a smile and a handshake. But the conversation soon turns sour as the two men recount in shock the hate crime that Khan and his family experienced the previous week.
“This is shocking. My mind was not accepting these things. In this neighborhood?” Khan said. “I can’t believe it. It is very disturbing for us.”
Khan and his family have lived here for nearly 20 years. They are originally from Pakistan, but became American citizens years ago.
They are also Muslims. And they believe that is the reason their house was spray-painted with the word “Terrorists” on the Fourth of July.
Later that same day, firecrackers were set off on their doorstep. They thought someone was shooting at the house. Police have not made any arrests but are investigating it as a hate crime.
Fronteras: The Changing America Desk has joined forces with Not in Our Town documentary producers to determine how hate affects communities throughout the Southwest and what people are doing about it.
Neighbor Kenneth Malone says it’s a first.
“I can’t think of another incident of this nature in the 28 years I’ve been here,” Malone said. “And that’s why it came as such a shock.”
Malone and others hope that it was the work of ignorant teen-agers. But as far city officials are concerned, it doesn’t matter.
“In San Antonio, we just don’t accept this behavior. I don’t care who does it,” said City Councilman Reed Williams, whose district includes the neighborhood where the Khans live.
And from the law enforcement perspective, even if the culprits were pranksters, that’s still a problem. Javier Salazar is with the San Antonio Police Department.
“Youngsters don’t just start doing this type of behavior; they learn it from somewhere,” Salazar said. “So it’s certainly something we need to take seriously regardless of the age of the perpetrators.”
Salazar points out that San Antonio does not have a significant hate crime problem. He says just one was reported in 2011 and five in 2010. Statistics aside, the city’s 10,000 Muslims have come to accept that things here are ok — for the most part.
Dr. Masarrat Ali is a Muslim from India who became a U.S. citizen 20 years ago. For the last couple of years, he has become known not for medicine but for politics. In 2010, he became the first Muslim to run for statewide office in Texas history. He lost the race for state representative. Not surprising, he says, since many voters questioned his background, not his stance on key issues.
“And I have to be answering questions: Why am I running? And should I be bringing sharia to this country?” Ali said. “Am I a terrorist? Or do I know somebody who is a terrorist?”
Ravpreet Singh has little in common with Masarrat Ali.
Singh is also from India and a naturalized citizen. But this 38-year-old San Antonio realtor is not a Muslim. He’s a Sikh. Typically, Sikhs have long hair, beards and wear turbans. They are often victims of hate crimes by people who think they are Muslims. And in that sense, Singh knows the name-calling Dr. Ali heard on the campaign trail.
“People will say: ‘Hey: you terrorist, get out of my country’ or ‘You don’t belong here’ or ‘Turban head,’” Singh said.
If there is a hate crime against Muslims in San Antonio, Sarwat Husain has probably heard about it.
This Pakistani immigrant — also a long-time naturalized U.S. citizen — has become the face of the city’s Muslim community. She formed the local chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations. She says she gets frantic calls of threats and attacks on a weekly basis. Victims fear retaliation.
Just recently, she says, a 9-year-old boy was badly beaten as his older attackers shouted anti-Muslim insults.
“Things don’t get reported. I’m really sad over this,” Husain said. “I feel the more we report, the more safe we will be.”
Despite these examples of hate crimes in San Antonio, all those interviewed say that day in and day out, they live happily here. No one is planning to move. Especially not Tahir Khan’s wife, who, despite being a hate crime victim, knows where she belongs.
“This is my home. Why should I move? I’m not scared of anybody,” she said. “This is the land of freedom. Everybody enjoys their freedom. Why can’t I enjoy my freedom?”