With political fear-mongering on the rise since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, members of the Palo Alto Muslim community are reaching out to their neighbors with messages of tolerance, understanding and peace.
The Second Annual Eid Festival, which celebrates a Muslim holiday tradition, will take place Saturday, Dec. 19, 1-4 p.m. It is being sponsored by American Muslim Voice (AMV) Foundation at the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, 625 Hamilton Ave. People of all faiths and cultures are welcome, said Samina Sundas, AMV Foundation's founding executive director and a Palo Alto resident.
The event will feature a Pakistani lunch, desserts from around the world, a photo booth with ethnic dress, henna decorating and music. This year, the event will also encourage people of Christian and Jewish faiths to share their own holiday traditions during a three-way panel discussion.
The event is co-sponsored by a City of Palo Alto "Know Your Neighbors" grant.
Sundas, who is a Santa Clara County Human Relations commissioner, and American Muslim Voice have sought to build relationships with non-Muslim groups and individuals through the group's "From Fear to Friendship" programs since 9/11.
"To build a beloved community, we must know our neighbors. This year we need to host this event more than ever," Sundas said.
Former Palo Alto Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who plans to go to the Eid festival, said she has attended several past From Fear to Friendship events.
"Muslim Americans are in a similar situation as Japanese Americans were in World War II. I have a lot of empathy for them. My gut instinct is we need more community interaction, especially among people who don't have Muslim American friends, just to get to know them," Kishimoto said.
For Sundas, the hateful rhetoric coming from presidential candidates like Donald Trump has been distressing after years of working to push the conversation toward more productive outcomes.
"I keep believing it will work out eventually," she said.
But when a Sacramento reporter recently asked her to make a statement regarding the recent murders by husband-and-wife extremists in San Bernardino, the implication cut deep for the gentle and soft-spoken Sundas.
"I don't know that fool (in San Bernardino). He didn't ask my permission (to represent me)" or other Muslims through his acts, she said.
"Can you tell me, when a Christian boy went into the church and killed all of those people (the June 17 massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina), did you ask all the Christians to make a statement?" she asked.
"Since the day I came to America I have served in soup kitchens; I have served on school boards and in the Stanford Hospital emergency room; I have organized for peace. I adopted this country as my home. I love this country, but I should not have to say it. I believe that my actions speak louder than my words ever could. And when (you ask me to offer an explanation) it makes me feel that you just pushed me out of being an American," she said.
But Sundas still has faith in her community and the power to change hearts and minds.
Events such as the Eid Festival "do just the opposite" of the demonizing that is translating into hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians across the nation, she said.
"Our guests saw Muslims in a very different light as loving mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles at our first Eid Festival. The event did exactly what we thought it will do. Our only weapon is to provide Muslim experience to our fellow Americans by meeting them face to face," she said.
"I wanted to share with the world how we do things here in California. We support, accept, respect and like each other because we speak to each other and every day we are trying to get to know one another an little bit better," she added.
The event was so popular last December that Sundas must limit admission to the luncheon to about 250 participants this year, she said. But many more can attend the other cultural events and panel discussion, since the venue holds up to 500 people, she said.