There was a flurry of activity in the parking lot of the San Gabriel Mosque as the clock neared seven p.m. on Saturday. Table settings were laid out in four rows on the floor where mosque members and friends sat, prepared to end the day of fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
As a call to prayer marked the time to break the fast, guests began feasting on plates filled with dates, fruit and garbanzo beans topped with onions, tomatoes and spices, for appetizers.
Though the mosque provides meals to break the fast daily throughout the thirty days of Ramadan, the guests that day included many members from outside the Muslim community there to celebrate an interfaith dinner – including Congresswoman Judy Chu.
Following the prayer and dinner portion of the night, the program commenced in the banquet room where mosque leaders thanked friends, law enforcement officers and the congresswoman for sharing in the experience of Ramadan.
This is Chu’s second time participating in the annual interfaith dinner, which began about eight years ago, said secretary of the mosque Riaz Khan, a resident of Pasadena.
“The difference this year is that she is in Congress now –that gives us hope,” Khan said. “She is a hard worker and knows how to get people together. That really opens doors.”
Chu said she not only appreciates diversity, but really promotes it as well.
“It excites me to see people come together and understand each others’ communities, and to come together for Ramadan, something being celebrated the world over,” she said.
Chu has reached out to various Muslim organizations in the past to build bridges and work against hate crimes that have affected them after the attacks on September 11.
“I don’t think any group should be scapegoated,” she said. “The atrocities committed against Muslims and Arab Americans, and people who looked Muslim or Arab American after 9/11 were horrific. I had to do something.”
The congresswoman worked to pass laws that denounced active discrimination and called on law enforcement to vigorously prosecute hate crimes, which she said was the first bill of its kind in California.
She described her experience in Congress, which she was elected to after former Congresswoman Hilda Solis was selected to serve as the nation’s Secretary of Labor.
Chu was elected on July 14 and received a call the next day from President Barack Obama, congratulating her, she said. On July 16, she was sworn in at the Hall of Congress by speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi.
After being assigned to the Committee of Education and Labor, she soon attended the first hearing.
“They told me it might last till 1 or 2 am. It went till 6 am,” she said with a laugh. “There is nothing like being in Congress, it’s a super honor.”
Chu was presented with a plaque from the mosque, honoring her dedication to public service.
President of the mosque Nisar Hai also presented a survey of the mosques members’ healthcare needs to the congresswoman, who is actively involved in the healthcare legislation.
The congresswoman said she supports the public option for healthcare reform based on reports in townhall meetings from citizens unable to receive healthcare due to asthma, hypertension or other health problems. She also visited a free medical clinic, where she said she would never forget what she saw.
“People had camped out since four a.m. waiting for a chance for treatment,” she said. “I thought to myself, what kind of country do we live in that we have gotten to such a desperate state? That’s why I’m such a strong advocate of healthcare reform. So that insurance companies can’t cut you off in the middle of treatment … No one should have to fear going bankrupt because of healthcare or be stuck in a terrible job because it has healthcare.”
The plan would provide certain basic medical care based on a fair assessment, Chu said. She also said it would not ration insurance, take away Medicare, or kill off the elderly, as some people believe.
Chu is also applying to be a member of the judiciary committee so that she can work on immigration reform, she said.
“We have a broken system right now,” she said. “There are far too many families split apart.”
The congresswoman reflected on her swearing in ceremony, saying that as she stood there with her three nieces, she remembered her grandfather, who had come to California when the Chinese exclusion laws were still in place banning them from owning land or working in corporations.
“He opened a small Chinese restaurant … and he made it, somehow he made it,” she said. “Two generations later his granddaughter can become a member of Congress and these three little girls can see that it can be done.”
“I think this is a historic visit,” said Muhammad Khan, a member of the mosque who organized Chu’s visit. “She is the first Chinese American woman to be in congress. This event gives a voice to minorities and chance to share in her success.”
Though Khan now lives in Westwood, he attended the mosque as a youth. He is one of many members who live far, but remain involved in the mosque’s activities.
The mosque has a weekly congregation of about 250 people at the Friday prayer, and organizes ifthaar for about 50 families during Ramadan that come from Pasadena, San Gabriel, Rosemead and Temple City, among others.
Throughout the year, the mosque offers five daily prayers, Sunday school and academic tutoring, monthly homeless feedings and counseling for legal violations as well as other services.
Local law enforcement, fire department, and sergeants from the Temple City Sheriff Station in attendance said they enjoyed the food and culture.
“It’s a good life experience to learn about other cultures and events, said David Mulligan, firefighter and paramedic for the San Gabriel Fire Department. “People are so welcoming and generous.”