The Somali Diaspora in Minnesota – Immigration Stories – by Megan Gonrowski. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[The outline of Somalia and Minnesota woven together]
The GCL Migration, Diaspora, Identity course has been focusing on two major diasporas that are close to home. The Hmong and Somali populations have both chosen Minnesota, specifically the Twin Cities, to settle for a variety of reasons. Through our studies this semester we have found that the Hmong and Somali peoples both have a past scarred by war, but this has given them courage and the strength to start over in a completely different country. I am sure many people have asked the two diasporas, “Why Minnesota? Isn’t it much colder than back home?” And there are a variety of answers, but as an alumni of CSS, Nur Mood, put it for our class, “Well we heard about Minnesota nice!” It’s these kinds of whispers that can travel across continents and through the family grapevine. Both diasporas relied heavily on word of mouth when it came to choosing the right place to settle. Regardless of how both distinct groups of peoples ended up in Minnesota, we are happier and better off with their diversity, entrepreneurial drive, and welcoming attitudes. Now we will look further at specifically the Somali diaspora and how they have changed the Twin Cities atmosphere since their beginning arrival in the early 1990s.
My class was lucky enough to set up a day trip excursion to the cities where we visited a few popular Somali owned and run sites. Our first stop was the Higher Ground Academy. This is a K-12 charter school with a roughly 96% Somali student population. We met with the High School guidance counselor, Abdirashid Saney who is an alumni of Higher Ground and a Somali immigrant. He answered many of our questions about Somali history, the Twin Cities diaspora, the rate of assimilation, the communities progress, and its challenges. After this we got to see the end of a Kindergarten class where the 5 and 6-year olds were more excited and proud to show us how they had learned the Somali alphabet. At that school children learn Somali in younger grades, then switch to learning Arabic, then in High School Somali is taught again. The graduating class is roughly around 50 students and Higher Ground Academy graduates don’t get their diploma without an acceptance letter into some form of college or higher education. The school was very focused on academics and giving its students the tools to make a difference in their community and beyond.
Next, we stopped at the countries and most likely the world’s only exclusively Somali Museum. The Museum is a collection of artifacts that have been brought over from Somalia or have been replicated to look like traditional artifacts. A lot of the artifacts that have been recovered would have been used by the nomadic population in Somali. They also have modern paintings, music, and dance.
[Milk, water, or grain containers that could be tied to a camel or worn like an over the shoulder bag: all are tightly woven material not clay pottery]
The Museum was founded by one Minnesotan Somali immigrant who wanted a way for the younger generations to connect with their ancestral heritage. During and after the war, that drove many Somalis to seek refuge, many artifacts and museums were destroyed in Somalia, so this museum preserves their culture and serves as a reminder of the culture and place they came from. Also, an artist named Abdulaziz Osman (Aziz) has his paintings on display in the museum and they are all memories from his childhood growing up in Mogadishu. Most of his art is colorful and displays daily life and the places he witnessed while growing up. Somalis in general wear very colorful clothing and the colorful painting by Aziz reflects the people’s love for vibrant colors.
After the trip to the Somali museum, we stopped at a Somali restaurant down the street called Quruxlow. Here we tried different meats and rice with a side of mango juice and the customary meal time bananas. It is a part of Somali dining custom to be served a banana with a meal and it was the first thing brought to us along with our drinks. I found that most meals at the restaurant involved chicken, fish, or goat meat as the main dish and they came with a side of rice and salad. However, because I am a vegetarian my meal simply consisted of rice, salad, a banana, and mango juice. Regardless of the lack of vegetarian options the meal was spicy and full of flavors I had never tasted before. Also, the rest of the group thoroughly enjoyed their meat dishes and the waiter was very friendly and helpful because the majority of us were eating traditional Somali food for the first time.
[Salad, mango juice, banana, and shared plate of rice]
Our last stop was the Carmel Mall or the Somali mall. The mall is a vibrant collection of shops ranging from clothing, carpets, and beauty to food and barber shops. It was very crowded and serves as a local hangout for many Somali-Minnesotans. It was like traveling to another world entirely and I didn’t even need a passport. The majority of the shops are run by entrepreneurial Somali women and we found that there are no set prices and you have to bargain with the women for the best deal. Most of the clothing and items were shipped in from places like China, but the women said that was how items were back in the bigger cities in Somali. Once again, everything was bright and full of life which is typical in Somali culture.
Overall, I learned that we don’t have to look far to find something unique and culturally diverse. Also, I was amazed by and proud of the Somali people for making a piece of Minnesota their own and being powerful students, entrepreneurs, and community members. I think other non-Somali people need to visit these places and explore the Somali culture because they are our neighbors as fellow Minnesotans. We have the largest Somali population in the country and they are strengthening our communities by bringing diversity and instilling motivational values. The Somali people have been through a lot, but they have still find a way to push through their hardships and to rise to any occasion and even exceed expectations. Next time I am in the cities I will be visiting one of these locations and I believe others should too!
Megan Gonrowski serves as an assistant editor for The North Star Reports
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