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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29 responses to “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”
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Thank you, Megan, for such an inspiring piece. One of the best stereotypes Minnesota has possessed throughout our history, is being Minnesota Nice! As you mentioned, this allows groups in the world, like the Hmong and Somali people, to be provided with a Minnesota sanctuary that is founded on peace. I couldn’t imagine living somewhere else! I have an uncle who is a teacher at Johnson High, which is located in the Twin Cities. This high school is predominately Hmong with many Somali students. I love seeing this change in the making by having an uncle who is directly aiding lower income migrants by providing an education. It is crucial that these services are available for ALL people in America no matter the location of our birth. We are all human, let’s share among each other this beautiful similarity.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your experience. At Safe Haven, I have worked with a number of Somali-American women. There were a number of times where I had the opportunity to work and talk with them individually, and a number of times they reminisced about their life in Somalia. One woman in particular mentioned that she was both so happy and so torn that her home was Minneapolis – she wished she could have stayed, but was so glad to have found a new place to really call home. I am really interested in what you said about the charter school in the Twin Cities- I think it ironic, because the common American misconception is that people come here and are “lazy” – it sounds like the academic programming is far more vigorous and concentrated for their student body – not even remotely close to lazy. I really appreciate your insight about what you learned on this trip. I think we have a lot more to learn about and from immigrants, but people waste all of that potential community and knowledge through xenophobia. I am thoroughly pleased that you had this experience, and I want to make a similar trip in the near future.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience that you had on your day trip down to Minneapolis! I was aware of the Somalian population down in Minneapolis, but for being a Minnesota resident my whole entire life, I never was aware that the Somalian people had made their own little community down there. I think it is amazing how successful their community is and the amount of risk that was taken by immigrating to Minnesota. In my world history class, we are learning about migration in early civilizations many years ago (3500 – 2000 BCE). Dense urban settlements allowed for people to specialize in the making of goods such as the making of textiles, ceramics, and jewelry (Tignor, 2018, p. 45). The Somalian people also migrated to urban communities to seek out new opportunity and to display the tools and valuable life skills they portray to our Minnesotan community. Food, pottery, art, clothing, and much more are being woven into our culture because of the Somalian people and I think that is wonderful.
This story was incredibly heart-warmiing and compelling. I am from southern Minnesota where there is a quickly growing Somali population. I have seen a lot of racism first hand from children to elders towards the Somali people, and I struggle with seeing this occur, because I align with the thought that people leaving their home countries are leaving for bigger reasons than we can probably even imagine. Your story reminded me of an instance at my summer job in an elementary school in my town. A child entering third grade made some really racist comments about Somali classmates, and it really broke my heart. I believe racism is taught, not innate, and so to think that children are being taught to be racist still really bothers me because I want to believe we are better than that as a society. Clearly, we have a lot of work left to do. I love experiencing the cultures in the Twin Cities that we do not have anywhere else in the state. I would love to visit the places you mention, especially the restaurant, because I think we learn a lot about other cultures and grow in community by sharing meals. Thank you!
This article was very interesting! I have also wondered what about Minnesota seems to be so appealing to these two groups of people as well. Being from the suburbs of the Twin Cities I often head into Minneapolis or Saint Paul where these cultures are alive and well. It’s really interesting to me to see that these people are able to preserve their customs so well while also being able thrive in such a different cultural landscape than their native lands. I think it’s cool to see that they do not just assimilate like other groups tend to and that they do whatever they can to remember and honor where it is that they came from. I also didn’t know that their was a Somali museum in Minnesota, that’s something to be proud of in my opinion. Overall great article, it was very interesting and informative.
This article was quite informative! Growing up just north of the Twin Cities, I grew up seeing many Hmong come through my town to fish. When you presented the question of why Somalians or Hmong would chose Minnesota, it took me back to when my friends and I would ask the same question ourselves. The fact that the “Minnesota nice” saying is what attracted many to our states is pretty funny but also fantastic that we have such a reputation. I have been to the Somali mall in the cities, and I was quite taken back by the bartering I remember. The bright colors make everything seem so happy and I am glad that they have chosen Minnesota to spread their bright personalities. A very relatable and well written article in total.
It was fascinating to read your article. One of the thing that you mentioned in various ways is the Somalians sense of community. First, off they are a group of people that take pride in their identity, it is evidently in your article for they have established a charter school that focuses on their language and culture. They have also opened various businesses and spaces that cater to their cultural needs. Whether it be restaurants that serve their traditional foods or social space such as Carmel mall. I believe their sense of community is one of the reasons for the way they are intergrading into society. Lastly, I was privileged enough not only to learn such a culture but to also experience it. P.S Somali rice and mango juice is always a plus.
This is an interesting topic to examine, and a you’ve crafted a well-written article about it! In this age of migration when the mobility of people and ideas is so great, it is intriguing to try to comprehend why people settle where they do. Seeing that humans are innately social beings, I guess that a large portion of explaining why we tend to stick to people of our own nationality is that we feel most at ease with those that we perceive as belonging to our “pack”. Your article makes me hopeful because even though this is an example where two people from different cultures (or “packs”) meet, it seems to work without total assimilation being needed. This is an ongoing discussion in my home country Sweden, where some pursue the idea that in order for two cultures to exist within a nation, the only way for there to be harmony is for the minority to be assimilated into the majority. I hope that Swedish politicians could perhaps look towards examples like these and ponder whether that is the only option.
I thought this article was very interesting and compelling! I had no idea that there was a mall within Minnesota that had almost all Somali-owned stores and featured a system of bartering and trade. I also think as a teacher it would be a very good experience for all new teachers to have a field experience within the Somali school or any immersion school to understand that not all cities are just like Duluth. I also thought that the museum was interesting because it brings a sense of culture to the new place where they migrate. I would forward to going to this section of Minnesota for a culture shock without even having to leave the state. The food dish that you posted a picture of also looked appetizing. Great article!
I really enjoyed your article. I have lived in Minnesota my whole life and have not heard of much of what you spoke about. I will have to try and discover some of those places when I am in the cities next. I thought it was great that you could experience that for the day. I bet the museum was awesome and I think they are great ways to preserve cultures. You can always go in and remember your roots and where you came from. I also have not had that type of food but the picture looked great. I will have to try it sometime, I am always looking for new things to experience and taste! I think it was also interesting how they had heard of “Minnesota Nice” all the way across the world. It shows that even the slightest things you do can make a difference for people all over. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for this wonderful article. Though I was aware of Minnesota’s large Somali population, the Somali museum, in particular, was new information for me. It is great to know that, even after many Somali artifacts were lost to war, a small piece of their ancestral land has been kept intact right here in Minnesota. I will make a plan to visit it on my next trip to the Twin Cities. It was also very interesting to hear about the Carmel Mall. This sounds like an excellent place to go, and a great place for people that would like to experience another culture but do not have the opportunity to travel. I believe that the more one can experience different cultures and different people, the less likely they are to hold onto biases or prejudices, and the more fulfilled ones’ life can be.
Your article brought a smile to my face for many reasons because it made me proud to call Minnesota my home. First, I am amazed that one of your classmates mentioned ‘Minnesota Nice’ as something that people across the world had heard about and may have played a role in coming to our state. I am happy that being nice is our reputation and I hope that it is still is true for many of the immigrants coming to our state. Another thing I really enjoyed is the Somali museum because I do agree with the person who opened it that it is important to know and understands ones history and homeland especially if Minnesota is a place that seems so different. Also, reading your article brought light to me of some of the many places in the Twin Cities I have yet to visit and need to. Lastly, the food and pictures you shared of the Somali meal at the restaurant made me really want to try it. It seems that so many cultures have a lot more spice to their food and that is something I think should be incorporated into more American meals.
That sounds like a very interesting class! I am bummed it is one of the GCL courses I won’t get the chance to take.
I am from the St. Cloud, MN area, which also has a large Somali population. It is a culture that is very misunderstood, and I am always disheartened to hear stories of our fellow Minnesotans facing racism and discrimination.
Though there is no easy solution to fixing these problems, I truly believe education is the first step, so it’s reassuring to hear that there are a growing number of Somali specific cultural centers and museums. Last time I was at the Minneapolis Art Institute, there was an exhibit by and for Somali artists, and at a journalism conference this summer, I had the privilege to meet Faiza Mahamud, the first Somali woman to work for a major newspaper.
Please continue to share as you learn more about diasporas in Minnesota!
Thank you for your post Megan. You have a great style of writing that makes you well understood while being easy to read. I think your article shows that America truly is at its heart the melting pot of culture. Only in Minnesota could you find a Hmong person talking with a Somali person. This age is going to be very polarizing as we move into an age where some are resisting the immigrants. I live in an area where people have opinions about Somalians that are clearly made on the basis of stereotypes and the influence of Fox News. I want this time we have to be more accepting and posts like this are the first steps to making that happen.
This article really got my attention about how Somalians are changing the landscape of Minnesota and the Twin Cities. I found it very interesting that Minnesota has the largest population of Somalians in the country with many of them concentrated in the Twin Cities. Personally, I believe that such a large population of them is really a good thing and enriches the diversity landscape. These unique individuals represent their amazing culture and it opens are eyes to the different values and customs that these people cherish. Many of the Somalians were migrated over came from a war torn country and they sought to create a better life for themselves. Overall, they have made a great impact on Minnesota and their culture should be cherished.
This article was interesting for me to read, especially since the topic of immigration can be considered a touchy subject with some people. Where I grew up, there is not much diversity, so I don’t get to hear and experience much in that aspect. My aunt in the Cities, and she knows of a lot of places similar to the ones you talked about. I hope I can go experience some of the places you talked about. It would be a great experience, not just for people wanting to try something new, but for everyone.
What an interesting article! I love how you emphasized the fact the diversity is closer to home than you think. People all around us have different stories and background just waiting to share. Another big thing I noticed was the meal you had. I never thought about it until now that not being part of a culture could have very large implications on the way you live your life as well. Growing up in such a community probably does not give a lot of leeway to just not eat what is provided for you everyday. Just like eating meat for example. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
Thank you for this article, Megan! Being raised in Minnesota, you’d think that there is some sort of standard discussion of the various populations that reside here, but in Duluth I’ve never been exposed to it. I think the diversity of the Twin Cities is incredible, and this piece is a testimony to that. I find it fascinating that, despite the typical assimilation aspects peoples face in new places, the Somali people are so devoted to keeping their culture alive. To hear about the school dedicated to teaching their language and culture is beautiful. It actually reminds me of the Syrian refugees I met in Germany; during the week, students learned German and did standard schooling, and on Sundays they learned Arabic. I think it is important that there is an accessible museum of Somali artifacts to help educate native Minnesotans as well as the younger population of Somali people who are born here and I hope I get the chance to visit it some day. As for the food, it is amazing how much of a culture you can experience through their dishes and I am glad that your experience wasn’t hindered by not eating meat (and your meal picture is awesome)!
I think you touched nicely on the push and pull factor that surrounds all migration. People have a reason to leave their home and a reason why they come to the country they did. In Human Rights this semester we have been emphasizing that, while people who have settled in a new country may have left their home under dire circumstances, they still miss their home. Home will always be home, even when you move. It is wonderful that Somalis in the cities have been able to create a place in Minnesota that is similar to the place they left. It is wonderful they are able to celebrate and teach Somali culture to the younger generations in such a vibrant way. Thank you for sharing your article.
I am very glad that I read your article, I am from a suburb of Minneapolis and I did not know about these places. I knew that there was a large Somali population in the Twin Cities but I never took the time to look into their culture. I think that Higher Ground Academy should be a blueprint for other immigrant cultures to stress the importance of education. I believe that their culture is built on hard word, resiliency, and community which together creates a beautifully immense identity that spans the globe.
I am glad that people from other nations can find their home in our state. Also how they were able to pick our state because of the image that we hold in the world. I do think its amazing that people can come in to a foreign place and make their own home again. I do love the diversity of the cities and how you can go to different places and get so many different cultures. I know that if you head more in to St Paul you can feel a more Asian culture there and find the different displaced people there.
I enjoyed reading your article about the Hmong community in Minnesota. I often see them farming in the fields and I wonder why the chose to come to Minnesota. Was it for the inclusiveness of the community? Was it for the same general climate of their ancestral roots? I think that it is very nice that the Somali community have found a place in Minnesota to call home. I have learned much about their community in recent years.
Thank you for sharing! I really found this article interesting because I did not know a lot of this stuff because I am from Canada. In Canada we have a higher Chinese population and it is amazing when you walk down a street and go through the Chinese market and stores. I do agree that more people do need to explore more into other cultures. Too often we think that other cultures are not close to home when in reality they are our neighbours and classmates.
It’s always so fun to learn about new cultures, especially one that is now has a huge population in Minnesota. Sadly, I often hear a lot of negativeness that surrounds the Somali population in Minnesota, and it often makes me upset to hear people speak ignorantly about this culture. I think that it is so important that more people in Minnesota learn and experience Somalian culture so that there is less ignorant hate thrown at these people. At the end of the day we are all human beings pursuing a better life for ourselves. These people deserve more humanity in the way that they are talked about and treated.
I find this article so interesting because in Minneapolis right off of Lake Ave, there is a Somali Mall called 24 Somali Mall. My best friend and I would go there every summer to get hennas tattoos. The women that would do our henna tattoos were so kind and friendly. When we went in the summer, it was during the time of Ramadan. They explained how they fast throughout the day, they fast for at least 11 hours a day. I am still grateful to have meant many women of the Somali community and I plan to visit again this summer!
I really enjoyed reading about your experience in Minneapolis. I grew up in the cities but have never experienced much of it’s rich culture. I feel that cities truly are a major cultural center. In my World History class we are currently learning about early civilizations and early cities. I noticed that they stated in the book Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, that these early urban cities really helped people to share their culture and goods among each other (Tignor, Adelman, Brown, Elman, Liu, Pittman, & Shaw, 2018 p.45). I feel that we are still continuing to do this to this day. It is really cool that Somalian women are opening their own businesses and selling some of their traditional items. I feel that we as Minnesotans should embrace our neighbors and learn more about their culture.
Thank you for sharing the experience that you had with the Somali community. I live in a small town that is about four hours away from the cities and far from being diverse, so reading your article was very informative. I’ve been to cities a couple of times and one of the things that I really like about the city is it’s diversity. I enjoy hearing the various languages being spoken and seeing the different styles of clothing. I really like how the community has a museum dedicated to connecting the younger generation with their ancestral heritage. I am originally from Haiti and then I was adopted by an American couple. For the longest time, I had no connection with cultural heritage. I think every person should be connected and educated on their culture. It’s part of who they are. Thanks again for sharing!
I throughouly enjoyed reading your article and learning about how you interpreted these experiences. I also was able to go this little field trip to all the places you explained. As a minnesotan, it is cool to know that people from around the world have the desire to live here because of the nice culture. I like how you mentioned that voting these okapis made it seems like traveling without a passport. I completely agree; I felt like I was in a whole new country without having to even leave the state. I believe that is on of the positives when it comes to diaspora and migration. Even though the concept come along with challenges, multiple positives do still exist that make our world seem smaller.