MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – “Home Grown: The Somali-American Struggle” looks into the lives of the Somali population in Minnesota. In the first part of this series, WCCO’s Al Schoch tells us who these people are and what they left behind in their homeland.
Located on what’s called the horn of Africa, Somalia was an important center of commerce in the ancient world. The late 19th century brought outside rule from Britain and Italy, starting a long pattern of instability.
Despite throwing off the yoke of colonialism and becoming an independent nation in 1960, the unrest didn’t end. The Somali government was overthrown in 1971, plunging the nation into a ferocious and seemingly never-ending civil war.
“The moment that, I think, announces that the Somalis were going to be in Minnesota in great numbers is right around the collapse of the Somali state in 1991,” Ahmed Samatar, professor and chair of International Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, said.
Samatar said many in his home country were looking to escape refugee camps for a better life, and received help from Lutheran Social Services to relocate to Minnesota.
“This is a place where you can get good education for your kids, good housing and good health care,” he said. “All of these are very important parts of the pull of Somalis into Minnesota.”
Samatar said the first wave of immigrants to Minnesota told their families back in their homeland that life was good where they wound up
“They tell this to each other,” he said. “The announcement goes everywhere that Minnesota is a good place to be. On top of that, if you learn how to, you know, fish during the snow, ice-fishing, that would be also an extra treat.”
A treat, Samatar said, many have yet to enjoy.
They do pick up activities from their days in their home countries, such as soccer games played by third generation Somali-Americans. Abdi Raham, 11, paused from his soccer game at Cedar-Riverside to reflect on how meaningful it is for him to live in Minnesota, instead of struggling through the strife on the other side of the world.
“There’s not that much fighting, people don’t fight [in Minnesota,] people get killed in Somalia,” he said. “They have a lot of stuff [here,] they have technology. Most people have a lot of money.”
Abdi Fatah, 17, is going to be a senior at Minneapolis South in the fall and feels welcome in Minnesota. He said not all Somalis are terrorists
“Well, I think, every culture can have bad people, but it doesn’t mean we’re all bad,” he said. “If some of us do something bad, that’s doesn’t mean we’re all bad. There are good people that do good things, and bad things.”
A life of turmoil and prolonged war became one of peace and prosperity almost overnight for Somalis, giving all generations hope, something that rarely exists on the horn of Africa.
Listen to the full interview with Professor Samatar here:
Tomorrow, in the second part of the series, WCCO’s Jennifer Lewerenz takes a look at the process of assimilation into the U.S.