MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — “Home Grown: The Somali-American Struggle” looks into the lives of the Somali population in Minnesota. In the second part of this series, WCCO’s Jennifer Lewerenz takes a look at the process of assimilation into the U.S.
When Somali migration began in the 1990s, there were three places they went: The United Arab Emirates, South Africa and the United States.
Cawo Abdi, a Somali sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, says the U.S. is the most coveted of all the places. But it’s also where Somalis are having the most trouble fitting in.
“What the Somalis here don’t find is kind of the sense of belonging, sense of security, the emotional, religious, cultural…belonging,” Abdi said.
But Abdul Kulane, who lives in St. Cloud, was born in Somalia and raised in Kenya. He came to Minnesota in 2006 as a refugee at the age of 20 and never really worried about “fitting in” to American culture.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what we call American culture. It’s just a mix of cultures that came from different corners of the world,” Kulane said.
Kulane says in the last 15 years, the perception of Somalis has changed and in an attempt to give the Somali population in St. Cloud more of a voice, he recently ran for office, but ran into opposition. Not from the candidates, but from the public.
“I run for an office, and then what happens is they want to say, ‘OK. They came here to infiltrate our system. They came here to take over.’ The opposition is very small, but very loud and very organized,” Kulane said.
He compares his struggles to those of other immigrant populations, like Hispanics, Asians and even the European settlers who came to the U.S. in the early 1900s.
Fadumo Ayanle is a Somali-born college student who came to the U.S. as a baby. Clad in a long, sweeping floral dress and black hijab, Fadumo has always known life in America and finds it easy to talk about her religion and her culture.
“We don’t want you to have a preconceived notion and then keep it inside. We want people to come to us and ask us questions. It’s good for all us to talk about it,” Ayanle said.
Fadumo says she has many friends of all different cultures and religious backgrounds and feels the American landscape would be missing something if Somalis weren’t a part of it.
“It’s better for all of us if we can find a way to live together in harmony and peace, because it doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere any time soon. We’re a part of this group, and now, honestly, could you imagine a life without us?” she said.