Six years into my new life in America, Minnesota Monitor gave me a platform to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing: Writing and reporting. It was — and continues to be — the most invaluable experience in my life. That’s if you consider that I barely spoke English a decade ago, and that I never wrote a thing in English until 2002.
Growing up in Mogadishu, Somalia, I was always fascinated with writers and journalists. At age 9, I began writing in Arabic, the official language of my school. At night, my mother taught me how to read Somali and English. I perfected a few English sentences that served me well until I settled in Egypt, where I went to high school.
Then six and a half years ago I resettled in Minnesota, without having a hint of what was in store for me. One thing was always clear though: I wanted to tell stories and occasionally make comments on what was going on in the world.
That drive led me to embark on a writing journey that started with the largest bilingual (Somali/English) news website, Hiiraan Online, where I ascended to become an editor. Along with that, I yearned to localize my writing in a way that would make sense for my native community and my adopted community. So I began writing for a number of local publications, chiefly for Twin Cities Daily Planet, a community newswire showcasing the works of citizen journalists…
Until I got that fateful call from Minnesota Monitor, the new online newsmagazine in town. When they asked if I had a particular “beat” in mind, I think I surprised them with my response. I said my beat is “glocal issues,” improvised from a combination of global and local.
Curious for explanation, they asked me to elaborate on that. So I expounded on how issues like immigration, race, religion, terrorism and minorities would often have a local edge and a global angle. But since it was an election season, I was assigned to cover Keith Ellison’s bid for Congress. Admittedly, I was — and perhaps still am — a learner of the intricacies of American politics.
Weeks into this assignment, I was finding myself in the midst of the most dynamic campaign in the nation. Thus I began to retool myself aptly to prepare for the challenge ahead. I knew I had a unique vantage point, which was my basic understanding of the fabric of Ellison’s constituencies. That, along with my good contacts, greased the way for covering a campaign that was gaining national and international attention.
The campaign attracted all kinds of people. I’ll never forget Sept. 12, the primary day. At a mosque in Cedar-Riverside neighborhood that served as one of Ellison’s forward centers, one desk was remarkably reflective of almost all cultures, faiths and ethnicities that came together to make history. An older white man, a young, head-covered Somali woman, a middle-aged African-American woman and a young Arab-American man who traveled from Washington, D.C., assembled campaign literature while chatting in wildly different accents.
I immediately realized that this campaign was precisely glocal in nature.
“Glocal it is,” I hummed. Little did I know that three months into it, I’d be appearing on national TV and mentioned in 52 newspapers around the country for a “glocal” story I broke about Ellison.
An even greater blessing is that I really learned American elections in the process. My first impression of elections was in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was “re-elected” at an astounding 98 percent. And his opponents? Well, he actually didn’t have any; it was more of a referendum, in which people hang signs on their houses and businesses, extolling his virtues and reaffirming their unparalleled loyalty to the “leader.” No one cast a vote!
So the fact that Ellison garnered slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary over three other contenders soothed me.
Thanks to Minnesota Monitor for making all of that possible, and for the opportunity to meet and work with such a wonderful group of enlightened people. My life has been altered for the better over the past six months, mainly because I was given a platform to tell stories.