Starting on June 27 and continuing through the next five days, many Somalis in Minnesota will celebrate the 49th anniversary of their country’s Independence Day. Officially July 1, the date commemorates the founding of the Republic of Somalia, as it gained freedom from colonial British and Italian rule in 1961.
There are a number of events planned throughout Minneapolis, including all-day events at various cultural centers, soccer tournaments, fashion shows, and concerts designed to unify Somalis in Minnesota that have been divided and dispersed by civil war.
Safari Express, a restaurant at the Midtown Global Market, owned by brothers Sade and Jamal Hashi, will offer a full day of events, including historical presentations, a fashion show, live music, cooking demonstrations by Jamal, and children’s activities.
“I want to do an introduction of what Somali culture is, Somali 101,” Sade Hashi told me, in hopes of “giving a good exposure of what Somali culture is like.”
There are also events, such as these being held at the Brian Coyle Center in Cedar-Riverside, that seem catered less as an introduction to Somalis and more as a day of unity for those members of the diaspora living in Minnesota. The event will include a health and resource fair as well as live music and dance.
Similarly, starting June 25 and running through July 1, Somali soccer teams from all over the country will take part in the American Somali Youth Cup, held at Augsburg College’s Edor Nelson Field. These teams come as far away as Utah, Ohio, Kansas City, and Seattle, as well as Rochester and Minneapolis (home of the Cedar Stars). Capping the week will be a fashion and music show held on July 1, as well as an awards ceremony from the tournament, held at the Zuhrah Center, sponsored by Somali Total Music, one of the city’s best-known Somali music and video shops, as well as SOMID.org.
As much as the week will celebrate Somali history and lifeways, it is also a time of reflection. According to SOMID.org’s website, the day is also a time to [think about] not only the past, but also grapple with the present and the future. “Our thoughts have been directed at putting today’s reality into context. Rhetoric about upholding national sovereignty and pride, about how we shall never be a colony again, is seen for what it is, illusory and empty.” And yet, it continues, “However dismal our lives may have become, we hold true to Kwame Nkrumah’s dictum: ‘Better independence with danger than servitude in tranquility.'”
Whichever event one attends, all three will be a highly visible way to counteract so much of the simplifying and negative publicity Somalis in Minnesota—and around the world—have received. A time of celebration, unity, and reflection, Somali Independence Day says much about where these individuals have come from, where they are, and where they’re going.
Justin Schell (email@example.com) is a freelance writer and grad student in Minneapolis, working on a book and documentary about immigrant, refugee, and diasporic hip-hop here in the Twin Cities. For more on the project, see 612to651.com.