Voices within the Somali community

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Somalis began migrating to the United States throughout the ’90s, as a result of a catastrophic civil war that, after nearly two decades, has yet to end. An estimated 32,000 Somalis are settled in the Twin Cities, home to the nation’s largest Somali-immigrant population.

Building from the ground up, many Somalis have made Minnesota their home despite the obstacles of a language barrier and limited education. Some have worked as maintenance workers, cab drivers and in manual labor jobs.

Negative light has been shed on the Somali community due to the recent increase in gang activity and the overall rise in the crime rate within the community. Although the Somalis disagree on what the causes are for the gang killings, many blame conflicts on clan differences within the community.

In their daily lives, most Somali families continue to wear traditional dress and carry on deeply-rooted cultural practices. Amina Ahmed, a University of Minnesota graduate viewed by many as a typical Somali, moved here from Somalia at a young age.

“I believe that everyone can be whatever they like, I chose to be goal-oriented,” said Amina.

Amina, 24, is one of many Somalis who has graduated from college, but she is one of the first to graduate from college in her family. With a degree in respiratory care, Amina works at the Allina Hospitals and Clinics in Owatonna, Minn.

Wearing the headscarf for religious reasons and loose fitting clothes to show modesty and self-respect, Amina attends patients before a major surgery.

Reluctant to say the name of her best friend’s brother, who was killed in a gang shooting, she said, “Even though I live here, I don’t let violence, peer pressure or other things get in my way.”

Amina rants for a while. “… I am who I make myself to be,” she said.

“For others to see just one side of our community, to judge us harshly, and to see us differently is not fair. Others see only the bad side of the Somali community, but they never see that we are a growing community, and there are some obstacles to be overcome.”

“It’s hard for outsiders to see the goodness in our hearts. Once someone has done something bad, it’s a reflection of the entire community,” said Mukhtar, a high school student.

The Somali community has been seen as unwilling to assimilate into American society, said a person who lives near the Riverside apartments. “Derogatory language does not solve our problems, and it does not make us want to assimilate,” he added.

Many Somalis have expressed doubts and fears when asked to be more like Americans. There have been ugly moments when people born and raised in the U.S. react to the way Somalis dress. “Shouting, ‘Terrorist, go back where you came from!’ is not welcoming. Like most American immigrants, we left our home for a reason,” said Amina.

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