Somali life in Minnesota got a national audience Thursday when the NPR program 1A highlighted the community and its stories. 1A was recently at the Safari Restaurant and Event Center in south Minneapolis, interviewing people on a variety of issues related to the Somali experience in Minnesota.
That included Nadia Mohamed, a candidate for St. Louis Park City Council. She recalled coming to the United States as a girl, ignorant of the way people couch race in this country.
“I knew I was a practising Muslim,” she said. “I knew I was a woman. But I didn’t know I was black.” She learned quickly, and by high school went through a time where she denied to her peers that she’d lived in Somalia as a way to assimilate.
Eventually, Mohamed said she felt empowered when she chose to regularly wear a hijab. “This is a shield for me,” she said. “When I walk into Target or Cub Foods, people know right away I am a Muslim.
I don’t have to explain anymore of it.” Mohamed also recalled getting a noticeable response from her peers when she chose not to wear her hijab during high school prom. “I remember people saying, ‘You look so pretty! Oh, your hair is so nice!’” she said. “Wasn’t I pretty before?”
Halima Ahmed, a Hamline University student and co-leader of the campus Muslim Student Association, also said she felt pressure to assimilate with the white majority of students growing up.
That would change as she matured and became more comfortable with who she was, she said. “For me, my hijab is part of my identity,” Ahmed said. “For those of us who choose to wear it regardless of the challenges we face, it just makes that feeling all the more strong.”
Haji Yussuf, who came to the U.S. in 1999 and moved to St. Cloud, spoke about how his knowledge of the U.S. before then amounted to rap videos, Rambo films and Chuck Norris movies that he saw growing up.
That’s not exactly what he got when he came here. “Our biggest wow moment was how cold it got in Minnesota,” Yussuf said. He recalled appreciating the public service announcements on public transportation in the early 2000s, notifying the Minneapolis community how Somalis were relocating to the city and were welcomed.
Yussuf also paid homage to the American civil rights movement that he said paved the way for Somalis like himself to immigrate to the country decades later.
Tension from the national level
President Donald Trump and his attacks against Ilhan Omar and immigrants overall came up during the discussion.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota, explained how right now is a very unique time in history where the concept of what is American is being challenged and attacked by Trump.
“I argue what is happening to Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar is what is happening to Muslims across the country,” he said…….