CULTURE ON UNITY IN MINNESOTA
By M. M. Afrah©2006
Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA)
in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) have good reason to
like the Somali refugees.
More than 15
years since they choose to settle in the "State of 10.000 Lakes"
as refugees-turned entrepreneurs, and no longer as unwanted guests,
cast aside by the mainstream Americans, but rather hard working
business people that is but robust entrepreneurs that is slowly
but surely earning respect from their hosts.
the Somalis are gradually winning the American respect," said
a man during my first visit to this great city, and a man who regularly
visits the thriving colourful Somali malls in Minneapolis. And perhaps
gradually winning over residents who initially shrugged them off
as noisy bazaar owners, who they say, do not even understand a single
long sold their merchandise only to their countrymen and women,
but recently they began to sell goods to old residents of the city,
who found the colorfully displayed goods exotic and unavailable
in mainstream American malls and supermarkets.
A first non-Somali
visitor is pleased that he has more choice in selecting goods at
bargain price. "I don't feel like being pushed into anything,"
need to speak English and we didn't need to speak Somali. They usually
guess what kind of goods we were looking for," another frequent
And yet, the
drive to contribute the economy too often is overlooked and undervalued
by the main media or County and State officials. For Somalis, the
sense of community is not just a cultural nicety, but a potent part
to live and succeed against all odds. In fact, when asked to account
for their success after arriving in America penniless and only the
clothes on their backs, (no winter clothes), they do not cite welfare
handouts or bank loans, but their country's unique culture of the
people-specifically the Islamic tenet held 100 per cent of the Somali
During the nasty
and bloody civil war, which deteriorated into clan warfare described
by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the world's
greatest tragedy after World War Two, the surviving inhabitants
collaborated closely to share what little food they scavenged despite
the widespread lootings and killing of innocent civilians. The blood-thirsty
warlords turned their guns on each other after ousting the military
dictator, instead of rebuilding the devastated country and saving
the nation's afflicted citizens.
in their native country, many of them continue to have frequent
nightmares, sleep problems, fearfulness, severe anxiety, depressive
symptoms and intrusive thoughts of the loved ones they lost in the
unending clan warfare, but in the United States they often hear
the healing words of "HI!", "THANK YOU!"
and "WELCOME!" each accompanied with a smile that
makes you feel at home in peace time Somalia. Meanwhile, in Somalia,
the warlords fought each other over who would control the country,
and in the process destroyed Mogadishu, the Somali capital once
dubbed as the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean" beyond recognition
until they were ousted by the Union of Islamic Courts in July this
miles away, in Minneapolis the newcomers wanted to play big in their
new environment in terms of business acumen in a bid to overcome
the trauma and send their children to school. Many of them became
American citizens and visit their loved ones at home and sponsor
for them. Others send money through Somali owned wire transfer companies
conveniently located inside the Somali malls. Many of them acknowledge
their lives had changed a lot in 15 years, despite the harsh winter.
There are other
vitals services inside the Somali malls in Minneapolis, including
barber shops, tax return service, video stores, coffee shops, restaurants,
mail boxes etc. But the most intriguing space is Towfiq Computer
School with the slogan, "Aqoon La aan waa Iftiin La aan."
Mohamud isse, the President\Instructor of the school is a well versed
young man in the hi-tech business.
was going to ask someone to work on computers, I had to know how
to do them myself," he says. Mohamud Isse's energetic entrepreneurial
spirit and business background led him to open cozy conference hall,
a modern coffee bar with clean tables and chairs, and with another
eye-catching poster that says: "No Qabil (tribalism) and
Politics." The huge space is tucked alongside one of the
heavily trafficked corridors of the Mall.I asked Mohamud Isse how
the school computer was fairing. "The students are happy. We
made the move for them and their future," he says.
That was the
bride side: and now the dark side. As the ordinary men and women
wanted to play big in their adopted country in terms of business
venture in a bid to overcome the trauma, and start a new life, some
of the community leaders and clerics woefully abdicated their responsibilities
in order to develop and sustain environments of mutual respect.
I came across
some community leaders who consume valuable time and energy competing
internally for resources and recognition from State officials, supporting
their own clans, rather than focusing on the challenges that galvanize
the culture and drive results.
the ugly head of clan worshipping showed its head and made its presence
felt, even in the United States! These leaders must communicate
clear and compelling vision. Good leaders should understand that
the way a community responds to adversity can be very revealing.
A County official
was once quoted by the bulky Star Tribune newspaper as saying, "It
is amazing how things work out for penniless refugees, and we are
trying to work with these neophyte business people-not to put them
out of business, but the problem is their leaders. Each has his
own personal agenda."
leaders and the clerics will create opportunities for more people
to share that sort of pride, and suppress their own personal agendas
for the good of the community.
BY M. M.Afrah©2006
we will publish some of the photographs taken inside the thriving
Somali Malls of Minneapolis.
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