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Lives of Somali Americans in Minnesota

by Ahmed Said
Lives of Somali Americans in Minnesots
I compiled this article as a reference for anyone who wants to know about the lives of Somali Americans in Minnesota. See Reference in this article to read more - Ahmed Said

Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the United States. According to an article published by StarTribune on November 1, 2014, Somalis are migrating from other states, " The ex­act num­bers of So­malis moving to Minnesota from oth­er states are hard to track. But there’s little doubt their ranks have swelled, too. The federal Office of Ref­u­gee Resettlement com­piles partial numbers showing about 2,620 total ref­u­gee ar­ri­vals from oth­er states in 2013, up from 1,835 two years earli­er — making Minnesota the state with the high­est in-mi­gra­tion by far."

I asked myself why Somalis like to move to Minnesota, especially when they are in other states of the US. Is it because Somalis love to live in the same place or what? Ifrah Jimale, a Somali American blogger, put it this way: " First, there are thousands of Somalis in Minnesota and I am sure most of them have different reasons why they came to live here.  For me it was to see a familiar face. My plane (not a bus or a boat) landed in Cincinnati, Ohio. I lived in Kentucky, then Atlanta, Georgia, then Columbus, Ohio. This traveling around took about a year. For that year, I was a little bit lost and was searching for a home and to be with people I knew from Somalia.  There was nothing wrong with those states but the people I stayed with were people I met in America. So when I found a relative of mine who used to live with us in Kenya, I packed up and left Ohio for Minnesota."

While I was researching for this article, I was trying to understand why exactly Somalis move to Minnesota-- CBS explained it this way: "It is perhaps the least likely place to find tens of thousands of African refugees: the cold, snowy, middle of America. So why are there so many Somalis in Minnesota?

“Maybe someday they will enjoy the ice fishing,” laughed Dr. Ahmed Samatar, dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College. Samatar was born in Somalia.
As far as living in such a cold weather climate, “on the surface it may look bizarre,” said Samatar, however “there is so much goodness in this state.”

I took some time to dig into how Somalis are seen in Minnesota, what is the perception of non-Somalis on Somalis? StarTribune painted a fair picture on this: " This is partly due to media coverage, which zeroes in on conflict and perceived risk, leaving good stories untold.

Twenty years have passed since Somalis started arriving in Minnesota to establish their largest community in America. Yet a large gap in understanding prevents integration of this burgeoning subcommunity in the North Star state. Popular culture provides Exhibit A.

Barkhad Abdi gained instant stardom after outshining Tom Hanks in the thriller “Captain Phillips,” about Somali pirates taking over a ship in the Indian Ocean. Nominated for an Oscar, Barkhad will learn tonight whether he has won. But during his media tour promoting the movie, interviewers seemed shocked about the existence of a thriving Somali community in Minnesota, from which Barkhad was recruited".

It is not only StarTribune that sheds light on the fact that Somalis could be the most misunderstood community in Minnesota, but The Wake, Fortnightly Student Magazine, wrote: "One community in Minneapolis that has been struggling to be recognized and understood within the larger Minneapolis culture is the Somali American community in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood. The focal point of the community is the large complex of high-rise apartments that were built in 1973, most recognizable because of the faded, colored panels scattered across the sides of the towers, a style meant to copy French architect, Le Corbusier. The rest of the exterior appears run-down and looks to be in desperate need of repair."

As I was compiling this article, I couldn't resist to include how Somalis are doing economically in Minnesota. As a matter of fact, the entrepreneurship of Somalis is well-known, especially in East Africa. So, how are Somalis doing in Minnesota in this regard? The Stateless revealed it in this way: "Minnesota has the highest population of Somali people of any state in the United States, and Minneapolis the most of any city in Minnesota. The Somali community is so concentrated in Minneapolis, that one neighborhood has come to be known as Little Mogadishu, after the capital city of Somalia.

Like any recognized region, what makes Little Mogadishu so renowned isn’t just the sheer number of Somalis in the area, but the wealth of businesses it supports. This area contains two exclusively Somali malls and at least 375 Somali owned businesses—pretty impressive for a population that has only been living in the area for a little over ten years.

So what makes Somalis such successful entrepreneurs?

Various cultural traits unique to Somalis have a significant influence on both their business practices and success as entrepreneurs.

One marked difference between Somali immigrants and other Minnesota business owners is their devout adherence to the beliefs and practices of Islam. A recent survey, conducted out of the University of Minnesota, titled Achieving Success in Business: A Comparison of Somali and American-Born Entrepreneurs in Minneapolis, found that 98.9% of Somalis described their religious beliefs as ‘extremely important’ whereas only 48.9% of non-migrants surveyed expressed this level of commitment to their faith and 15.6% reported their religious beliefs to be ‘not important at all."

The media is an important tool. What I mean is that, is there any Somali Americans covering the Somali American stories non-Somali media usually ignores? MinnPost approached it in this way, " For years, any time photographer Mohamud Mumin turned to local television channels or to newspapers for news about the Minneapolis Somali community, what he found left him disappointed.

Mumin said the media highlights the dark side of the community and abandons the many success stories and positive contributions Somali immigrants are making in their new home -- a remark many in the community agree with.

“There are many great things the community is doing,” he said. “Why can’t I see those stories in the media? Why only the negative ones?”

Mumin, 36, recently took matters into his own hands. In 2010, he began capturing the images of 13 Twin Cities Somali-American men, documenting their stories in “The Youth/Dhallinyarada,” a multimedia project that focuses on the effort these men are making to improve the lives of those around them. (“Dhallinyarada” means “the youth” in Somalia.)"

For one to succeed, education is very important. In Minnesota, Somalis graduate every year. And they're good at learning. SahanJournal wrote, " Munira Khalif, an 18 year-old Somali-American recognized for her achievements as an education activist, has been accepted into all the eight Ivy League universities in the United States.

Munira, a senior at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul, has been also been accepted into Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Minnesota.

“I was very surprised. The best part for me was being able to call family members on the phone and to hear their excitement,” Munira said according to Kare 11. “This was truly a blessing from God. To me this news is reflective of the support and encouragement of my family, my school and my community.”

The eight Ivy League schools are Harvard University, Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University.

This is not the first time Munira has landed such prestigious position: last year, she was one of nine young nominees chosen from a pool of 300 people across the world to receive the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education’s Youth Courage Award."

In the recent years, Somali Americans in Minnesota were becoming more politically active by running for offices throughout the state. In 2013, a Somali American scored well, and MPR News wrote, " In his first run for elective office, Abdi Warsame won the race to represent Ward 6 on the Minneapolis City Council, soundly defeating incumbent Robert Lilligren, who was the first and only Native American city council member.

In winning the seat, Warsame became the first Somali-American elected to the council, just seven years after arriving in the United States. He also is among the first Somali-Americans in the nation to win a municipal election."

In 2014, in St Cloud, Minnesota, one Somali American run for St Cloud School Board, and two Somali Americans run for St Cloud City Council-- I was one of the two. St Cloud Times wrote, " Pursuing the American dream, two Somali Americans are running for St. Cloud City Council.

Ahmed Ali Said is running against incumbent John Libert for the Ward 3 council seat. Said moved to St. Cloud in 2001 and works as a medical interpreter. He said if he was living in another country, running for office might not be an opportunity for him.

"It's amazing," he said. "It shows that America is a great country."

Although I didn't win, it was a great experience for me as a Somali American.


New Somali refugee arrivals in Minnesota are increasing - StarTribune - November 1st, 2014

Ask a Somali: Why are There so Many Somalis in Minnesota - TCDAILY PLANET June 30th, 2011

Good Question: Why Did Somalis Locate Here? CBS - January 19th, 2011

Somalis in Minnesota: Still misunderstood - StarTribune - March 3rd, 2014

A Misunderstood Culture and Community - The Wake - November 27th, 2013

Lessons from Somali Entrepreneurs - January 16th, 2013

Minneapolis photographer highlights Somali-American success stories - MinnPost - July 18th, 2013

Abdi Warsame Makes History, Wins Seat on Minneapolis City Council - MPR News - November 5th, 2013

2 Somali Americans running for St. Cloud council - St Cloud Times - January 7th, 2014

Ahmed Said (Abwaan-kuluc) is a Somali Current blogger based in Minnesota, USA. He writes Somali Diaspora related issues in the world and also the current affairs of Somalia. He can be reached at abdinassirsomalia [at]

This is published at

Related Categories: U.S. | Immigrant Rights
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