“All those years, I heard many families in the refugee settlements praying to get resettled in Minnesota. For many, the term Minnesota is synonymous with America,” said Hussein Mohamud, one of the refugees interviewed in Hudda Ibrahim’s book, “From Somalia to Snow: How Central Minnesota Became Home to Somalis.” Like Mohamud and many other Somalis, at age 19, Ibrahim arrived in the United States as a refugee.
It was Minnesota resettlement agencies that first settled Somali refugees here in the United States. Once here, however, it was Minnesota itself that became a draw for this newest of immigrant communities.
Ibrahim says in her book, “Somalis who have been resettled in Minnesota often spread the news of Minnesota’s hospitality.” This story of immigration is not a new one nor is it unique: From the cold environment of Scandinavia to the warm climate of Africa, there is a shared experience, regardless of country of origin. Often, it starts with why people decide to leave their homes at all.
COMMON CHALLENGES AMONG REFUGEES
“What all immigrants and refugees have in common,” says Ibrahim, “is that they all fled persecution, poverty or discrimination.” The United States became a refuge because it provided safety, as well as better opportunities for immigrants and their children. All immigrants faced the same challenges and hurdles, whether trying to keep the home country’s culture and language alive at home or learning the English language. “Foreign-born parents and grandparents struggle to learn English,” says Ibrahim.
After the events of September 11, 2001, the Somali community faced a new and unforeseen challenge. Once welcome, the perception toward Muslims changed. “Most Somalis are strict in adherence to their Islamic faith,” she explains. This leads some Americans to associate Somali immigrants with terrorism.
SOMALIS IN ST. CLOUD
Ibrahim’s book seeks to educate not just the St. Cloud community, but anyone who is willing to listen, about the positives in the Somali community. The Somali culture values community, hospitality and generosity. “When new Somali refugees arrive from Africa,” she explains, “the Somalis who arrived before them give the new family clothing, furniture, dry goods and utensils.” The same support is seen when members of the community face other circumstances, such as losing their job or illness and hospitalization. “The rest of the community collects money to cover their food and house rent,” says Ibrahim with pride.
In addition to giving a history of Somalia and immigration to the United States, “From Somalia to Snow” also provides insight into the culture of the Somali household. Ibrahim also discusses the differences in assimilation and integration, which any immigrant household will recognize as a hurdle within the community as the older generations who remember their homeland seek to retain their culture, while younger generations born here don’t feel as connected.
IBRAHIM MENTORS YOUNG WOMEN
In addition to writing and teaching diversity and social justice at St. Cloud Technical and Community College, Ibrahim mentors young women in the Somali community who struggle with cultural differences. “They are young Muslim hijabis (women) who are trying to hold onto their values,” she explains, “but at the same time they want to adapt and acculturate to their new home.” Her goals are to help the younger women with self-confidence and build leadership skills. She also advocates for college education and encourages them on a path after high school.
If there is one thing Ibrahim hopes readers will take away from her book, it is that Somalis are not opposed to integration or American culture. “We embrace American values while holding onto ours,” she says. Just like all immigrants before and after them.
Anna Matetic is a local writer and business owner. She is also a member of the Steering Committee for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Southeast Minnesota.