As part of my daily routine, I read the local daily news clips every morning. I often find more than one article about the Somali community in Minnesota. Though some articles are positive, many frame the community negatively.
For example, on Monday, July 13, 2015, there were two articles about the community: one, titled “Minnesota’s Somali-Americans urge new treatment for would-be terrorists,” appeared in the Pioneer Press, and “Study: African immigrants’ economic impact untapped in Minnesota” appeared on ABC Eyewitness News Channel 5.
Surprisingly, the article with the term “terrorist” attracted the attention of many fellow Minnesotans, many of whom chose to post negative, un-American, unpatriotic, and clearly racist comments. One commenter asserted, “The only way to deradicalize (Somalis) is to not let them in here.” Another commenter stated, “Send them all back to the craphole from which they originated in Africa. These people are completely alien to Western Society and don’t belong here. They are a violent threat shoved into our midst by those whom (sic) would destroy us all.” And another commenter wrote, “Somalis have learned how to game the system and take advantage of the lefty dim wits in Minneapolis. These guys are no different than any street gang members. Do the crime, do the time.” Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any reasonable comments in response to this article. I have been reading, reviewing, and tracking these negative posts for some time and feel it’s my moral obligation to intervene positively.
What my fellow Minnesotans need to know about Somalis: Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the United States. The majority of Somali Americans came to the United States as a result of a civil war and armed conflicts in their home country. Precise population numbers are difficult to determine for this community because many members do not participate in the census due to some historical and cultural barriers. However, community members estimate that there are roughly 120,000 Somalis who call Minnesota their home. Minneapolis has the largest concentration with an estimated community of 50,000 Somalis.
The Somali community in Minnesota has a significant political, economic, and cultural presence in the state. According to a study by economist Dr. Bruce Corrie at Concordia University in St. Paul, the Somali population in Minnesota has buying power of $500 million and pays $75 million annually in state and local taxes; moreover, Somalis are “significant players in the housing rental market.” Somalis are well known for their entrepreneurial and hardworking culture as can be seen from their booming and thriving businesses in Minneapolis. With their rising political and economic power, the community has become active in politics. Economically, Somalis have been very effective in owning and operating small-, medium-, and large-sized businesses. The number of Somali professionals — such as professors, engineers, medical doctors, economists, policy analysts, and entrepreneurs — is increasing. In addition, the number of college graduates is at an all-time high.
The United States is the land of opportunity and a key destination for those emigrating from other countries. Some communities migrated to the United States long ago, while other communities, including Somalis, are part of the current wave of migration. According to the law of the land, those who came to the United States a century ago and those who arrived a decade ago all have the same rights and responsibilities once they become citizens of the United States. No community or individual can decide who can become a citizen of the United States; that is the job of the Constitution. Thus, Somalis, like any other community, are part and parcel of U.S. society.
Somalis are a vibrant, law-obeying, peaceful, civilized, and tax-paying community. They have transformed many neighborhoods, created jobs, increased local and state tax revenues, and spent thousands of volunteer hours for the good of local public causes. Despite many challenges and barriers, this community has assimilated well. They are proud Americans who also take pride in their Somali ethnicity, culture, and background. Somalis are resilient Americans and not terrorists. They are an asset to the state of Minnesota.
Abdirashid S. Ahmed of Maplewood currently works for the City of Minneapolis as its East African community specialist. A public policy analyst, he has previously worked with public assistance programs in Ramsey, Hennepin and Dakota Counties. He has also worked with Metropolitan Council and Lutheran Social Services. He has a master’s degree in public policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and an undergraduate degree in human services administration from Metropolitan State University.