The Somali community I belong to is a very good example of the most recent trend of globalization. Somalis have left their home country due to political and civil unrest since 1991. Their massive level of immigration to the United States is unprecedented both in numbers and the fact that they are Muslims from the Third World, not from Europe as in the past. This new community is transforming places while trying to create home away from home. They have both physical and social impact on their concentrated cities. They still have very strong emotional attachment back home. And also, how they are received and treated is very important in this case. To elaborate the Somali community as an example of globalization and the politics of belonging, I want to share with you three stories that I am sure will explain the topic.
Sense of Belonging and my Self
Winter 2009; Professor Judith Monseur of Ohio Dominican University asked me to speak to her class about the Somali community in Central Ohio. I accepted the invitation and gave the class a brief history of this community and why there are here. At the end of my presentation I asked the students if they have any questions.
One of the students asked me why Columbus? Meaning America is big country why did your community chose Central Ohio especially Columbus City. I tried to explain how the community has tried creating a home away from home and getting closer to each other. But before I finished my statement, another student said, “are you going back to where you came from”? And I answered “I don’t think so”- laughter filled the class.
From there on
. How I left my home country and came to United States. Why I moved from Ashburn, Virginia (Northern Virginia Suburb) to Columbus, Ohio. Why I resigned from a big global logistics company, and started working as volunteer with the local community organization, all because I wanted to get a sense of belonging. I wanted to hear my Somali language, see faces that I recognize, and do some
The class seemed to appreciate the last few minutes of a two hours long presentation. It was only that we were engaged honest and real discussion.
An American Town and the ‘Somali Invasion’
Late 2002, more then 1,100 Somali immigrants relocated to economically struggling and overwhelmingly white Lewiston, Maine. This was referred to at the time as the “Somali invasion” by the news media. There was a strong resentment towards the new comers and some had to do something to stop these aliens taking over the city.
Larry Raymond Lewiston’s mayor decided to step forward and tackle the issue- ”play his leadership role”. He wrote an open letter to the Somali community asking them to tell friends and family not to move into the city. The ensuing controversy pitted anti-immigration white supremacist groups against local community activists supporting the Somalis, culminating in simultaneous competing rallies that necessitated the largest police action in Maine’s history to ensure the safety of the city’s residents.
In his letter to Somali elders, dated on October 1, 2002 he wrote, “This large number of new arrivals cannot continue without negative results for all. The Somali community must exercise some discipline and reduce the stress on our limited finances and our generosity”.
A film resulted from this demonstration entitled “The Letter”. The film offers a comprehensive look into the dynamics of immigration many cities and countries worldwide now confront in this age of globalization and the clash of alien cultures and religions that inevitably follow. The Letter won the International Spirit Award for Best Documentary at the 2004 Boston International Film Festival, was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2004 Pan-African Film Festival, and was selected to open the 2004 Amnesty International Film Festival in Pittsburgh.
Remade in America, Minnesota,
The immigrants are remaking America! Consider what has happened in Minnesota, a place the NY Times snidely calls a “once lily-white city on the prairie.” Today, foreign-born people from places like Mexico, Somalia, and other Third World countries now constitute 5 percent of the population.
There are an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Somalis in Minnesota, most in Minneapolis, more than in any other American city. Most Somalis are in this country legally and qualify for various government benefits including health insurance programs.
One of the challenges in treating immigrants is money. About 20 percent of the Hennepin Hospital patients were born in other countries, and they account for $100 million of its $500 million yearly expenses for patient care. Hannifin’s interpreters are called on to help patients more than 130,000 times a year. The greatest demand by far is for Spanish, followed by Somali. The hospital spends $3 million a year on interpreters who are fluent in 50 languages.
Minnesota has its share of people who oppose immigration and resent footing the bills for foreigners, and Mr. Harristhalacknowledged that the melting-pot atmosphere at Hennepin drives some potential customers away. But the hospital is a renowned trauma center; even those who turn up their noses at the clientele accept that for someone in a car accident, there is no better place to be.
Although, we are thousands of miles away from home, there is a strong emotional attachment. My mother tunes into BBC Somali Services every other three hours to get up to date information of what is going on back home. She actually follows news back home more than the news in Columbus Ohio.
“I think the feature which can unite all plausible definitions of home is a sense of belonging. Life away from home, however defined, rips one away from all which is dear and precious, and no matter the reward or the adventure involved, places one in the context of those untroubled by the earlier absence, and unconcerned for the continuing presence.”
First, Prof. Judith Monseur’s class questions were very legitimate and challenging yet dealing with the feeling towards this new American community. They were concerned how their neighborhoods are changing day after day. Old and abandoned churches were transformed into mosque. Some residential areas are dominated by an unfamiliar people. On the other hand I am one of the many…many immigrants looking for a new place to call home and feel like home. Second, it is also important to note since most Somalis are unskilled labor that providing needed services to this community is expensive and burden to the hosting states. The out cry of Mayor Larry Raymond is real and legitimate one. How he handled the situation right or wrong is a different case. And finally, the influx of immigrants from Somalia to Minnesota has been an especial case; the community is making very fast advancements with the help of the state institutions.
By Ahmed Adan