jump to navigation

What’s eating the Somali community? November 29, 2010

Posted by therealtinlizzy in Uncategorized.

Some serious stream-of-consciousness and disordered thoughts to follow, but sometimes you just have to start somewhere.

After hearing/reading of the Somali youth intent on blowing up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony yesterday in Portland, I experienced a resurgence of something I’ve felt for awhile now. I say “resurgence” because it’s been a constant gnawing undercurrent within me these past few years, and bubbles up any time s/thing negative occurs in conjunction with the Somali community, whether near (due to my proximity to the Twin Cities’ Somali community) or far.

Best I can describe it, the gnawing is a compulsion to figure out and somehow right whatever is wrong with the Somali community (here in the Minnesota (and by extension elsewhere in the Western world). And yes – I assert it exactly as naively and simply as that, with all the ignorance mixed with patchy understanding of Somalis that entails for me.

I could just throw up my hands and dismiss my notions as a product of well-meaning, bleeding-heart-liberal syndrome – which they are. Or if I were totally daft, I could take my limited experience in interacting with and teaching ESL to Somalis as though that’s made me an expert on their culture, politics and challenges peculiar to their life here in the U.S. – which I can definitively say it has not.

However, due to my position of mixed naiveté and limited experience I embrace starting the conversation at such an elementary point. The straightforward questions, the “dumb” questions (remember when we were told there’s no dumb question save for the unasked question?) never seem to be pursued in the beginning, and it’s far too late to start asking them by the time circumstances have reached the blowing-shit-up stage.

I’m compelled to ask everything from the most obvious – “what do you want, what do you need to be content in your life here?” and “are you content/at peace with the other cultures/people who live and exist around you? Can you learn to be? What happens if you cannot?”to the more persnickety – “are you prepared for the reality that your children will likely grow up at least somewhat culturally divergent from you? That they will rebel, will likely embrace some aspects of American culture no matter how hard you forbid it? What happens if/when that causes an ideological rift in your family/community?”

Of course those questions are typical of me and my method of analyzing things. I’m guessing the Somali community is by and large living those questions, not sitting around having meta conversations about them. Some of them creep into taboo concepts they wouldn’t talk openly about amongst themselves perhaps, let alone with those outside of their community. Or perhaps they don’t have the language or concepts or collective experience to express such. Or maybe even more simply – they just don’t have a collective experience of multiculturalism. It’s all well and good for me to wax philosophical about such, I’m set up for being able to compute coziness with multiculturalism.

However, additionally problematic for me in terms of envisioning trying to engage with Somalis is the compulsory male/female separateness which disallows me from participating in such conversations with half of the Somali population. Add to that the fact that the half of the population I do have access to interact and converse with are pretty much powerless to initiate/catalyze change within their community due to being barred from participating in the leadership, guidance, politics, within their community.

It occurs to me to wish for the ability/option to disguise myself as a male for the purposes of engaging the male half of the Somali community, and/or wish for more American men mindful/interested/able to engage with the Somali leaders in a meaningful and impactful way. Not saying no one is, but I don’t seem to hear a lot of inroads being made to bridge the cultural divide between Somalis and Minnesotans/Americans.

I’ve been fascinated to ponder the positions of Madeleine Albright and Hilary Clinton as Secretaries of State, and the diplomacy they’ve engaged in with male leaders of the world who would have nothing to do with women in such contexts, but who found themselves having to suck it up and deal with the Secretaries as though they were men. (I must get around to reading M. Albright’s memoirs – I think that jumps to the top of my Miami reading list).

In the meantime, I worry and fret as it seems inevitable that the Somali community here in Mpls is heading towards similar states of affairs and cultural/identity crises as Islamic communities in the UK and France have found themselves: communities with whom I wonder if there could have been meaningful inroads in communication and understanding if only the right words and attitude could have been initially sought and found.

Which brings me back to simple beginnings: what do we each want, what can we each be reasonably content with? And why does it seem no one is starting with asking these open and frank questions with those such as the Somali when they suddenly and abruptly find themselves beginning new lives in Western cultures like ours?

And I know – there’s more, so very much more. Dealing with the simple things won’t negate the complex, or the things beyond our individual control, or dynamics long in motion. But I choose to start somewhere.


No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: