Thousands of Somali-Americans call Minneapolis home, but often feel unappreciated
Ahead of the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, I traveled to Minnesota to connect with community members across the Twin Cities who shared how the region has changed.
MINNEAPOLIS — Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was 11 years old when he and his family immigrated to the state from Somalia in 1994. Nearly 30 years later, and on the precipice of the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, Hussein reflected on how he and tens of thousands of other Somalians have, despite their efforts to fit in, often felt pushed aside.
“The Somali community in Minnesota is the poorest community with the lowest home ownership,” Hussein told Yahoo News in an interview in his Minneapolis office. “But it's a community that also is giving this state its economic prosperity because all of those low-skilled jobs in the state of Minnesota are all from immigrants, Somalis and Latinos. The net gain for Minnesota in the last decade has been from immigrant families who have called this place home.”
Hussein’s family, like thousands of other Somalians in the early 90s, came to the Twin Cities (the neighboring communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul) to escape persecution as a civil war raged in their homeland. Despite finding a safe haven, the cultural transition has not always been easy.
“Minnesota was one of the whitest states in the union in the 90s, and so therefore really a place that was a little bit of an oddity,” Hussein said. “It was also a very cold place … but really Minnesota started to become home for many of us because of the opportunities that it presented.”
Minnesota is now home to the country’s largest Somali-American population, and 75percent of the 80,000 Somali immigrants in the state live in the Twin Cities. While Somalian refugees were sent all over the U.S. in the early 90s and 2000s through refugee programs, those who settled in Minnesota began to tell others about the opportunities for jobs, proximity to family and support from local agencies. Soon, more came. But the initial prosperity many immigrants found has had limits. Sixty-five percent of Somali-American households in Minnesota have an income less than $35,000 a year.
As CAIR’s executive director, Hussein is one of the most prominent advocates for the Muslim and Somali communities in the Twin Cities. In his role he works to enhance the community’s understanding of Islam, the religion the majority of the Somali population practice, in addition to “empowering the community for a more just society.”
Hussein says that Somali-Americans, who are by and large Black, Muslim and poor, face discrimination on a number of fronts. Over the last year, with the high-profile killings over the past year of Floyd and 20-year-old Duante Wright, Hussein has spent the bulk of his time focussing on police brutality and the killings of Black men by law enforcement in the area.
“George Floyd gave many Americans, who have ignored us for so long, [an opportunity] to finally see a glimpse of the injustice that is happening in this country,” Hussein said. “And I just hope and pray that they did not compartmentalize that and did not see the system that continues to recreate that.”
“In the most ironic and painful way Duante Wright was killed as this [former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s] was ending,” he added. “I feel like it's a sign to say that the work was never over.”
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