History of ‘Little Somalia’ in Minneapolis? You Betcha!

Executive MBA Graduates, Opus College of Business University of St Thomas 2This weekend marks the opening of the new film, “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks and 4 Amateur Minneapolis-Somali actors,  who are already getting Oscar Buzz for their performance. The movie is based on the 2009 high-jacking of a U.S. Container ship by Somali pirates. The Minneapolis actors include Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman and Mahat Ali.

Recently David Letterman interviewed Hanks about the background of the actors hired for the movie, Hanks mentioned that there is a “Little Somalia” in Minneapolis, something not all Minnesotans know. Letterman was curious what it is about this region of the country attracts the Somali Community. Well Dave and Tom, if you are reading, your answer is below.

Last spring, I had the opportunity to tour our charming “Little Somalia” and work closely with many immigrants for a management consulting business project to open a water production plant near the Somali-Ethiopian border.

Abdi Husen, (pictured on the right), is a good friend of mine and from Somalia. He wrote the article below about the valiant journey of this vibrant community from Somalia to Minnesota. Everyone has a story to tell and his is worth reading, please share his with others and thanks for visiting my blog!


By Abdi Husen

In the great state of Minnesota and elsewhere in America, many people ask what seems to be a simple question at first: what brought Somalis of the horn of Africa to America? Then a more perplexing one follows: why did they flock into one of the coldest states of the union, Minnesota, where the largest number of them in the United States is now concentrated? 

As someone who had worked with the Somali refugee resettlement programs in the early 1990s in San Diego, Calif., then followed the herd of his countrymen flocking to Minnesota, I am able to take a crack at both questions. So I would argue that the first thing that brought Somalis to America is naturally embedded in the historical fabric of what America itself is made of. Just like the European American who at the turn of century in the face of political persecutions and economic deprivations crossed the Atlantic, Somalis also sailed through the same route in search of a better life and liberty.

Faced with the collapse of their state and a civil war that ensued in the early 1990s, many Somali refugees took advantage of America’s Africa immigration quota. Thus, the first wave arrived in San Diego to resettle. They chose San Diego because a handful of Somali families from the Ogden region of Ethiopia were brought there in the 1980s. So much of the credit that made it possible for Somalis to resettle in San Diego was due to the International Rescue Committee of San Diego for which I worked at the time.

As we picked many of them up from the airport and would drop them off in southeast San Diego residential apartments, I would cringe in pain. In pain, because the reality of life these refugees would encounter at firsthand in America was far from the one they had imagined. With gang and drug riddled neighborhoods of Southeast San Diego, the gunshot nightmares that had chased them from their motherland followed them here too, it seemed.

Little did I know that the same nomadic experience that taught Somalis how to survive through the harshest terrain in their motherland, would serve them well here in America! As pastoral nomads, Somalis would move with their herds from one place to another in search of a better pasture. In a typical dry season a Somali family or a whole village would send a man or men on feet or horseback to explore miles and miles away. These men would travel back hundreds of miles once a better pasture and greener world is discovered and the whole village would relocate for another season!
In early 1990s, a handful of Somali men who happen to be scouts sent by their fellow Somalis arrived at meat processing plants in Marshall, Minn. Only this time these men were traveling by bus or train and not on horseback. The plant managers were happy to employ them.

So because Somalis are as well an oral society, the word of mouth travels with a mighty speed. The news about jobs in Minnesota spread like a wildfire, but now they just picked up the telephone and let it through a network of clan relatives, cousins and extended family members. The employment opportunities as well as Minnesota’s hospitality news soon reached Somalis way beyond San Diego to refugee camps back in East African and other states. As they all made a dash for the opportunity, they were not disappointed. In short their pockets were warmed with dollar notes, and the hearts that had been iced with disappointment in San Diego began to throb with hope once again. Minnesota’s cold snow thawed in the heat of their celebration for both the life and liberty they have been searching for. The formation of a sizable Somali community would later attract Somali professionals around the United States to Minnesota.

And for that, it is quite clear that many Somalis who live in the Twin Cities areas today have first started at a meat processing and manufacturing plant in out-state Minnesota and slowly made their way to the Twin Cities for better opportunities. And though they might not all be successful, they too are after their share of the American dream and more hopeful than any other time or any other place. Yet, most are still meat processing plant workers, taxi drivers, airport bag checkers, after-hour office cleaners, small business owners and for sure the fathers and mothers of tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers and political leaders. And yes, in the process, there will be turns and twists but their story will not be different from those great Americans who had paved the way for us!

Abdi Husen is a resident of Eden Prairie and owner of two businesses in the Twin Cities area.

Source: Eden Prairie News


About KakieF
To learn more about Kakie Fitzsimmons, please select "A NOTE FROM KAKIE" tab at the top left of this page. Thanks for visiting my blog!

6 Responses to History of ‘Little Somalia’ in Minneapolis? You Betcha!

  1. Thank you so much for allowing us opportunity to be educated b y Abdi Husen. I envy his ability to communicate and I hope to do half as well in my response.

    I spent 33 years as President and CEO of REACHOUT, INC., a social service agency which in its final years ( I am now retired ) was located on East Lake Street.

    I had the experience of meeting a number of people from the Somali community and was then and remain now impressed with their certain vitality, can do attitude and desire to reach toward excellence.

    I am one of 35 candidates folks are trying to sort out in the Minneapolis mayoral race. One of the basic tenets of my campaign grew partially from my experience with the Somali community, that is I have been pressing hard to bring back vocational training to the Minneapolis public schools. Courses such as welding, architectural drawing, basic shop, auto repair, etc. would be of much more interest to youth now lost to the street, than our current system of trying to channel everyone into a liberal arts college. Of course, there will be students who can follow both paths, to be better researchers, planners, managers…..

    The field of Somali candidates in this years city election is truly impressive….should they win ” a seat at the table ” ( quite likely ) I guarantee they will more than hold their own in the give and take we hold so dear in Minneapolis politics.


    Merrill Anderson
    Candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis.

    Write a comment…

    • KakieF says:

      Hi Merrill,

      Thank you for participating in the conversation and sharing your experience. The Somali community here has done a wonderful job strengthening relationships with local civic leaders and I find that quite refreshing. They all have a story to tell and it is important we take some time to listen to theirs and share ours. Last spring, with the help of Abdi and the African Immigrant Community Services in Minneapolis I had the pleasure of listening to many people tell me about their experiences and really felt honored they were kind enough to share.

      They are a family friendly culture who value education, strong work ethic and making a difference.

      Thanks again for visiting, keep coming back! Good luck on the race for Mayor!!

  2. Always good to know about our neighbors!

  3. Tim Staiger says:

    Thanks for sharing Abdi’s story. So good to get in inside look at the journey many Somalis have taken.

    • KakieF says:

      Hi Tim,
      Thanks for joining the conversation, there is always more to learn and understand and often that comes from asking questions. I’m glad you found value in it.
      Best, Kakie

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