When I go to Cedar Riverside, a neighborhood of Minneapolis, to practice my Somali language, the streets are full of Somali people in the many shops and cafes. Sometimes I find that people will not respond to me in Somali—only in English. I long for someone who cannot speak English so that I can have a conversation in Somali, but I have only ever found a couple.
Now the news is coming to Cedar-Riverside, the biggest concentration of Somalis, and where I happen to go for my weekly Oromo study group. Here is a video of Fox News correspondent, Pete Hegseth, unsuccessfully trying to interview folks on the street.
The reporter claims that he could not find someone who could speak English.
Ha! Not what I’ve seen! Unlike the correspondent at Fox News, no one ever refused to talk to me. But I could never find these monolingual Somali speakers. Was it something he said?
The desire I had to start a blog arose from wanting to bridge cultural divides by learning languages. I wanted to love others through speaking in their language, rather than expect them to speak mine.
Anti-immigration feelings are on the rise in the US and many other places, especially in Europe. Fear of the “other” as a criminal, low-life, or terrorist pervades so many discussions of immigration.
This Fox News incident shows me that Hegseth has no connection to the community, so the people on the street mirror back the suspicion he bears for the “Somali Muslims” (a strange way to refer to a national group). Another reporter sat down in a cafe, minding his own business, and two guys came up to him to introduce themselves and offered to drive him around the neighborhood.
Suspicion breeds suspicion.
Conversely, openness breeds openness.
When you enter a Somali coffee shop with the hope of learning something, people come up to you to help you. When you come to make a point, they won’t say anything. The Somali community never failed to welcome me when I came to a coffee shop or restaurant. I benefitted because I got to learn their language and their stories.
A rich, ivy-league educated, white politician can storm into a neighborhood with a TV camera and an agenda, and people will reject him. Then he will complain that Somalis don’t speak English, want Sharia Law (according to his own understanding), or whatever he wants to accuse them of. But he clearly never heard that from a Somali. They won’t talk to him.
I actually talked to Somalis. Here’s a few things I learned:
I learned that Somali folks generally want to earn a living and raise their children. They find Minnesota cold in the winter. They believe that most people are kind, while some are difficult. Before coming to Minnesota, many lived beautiful lives interrupted by war. They love soccer.
Do reporters know that Somalis often don’t buy life insurance? After a death in the family, the community takes care of the family of the deceased.
Do they know that they drive taxis so that they can earn a living while they can help community and family members get around town?
Do they know that they not only speak English, but many just “picked up” Spanish on the job or on the street?
When you learn the languages of the people around you, you make connections with them. You hear their stories from them, not from someone in the media with an agenda.