Language of terror vs loving language

Listen--let him tell his story
Listen–let him tell his story

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.

How do you learn about immigrant communities? Do you talk to them?

Photo credit: CharlesFred via / CC BY-NC-SA

9 thoughts on “Language of terror vs loving language

  1. Rachel

    No-one speaks English? Right, that explains how he was able to interview several people who replied in clear English, then.

    Mind you, I know Italians and Greeks who have been in Australia for fifty or sixty years and still can’t really speak English because they settled in an area where everyone, including shop-keepers, speaks Italian or Greek. My own aunt has been in Australia for seven years now (from South Korea) and still struggles to make a sentence in English.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are some old people who don’t speak such good English. In fact, I see tons of elderly folks around, since they tend to walk more slowly and sit for more rests.
      But it appears this “journalist” didn’t approach any of them.


  2. Rachel

    “Of the two hundred Islamic schools in the US, at least two are in Minnesota”. Oh, goodness, 1%! Such a lot! It’s obviously a hotbed for radicalism!

    I wonder why the kids feel isolated from society? Could it be the attitudes society apparently has to them? I’m not even going to mention the healthcare comment…

    When I watched the video, it occurred to me that people could speak English but kept saying they couldn’t to avoid speaking to a prejudiced reporter. Then I went and read the other report you linked and it said “People are smart! They just didn’t want to speak to Fox News!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The institution of madrassahs (Islamic schools) are important to Islamic communities, since they are focused on giving children literacy in the Qur’an (as well as other things like local languages) and genuinely understanding their religion. People shouldn’t judge them for existing, and trying to educate their children. Outside Islamic countries, they’re essentially extracurricular institutions.

    Your article is very well written, and it points out an important problem of many xenophobic Americans who have an issue with immigrant communities practicing their beliefs. Coming from an immigrant community myself, I understand the need to speak in our own languages, because it’s not just a connection to our home countries, but also to instill our heritage in our children. It reminds parents of home, and gives children a glimpse of what their parents come from. Thanks for the article.

    Liked by 1 person

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