The desire to connect with our history and cultural heritage often transcends race and ethnicity. Regardless of where we are from and how we manifest it, there is a sense of respect and nostalgia for our traditions, encouraging us to keep exploring the origins of ourselves. This is why I stubbornly keep watching Korean international news instead of other broadcasts, despite having to install a VPN and watch it in low quality. It is a sense of pride, a sense of comfort in listening to my own language, and a feeling of truly belonging somewhere.
I moved from South Korea to Minnesota in the fall of 2014 to pursue an undergraduate education. Soon after arriving here, I learned that Minnesota is the home to the largest Somali population in the United States. As a museum fellow at the Minnesota Historical Society, I started interning at the Somali Museum of Minnesota in January 2016. Here, members of the Somali community were working to promote exactly how we all feel about our cultural identities. They were working to promote knowledge and understanding of Somalia’s nomadic traditions, and to connect many generations of Somali immigrants in Minnesota. Beyond that, Somalis from Toronto, Texas, Florida, Virginia, and many other places were flying into the museum to learn about their past and present.
Now, in the summer of 2018, I am documenting some of the many stories of Somali immigrants in the Twin Cities as an Arts and Culture intern at TPT. From a teenage traditional dancer to a weaving master and a clothing designer, the community is burgeoning with creative and passionate individuals who are translating their refugee experiences into meaningful artistic creations. In the upcoming weeks, I will be posting videos, interviews and articles that try to capture the complexity of what it’s like to be a Somali Minnesotan.
There are hard questions to be answered in this project: How does a person from outside of the community faithfully represent someone else’s story? How should we respect our friends’ immigrant experiences without romanticizing or glorifying their struggles? What does a trusting and lasting collaboration look like? These are questions that I’m still asking myself, and trying to learn as much as possible along this process.
I thank the wonderful people at the Somali Museum of Minnesota who support and encourage this initiative, as well as the TPT internship program for giving me the opportunity to learn more about the issue that I deeply care about.
Episode 1: Learning Somali Culture Through Traditional Dance
Episode 2: Somali Traditional Dance 101
Episode 3: Mohamed Hersi, Painter and Clothing Designer
Episode 4: Making Woven Art Without Tools
Episode 5: Photographer Shuaib Jenhar