The first time that I had to take bus, I didn’t know what to do.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Hared Mah
  • Age at interview - 23
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 06.03.2004
  • Karmel Somali mall, Minneapolis, February 1, 2004. Minnesota Historical Society.
    Somali girls celebrate Eid-al-Adha at the Mall of America, Bloomington.


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    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Assimilation: Does a person have to give up part of his/her culture to become more American?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Somalia has faced political turbulence for much of its history, and the political situation spiraled out of control in 1991 when the central government fell apart.  Rebel factions began battling to gain control all over the country, and it became very dangerous for common people to live in the midst of the fighting.  Many Somalis fled to the nearby countries of Kenya and Ethiopia to escape the fighting in the years after the fighting began.    These two countries have experienced their own political troubles in the last 50 years, but they have been able to provide temporary shelter in refugee camps for approximately half a million Somali refugees since 1991.  Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is home to many of these refugees.  Starting in 1992, the U.S.  began issuing refugee visas to thousands of Somalis.  Many of them settled in Minneapolis and St.  Paul and many more moved to the Twin Cities from other parts of the United States. 

    To learn more about Somali history and culture, visit our Somali Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Hared Mah 5
    3:1 Minutes | 2.9Mb


    Narrator: Hared Mah (HM)

    Interviewer: Andy Wilhide (AW)

    AW:  What did you think when you first saw the streets, the cars?

    HM:  Oh, that was a scary feeling when I saw the cars. Also the bus was funny; the people put their money in the machine. In Kenya and Somali, they have what they call a conductor. He collects the money from the people. You give him the money; he’ll give you the change back. When I came here and the first time that I had to take bus, I didn’t know what to do. Should I give the money to this man or just put in the machine? In Kenya, you will tell him to stop and you would get off. But I was smart; I was watching what the people were doing. If I was the first person that had to go inside the bus, I would go back and watch what the other people are doing. If they put the money there, then I would put the money in the machine…the card, too, when you are using the card on the bus.

    The streets signs of walk and stop, they had that in Kenya but not many. You just had to cross beside the cars. It’s not safe. But here, I have to wait, it’s a little bit scary, you know when to go. Also, the big highways. When I was coming from the airport, we took the highway.

    AW:  But Minneapolis is smaller than Nairobi, right?

    HM:  The buildings, the downtown, they are the same, I would say. Nairobi has a big downtown, but it depends. It’s not like you stop when you come to the stoplight. It’s not that organized. There’s a whole bunch of cars going after one another and they try to find ways to go. It’s a big city, Nairobi, but it’s not safe to cross. You just have to find a way to cross. You may get killed. The way things are here, it’s different than Nairobi.

    AW:  What about the first time you went to a shopping mall or Mall of America?

    HM:  Oh, Mall of America. It was Sunday the first time we went to the Mall of America. We got lost. It was me and my brother and all our friends. Each of us got lost. I went to a floor that was not the right floor. It’s not the first floor, so there’s no way you can get out. [Laughs] I was trying to get out and catch the bus, but I went to the second floor and then I went to the parking. I figured out I wasn't on the first floor, then I went back to the mall. My brother was looking after me and we could not find each other. Then, later on, we found each other. I was like, "Where did you go?" It took me one hour to get out from the mall. [Laughter] It was crazy.

    Mostly in Kenya, when you’re shopping, you just to go the counter where you buy things. It's different, a bit.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  A person who takes tickets on public transportation.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 533