We are expected to just leave, to start living.: Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Mohamed Jama
  • Age at interview - 27
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 06.21.2004
  • Salama Grocery, Karmel Somali mall, Minneapolis, February 1, 2004.
    Somali boys celebrate Eid al-Adha at the Mall of America, Bloomington, 2004.


    Javascript is required to view this map.

    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

    There are strict rules in Islam about what foods can be eaten, and how meat must be processed. Halal food is food that is allowed by Islamic law. It is difficult for observant Muslims to eat at restaurants in the U.S. because most food served in them is not halal. American food is also generally higher in fat and sugar than Somali food, and includes more meat.

    Several non-profit charity organizations in Minnesota such as Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities operate numerous programs to help resettle recent immigrants.  There are also several Somali-led organizations that have started to help newcomers adjust to life in the U.S.  In addition, there are programs that have been started by schools to help their immigrant students.

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Mohamed M. Jama 2
    3:15 Minutes | 3.13Mb


    Narrator: Mohamed M. Jama (MJ)

    Interviewers: Bibi Abdalla (BA) and Andy Wilhide (AW)

    BA:  What have been some obstacles or hardships you have faced while adjusting to life in America?

    MJ:  In America? A funny thing is when I was going through my orientation, I was told never to mess with African Americans. The cool thing is when I came to the neighborhood the first people I seen was African Americans. Know what I'm saying? So I had to adjust to that.  I was a young man, adjust to getting that feedback, the negative type.

    When I came here, one of the things is I had to adjust to the language. In real life we may speak layman or comparative English, but when you’re in the neighborhood, out of school, there’s a different way of communication. People speak differently. They say different things that your ESL or your English teacher don’t normally tell you. Know what I’m saying? I had to adjust to that type of language barrier.

    AW:  Like slang, you mean?

    MJ:  Slang, comparative English, layman.

    I had to adjust to way of style in dressing. I had to adjust to the food. It was very hard for me to digest most of the food here.

    AW:  Like what?

    MJ:  Most of the food.

    AW:  Like pizza or stuff like that?

    MJ:  Pizza was like…whoa!

    I picked up a lot of weight. That was some of the things my mother watched out. We call it halal food. At the time, there was not a lot of halal places. She had to read and make sure that this are the food that we wanted, this are the stuff that we wanted. We end up just eating very small, so we can adjust our weights.

    The other thing was the way of dressing and the environment that I was thrown in, without no education. How can I say this…with no one actually telling you about the environment you was in. Here we come, in the United States. There’s nobody there. We are expected to just leave, to start living. The environment was a big change for me.

    AW:  Your support network…

    MJ:  How can I say this?  There was no support network for resettlement. I know, right now in the Great Lakes [Region], we have agencies where they resettle refugees when they come here. For like six, eight months, they will have someone show them how to go shopping, the roads, how to take buses, how to get to school, what channels to watch for the weather, and stuff like that. We didn’t have none of that. That was the other thing.

    BA:  How many Somalis were here when you first came?

    MJ:  When I got here, there was few. There was few families. Most of the families lived in St. Paul. There was two, three families in St. Paul, two families in Rochester. That was the only people that we knew. We Somalis are so quick in finding ourselves.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun: The exchange of information between different parties.


    Noun:  A particular political or social setting, arena or condition.


    Noun:  A critical response to something.


    Noun:  Fit to eat according to Muslim religious practice.


    Noun:  Difficulty or trouble; hard times.


    Verb:  To interact socially for the purpose of getting connections or personal advancement.  (networks, networking, networked)

    Noun:  An interconnected group or system.


    Noun:  Something that impedes, stands in the way of, or slows progress.


    Noun:  An introduction to a new environment.


    Noun:  A person forced to leave his or her own country and seek refuge in a foreign country out of fear of persecution or violence or because of poverty or natural disaster.


    Verb:  To establish a home in a different place.  (resettles, resettling, resettled)


    Noun:  The transportation of a group of people to a new home.


    Noun:  Informal words or expressions outside of standard language. 


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 549