We have a lot of work to tell them, 'Let’s get involved.': Becoming Minnesotan

Male silhouette.
  • Name - Mohamed Jama
  • Age at interview - 27
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Refugee
  • Date of Interview - 06.21.2004
  • Mayor R.T. Rybak, Somali Independence Day, Minneapolis, June 27, 2004.  Minnesot
    Somali Independence Day, Minneapolis, June 27, 2004.  Minnesota Historical Socie


    Civic Engagement, Politics, Somali

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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

    Since Somali immigrants began arriving in 1993, Minnesota has earned a reputation among Somalis for having jobs and educational opportunities, as well as a large and active Somali community.  Thousands of Somalis who originally settled in other parts of the U.S. have now relocated to Minneapolis or St. Paul, or smaller cities like Rochester, St. Cloud, Owatonna, Waseca, Marshall, or Faribault.  There are jobs in these places that don’t require fluency in English, so are often the first stopping point for newly arrived Somalis.  

    Young Somalis are often able to get the support they need to learn English and to learn how to operate in American society in their schools. These young people may not have ever lived in Somalia, so they are more likely to see themselves as Americans who should get involved politically. Older Somali immigrant, though, sometimes struggle with learning English and can feel more isolated.  Elders are also generally more hopeful that they will be able to return to Somalia, so they are not as interested in getting involved in a place that they do not feel is home.

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Mohamed M. Jama 3
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    Narrator: Mohamed M. Jama (MJ)

    Interviewer: Andy Wilhide (AW)

    MJ:  We’re hoping to have the next mayor elected [of Minneapolis] to be Somali one day.

    AW:  Yeah? Is that going to be you?

    MJ:  No, I’m not a politician. [Laughs]

    We’re giving it, let’s just say, ten more years. We will have some political agendas where we come up, you know, to the stage and say, “This is our issues.” Twelve percent of the voters are Somalis now, so that is a huge percentage.

    We just had our first caucus here. We have a caucus, a DFL [Democratic-Farmer-Labor] caucus. It was a huge turnout.

    AW:  How many people?

    MJ:  A lot of people. We did our own fundraising. That was the coolest thing. We’re not just freeloaders

    AW:  Because if Somalis are twelve percent of the vote, how many of them actually vote, though?

    MJ:  That is one thing. Most of the holders of the city, leadership holders, are the older generation. So we have a lot of work to tell them, “Let’s get involved.” When those are involved, younger people, people like me can be involved. Most of the city’s leadership holders are our elders. The elders necessarily don’t like voting on most of the agendas right now. But, still, their vote counts. We can put whoever we feel like putting somewhere. So, if that don't work out at least we gave our voice out and [unclear] will hear our opinions. That’s the only way. I think that’s the Constitution of America. It’s the way you can secure your way of living in this state, and that is the way we can secure ourselves to become very productive people.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:   A meeting of persons belonging to a political party to nominate candidates for public office or to discuss and decide party policy.


    Noun:  An older person or an older member, usually a leader, of some community.


    Noun:  One who does not contribute or pay appropriately; one who gets a free ride, etc. without paying a fair share.


    Noun:  The legitimate process of collecting money by requesting donations from individuals and businesses.


    Noun:  1. A period of around thirty years, the average amount of time before a child takes the place of its parents.  2. A group of people who are of approximately the same age.


    Adjective:  Complicated.


    Noun:  Debate; controversy; problem.


    Adverb:  Concerning or related to politics, the art and process of governing.


    Adjective:  Able to complete one or more tasks successfully.


    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
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