We are the generation that makes or breaks our culture.: Becoming Minnesotan

Bibi Abdalla and Sumaya Yusuf, Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, 2004.
  • Name - Sumaya Yusuf and Bibi Abdalla
  • Age at interview - 15
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Somali singer, Somali Culture Family Day, Minnesota History Center, St. Paul.
    Somali Independence Day, Minneapolis, June 27, 2004.

    We Are Here

    Essential Question

    We Are Here: What does it mean to this immigrant group to be here in America?

    Cultural Preservation: How does a person weave his or her traditional culture into a new American identity?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Younger Somalis have had the advantage of going to school and learning English relatively quickly. However, this is sometimes troubling to older Somalis, because the young people are losing their Somali language at the same time that they are becoming more fluent in English. The Somali community has now started programs to encourage children to continue speaking the Somali language, and some families are making an extra effort to speak Somali at home and to create opportunities like poetry readings to expose their children more to the language.

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

    • Chapter 1

    Download Sumaya Yusuf and Bibi Abdalla 2
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    Narrators: Sumaya Yusuf (SY) and Bibi Abdalla (BA)

    Interviewer: Andy Wilhide (AW)

    AW:  What is unique about a Somali person that sets you apart from everyone?

    SY:  Our language.

    BA: Our songs.

    SY: Yes. Poetry. A lot of Somali people don’t know that Somali poetry is so beautiful. Like, half the time I don’t even know what they’re saying but…[Laughs] My uncle, he writes books and volumes of Somali poetry, that he writes himself. We sit around and we read it. I think that's so interesting, the Somali poetry and what they talk about. So that’s what makes us different.

    AW: And the poetry is all about language?

    BA: Yes, and then our poetry…Yes, our poems are kind of different. We tend to write our poems in a different way than English literature or something like that.

    SY:  The way it’s recited, too.

    BA:  Sometimes, you know, I’ll try to listen to a Somali song or something like that and I feel like I can’t understand a word. It’s like listening to Amharic or listening to a whole different language because I haven’t got to that level of Somali. If you would have went to Somali school, that’s where they would teach you that kind of Somali stuff. I go to my sister and I’ll be, like, “What is that word?” I just get sick of it and just turn it off, you know? Who have you seen, like a Somali teen, that actually listens? There are few, you know.

    SY:  We have to keep that part of our traditions very important to us. I’ll be the first to admit that… Like right now, this is the first time in my life that I'm actually like, I want to be around Somali people. Everywhere we’ve lived, we were the only family or we were one of the few families that lived there that were Somali so I’ve never really gotten a chance to assimilate into the Somali culture, which I think is bad. I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t speak Somali as well as I would like to. I would love to learn.
    I’ve never had Somali friends. I have Somali friends now, and they’re helping me out. I’m proud to be Somali, and I’m proud to have this culture.

    It’s getting me connected to my culture. Now, I want to learn more; whereas, before, I was, like, whatever. I thought of myself more as a Somali American. Now, I think of myself as more of a Somali person living in America. I think there is a difference.

    AW:  That’s a very different use of the word assimilation. I always think of it one-way: from Somali into American and you’re going from American to Somali.

    SY:  Yes. So, now, I want to learn. Before, I never listened to Somali music. Now, I understand there is an importance and reason why I should listen to it.

    There’s a lot of Americanized Somali music now. It’s great, but then it’s also bad, because we need to keep it so that ten years from now, we’ll hear a song all in Somali. It won’t just be Somalian English, know what I mean? I just want to keep that part. I’m always thinking , like, decades from now, how is the Somali culture going to be like? Because we are the generation that makes or breaks our culture, if we keep it or if we don’t keep it. That’s how I feel.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective:  Made American, in the custom, culture, or style of the United States of America.


    Verb:  To absorb into a community by adopting that community's traditions or culture.  (assimilates, assimilating, assimilated)


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    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.


    Verb:  To repeat aloud some passage, poem or other text previously memorized, often before an audience.  (recites, reciting, recited)


    Noun:  A custom that is practiced within a group.


    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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