Do Somali refugees in the US want to assimilate?

Here is a story from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) that I said I would mention days ago, but never got to (like so many other prospective posts I have in my queue!).  MPR reports on a debate between two Somali leaders in Minnesota.

An invigorating discussion on Somalis in Minnesota had a particularly interesting exchange on an assertion that is difficult to prove: Somalis aren’t interested in participating in the American culture, even as they become American citizens.

“There are many Somalis who are eager to have American papers because it facilitates American life,” Ahmed Samatar, the dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College in St. Paul said. “But they either have no interest or have not made the initiative to understand the deep values of American society — the value of democratic politics, the value of individual liberty, the value of equality, the value of loyalty to one’s own society. Those come through long, deep educational process (and) a generational movement.”

Ahmed Samatar cites the silence on the Somali missing youths case as evidence of where Somalis loyalties lie.   Note this post  (story also linked by MPR below) I wrote a couple of days ago where the women were silent until summoned to a grand jury. 

Ahmed Samatar said the fact nobody has come forward with information about the missing Somali young men of Minneapolis is troubling (see timeline). “If you are a citizen of a country in the deepest sense I am talking about, then you will tell the truth. You cannot just say ‘I am minding my own business and yet I want to live here in the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota,’ and not participate in trying to protect society from the things that damage its own sense of self and community.”

Other Somali leaders disagree and want proof of the assertion:

Hussein Samatar, the founder and executive director of the African Development Center in Minneapolis, disagreed.

“You betcha,” he said when MPR’s Gary Eichten asked if most Somalis here want to become U.S. citizens. “If you really believe what you just said about the Somalis not being deep enough into American values, I would ask you: Have you done studies that can show the numbers in terms of people not becoming deep? If you have them, otherwise anecdotally it’s not enough.”

No “melting” for us:

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to mention this and now seems a good time.  I read the very fawning and pro-Somali refugee book “The Somali Diaspora, A Journey Away” by Roble and Rutledge recently and found this an interesting admission. 

Americans seem to expect Somalis to assimilate….  Most Americns now think that they should be able to draw the road map of assimilation, but many Somalis have decided that they want to draw the map for themselves. Actually, most Somalis avoid the word assimilation.  Abdirashid Warsame explained his difficulty with the concept by saying, “America may be a melting pot, but I don’t want to melt.” Somalis seem to prefer the concept of participation, the notion that they can participate in U.S. culture without letting America define the meaning of their lives.

Sounds pretty selfish to me.  We will take all America will give us—food, shelter, health care, safety, freedom, etc.—but don’t expect us to learn to be Americans.  We refuse.

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