For the last three decades, Somalia has been one of the most unstable countries in the horn of Africa region. More than 1.5 million Somali citizens have been displaced and ended up in faraway lands since 1991, when a civil war broke out following a coup that ended two decades of Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime.
Most of the Somalis who call Minnesota home were among the first refugees to flee the east African country. Given that history of instability, it might seem strange to some that anyone would celebrate the independence of a country they had to flee.
But that’s exactly what members of the Somali American community during the weekend of July 1 to mark 63 years of the founding of the Republic of Somalia.
“I think it’s important that we have this [celebration] because, even though we are now in Minnesota, we need to remember our history,” said community member Khadar Bille.
Bille was one of thousands of Somali Americans who came to Lake Street in Minneapolis to celebrate Somalia’s Independence Day. Waving a sea of sky-blue flags, people surrounded the stage on Lake Street, where a lineup of musical artists was scheduled to perform. Further from the stage were Somali business vendors, their tents sheltering them from the oppressive heat. Children’s laughter could be heard over the traditional Somali music playing on the speakers. Attendees enjoyed a range of activities including a petting zoo, face painting, and treats.
The celebration on Lake Street was part of a weeklong series of events for Minnesota Somalis to celebrate their home country’s independence under the banner of “Somali Week”. Events included panel discussions, and cultural and sports events, hosted by Ka Joog, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that organizes annual celebrations of the east African country’s Independence Day.
Many of the Somalis who fled the civil war ended up in Minnesota because of the state’s progressive politics and its robust refugee resettlement agencies. Today, Minnesota is home to more than 86,000 people of Somali descent, more than any other state in the nation, according to Minnesota Compass. As their population grows, they encounter challenges that come with being Black and Muslim. Festivals like the Independence Day celebration become important tool for combating stereotypes because they give Somalis opportunities to introduce positive aspects of their rich culture to Minnesotans of different backgrounds.
“[The festival] is good representation,” said Abdi Osman, a member of the Somali community. “I’m glad we get to enjoy it and showcase our beautiful culture.”
The origins of the modern Somali state date back to 1884, when European nations began the “Scramble for Africa,” a colloquialism for the imperial conquest of western powers over territories on the continent. Following the conference, Britain took over a large part of Somalia and established British Somaliland. By 1936, Italy had taken over the northeastern sultanates of the country and formed Italian Somaliland, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
The colonial powers fought for many years over the ownership of their respective territories, with British forces defeating the Italians to add Italian Somaliland to its protectorates after the Second World War. On June 26, 1960, British Somaliland gained independence and became the State of Somaliland. Five days later, it merged with the Italian Somaliland to become the Republic of Somalia. Today, June 26 of every year is celebrated as Somalia Independence Day while July 1 is Republic Day. Every year, citizens of the country living in Minnesota spend celebrate the two important days in a series of events known as Somali Week.
Siham Mahamood, founder of real estate agency Amaana Realty, expressed enthusiasm about being able to have a table at the Somali Week festival for the first time ever. She said she decided to pursue a career in real estate after an unpleasant experience she had when purchasing a home in 2019. Her relator was full of prejudices that came from lack of understanding of Somali culture. The experience made her feel compelled to serve her community through real estate by providing a culturally inclusive experience.
“Being able to help my own people is inspiring,” Mahamood said. “I want my people to have a better experience than I did.”
Anwar Juba, a Graphic designer, and his son Abdi Shaur had a table for Juba Graphics, the father’s graphic design firm. Juba has been vending at the festival for many years, where he sells Somalia themed shirts, flags, and banners.
“It’s just fun seeing everyone enjoying themselves while supporting Somali-owned businesses,” Juba said.
Mohamed Ali chatted with a vendor as he indulged in doolsho, a type of Somali sponge cake. Besides his dessert, Ali said his favorite part of the festival was seeing individuals of different ethnicities come together and support Somalis in celebrating their culture and independence.
“I’m just here vibing [sic] with the community,” Ali said. “It’s refreshing to see this kind of unity.”