The flags were a sign that Somali Independence Day was nearing, and the Somali community was marking the day by holding a festival Saturday. Known as Somali Week, the festival drew thousands to a four-block stretch along Lake Street. The festival showcased simply a snippet of the pride Somalis hold for their country, despite challenges the East African country continues to face due to its history of political turmoil.

Entire families dressed from head to toe in blue sweatsuits and star-studded Somali clothes known as baatis. Songs like “Wavin’ Flag” by Somali Canadian artist K’Naan, and “One Love” by Bob Marley played as Somalia’s national flag swept West Lake Street. Next to vendor tents and Somali-owned food trucks, Adam’s Gyro and Halal Spicy King were lines of ecstatic children waiting for their chance to ride on a camel, merrily fluttering handheld mini flags in their hands.

“It’s a reminder of everything we’ve been through,” said Deeqa Ismail, a vendor and owner of Dhiil. “We celebrate through the flag. Everybody is wearing the flag.”

Former Prime Minister of Somalia Hassan Ali Khaire took a two-block stroll of Lake Street greeting vendors and enthusiastic attendees during the annual Somali Week Festival in Minneapolis on Saturday, June 29, 2024. Photo: Tom Gitaa/Mshale

Somalia’s extensive coast, which gave easy access to the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Arabian Sea, made it attractive to various European colonial powers. The modern country comprises of the former British Somaliland, and the Trust Territory of Somaliland, which was overseen by Italy. On June 26, 1960, British Somaliland gained independence, and five days later, on July 1, merged with Italian Somaliland to create the independent republic Somalia.

After the 1991 outbreak of the Somali Civil War, and the resulting lack of a recognized government, refugees fled the country, with nearly two-thirds heading to neighboring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. Minnesota also became a haven for Somali refugees. There are nearly 90,000 people of Somali descent living Minnesota, the most of any state, according to a Minnesota Compass analysis of 2021 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Yasmin Aden, a program specialist with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said that despite the history of Somalis immigrating to Minnesota, they still faced barriers. Aden said that she, through her work at the department, hoped to ensure that immigrants have pathways to the resources they need.

Five blocks of Lake Street in Minneapolis were blocked for the growing Somali Week Festival which celebrates Somalia’s Independence Day. Thousands attended the annual event which was held on Saturday, June 29, 2024. Most were standing or walking but a few were able to sit on the on the raised sidewalk to watch the main stage. Photo: Tom Gitaa/Mshale

“Despite a lot of systemic barriers and a lot of language barriers, we continue to push on,” said Aden. “We continue to demand for the same amount of respect, the same human resources as anyone else, and that’s really admirable because it can be really easy as immigrants to kind of get lost in the noise of things and not demand for your rights.”

Somali Week was organized by Ka Joog, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that aims to “motivate youth to pursue higher education, while promoting and building community ties at events throughout Minnesota,” according to the organization’s website. With more than 40,000 participants according to a website dedicated to Somali Week, the organization hosts multiple events throughout the duration of the week, including a soccer tournament, a Somali American business conference, and a concert.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Ka Joog’s executive director Mohamed Farah, along with the former Prime Minister of Somalia Hassan Ali Khaire, on the right, acknowledge cheers from the crowd at the annual Somali Week Festival in Minneapolis on Saturday, June 29, 2024. Photo: Tom Gitaa/Mshale

The celebration took place in the Lyndale neighborhood between Blaisdell Avenue and Stevens Avenue, a block away from Karmel Mall, a vital African community shopping center. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is the first and only U.S. Congressperson of Somali background, along with former Prime Minister of Somalia Hassan Ali Khaire, were among notable attendees who paid homage to the largest Somali diaspora in the United States.

Khaire, who was visiting Minnesota for the first time, praised organizers of the festival and spoke on the significance of July 1, which is Somalia’s Independence Day.

He told the crowd that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar has elevated Somali identity globally, and that those that can vote should vote for her.

Surrounded by Somali-owned businesses stationed along Lake Street like Muhim’s Cafe and largely worked by Somali police officers, the festival speaks to the growing influence Somalis have on the Twin Cities area.

Camel rides continued to be a popular attraction for all ages at the annual Somali Week Festival in Minneapolis which was held on Saturday, June 29, 2024. Photo: Tom Gitaa/Mshale

“Independence to me is like the culmination of our long history, fighting against colonization, fighting against [the] erasure and assimilation that essentially wanted to get rid of us.” said Aden. “So it speaks to our level of resilience to continue to push for our culture and our language, and it shows that no matter where we are in the world, we’re still present as Somalis and we’re well integrated into our communities.”

Tom Gitaa contributed to this story.


About Kwot Anwey

Kwot Anwey is a reporting intern with Mshale and majors in journalism at Boston University.

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