Somalis + Minnesota exhibit expresses refugee experience

Class field trip gives students insight into Somali community in Minnesota

Mimi Geller, Director of RubicOnline

Over one week from her victory, Ilhan Omar is not only one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, but she is also the first Somali-American refugee. And for many Somali Minnesotans, her win serves as a much-needed step towards more representation for Somali people in the Twin Cities.

An estimated 57,000 Somali-Americans and refugees live in Minnesota, the largest Somali diaspora in the United States. With their swelling numbers comes a flourishing community, particularly in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis.

The History of Refugee Communities in Minnesota elective visited the Minnesota History Center’s “Somalis + Minnesota” exhibit on Nov 15 to begin their new unit on Somali refugees. The interactive exhibit features a comprehensive timeline of Somalia, personal stories from refugees in Minnesota, and an activity to show the public how to load a camel as they do in Somalia. Audio and video screenings depict the struggles of assimilating into American society and Minnesota traditions while preserving their culture.

Senior Kayla Edmundson took this class to give herself context about diverse communities who live in the Twin Cities:

I was interested in how the different voices were expressed”

— Gabby Harmoning

“I chose to take this class because I thought it would be very interesting to learn more about the history of Minnesota outside of what we learned in middle school and to actually talk about refugees because although they make up a large part of our population in the Twin Cities, we don’t actually know much about them from regular education. It’s such a vibrant part of our culture.”

“Somalis +Minnesota” reinforced her interest in exploring the history of refugee communities, “I thought it was a good exhibit because it gave context to Somalia and Somali people with the history of the country with descriptions of the pastoralist society and nomads to the evolution of the government and the lasting legacy of colonialism.”

As a starting point for the unit, the Minnesota History Center offered seniors Will Christakos and Gabby Harmoning an accurate portrayal of the lived experiences from Somali Minnesotans.

“I thought the exhibit was really interesting. I learned a whole lot of new things today about Somali culture and refugees in Minnesota with a uniquely formatted hands-on experience,” Christakos said.

“The exhibit was really fascinating. You were able to see Somali voices in Minnesota and their experiences here and how they feel about home. I was interested in how the different voices were expressed,” Harmoning said.

“Somalis + Minnesota” will remain open until June 9, 2019. To learn more about the exhibit, click here.