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Columbus, Ohio

Dublin Ohio exhibit shows Somali immigrants integrated into central Ohio

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Among U.S. cities, Columbus is second only to Minneapolis in the number of Somali immigrants.

But how many of us really know our Somali neighbors?

The Dublin Arts Council has taken a step toward introducing 15 extraordinary young men and women from the area who are of Somalian descent.

In “Urur Dhex-Dhexaad Ah: Community In-Between,” the council presents color portraits of the subjects along with first-person video stories, written narratives, photographs, Somali artifacts and maps detailing the immigrants’ worldwide journeys.

The exhibit, which continues through Nov. 3, focuses on integration and represents the first in a series of three. In 2018, a council exhibit will address the subject of immigration and, in 2019, identity.

“The response thus far has been extremely positive,” council spokeswoman Janet Cooper said. “I’m so pleased to see the substantial amount of time that gallery visitors are spending with the portraits and the additional content.”

Organizing the exhibit and creating the 123-page book that documents the project were Qorsho Hassan, an educator and researcher in the Somali community, and Ruth M. Smith, program coordinator of the Online Master’s in Art Education program at Ohio State University.

The color photographs are straight-on portraits of the subjects, who are mostly in their 20s and identified only by first name. Most of the photos were shot by two recent central Ohio high-school graduates, Asia Nuur and Faduma Hasan, who participated in a workshop to learn their skills.

Most of the subjects are first- or second-generation immigrants, and each is remarkable in various ways.

For example:

• Nima Dahir, 21, is a graduate of Ohio State University who will be doing economics research at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

• Ilhan Dahir, 23 (sister of Nima), also an Ohio State graduate, is a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England studying refugees, migration, global governance and diplomacy.

• Hoda Hassan, 27, a medical student at the University of Toledo, is specializing in child psychiatry.

• Ahmed Shukri, 21, who moved to the United States when he was 4, became the first Somali deputy sheriff in Franklin County in 2015.

• Ibrahim A. Warsame, 27, attended medical school at the University of Toledo and is now an anesthesiologist.

In their videos and narratives, all 15 discuss the challenges of assimilating into American society, the devotion they feel to the United States as well as Somalia, and the rigorous emphasis their parents put on education.

“My parents decided to move to the United States because they saw this as the place that their kids would have the greatest chance of achieving whatever it was that we could or wanted to achieve,” Ilhan says. “The American dream, or this idea that you can accomplish anything in this country, isn’t really theoretical to them. It’s very practical, and it’s very real.”

Some of the subjects address what life was like in the United States just after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“After 9/11, my mom thought I’d be safer if I just took my head scarf off, at least for a while, because we weren’t sure what was going on at the time,” Hoda says. “That was when I really first experienced questions about everything and not really understanding who I was because I didn’t look like the person I was the day before and I wasn’t wearing a scarf. I think that was the first time I questioned everything.”

Many of the the Somalis featured in the exhibit display maturity beyond their years. The 18-year-old young man known as Chowder the Poet — who, with Isiah (I.C.) Chillous, created a spoken-word video that runs in the room containing the artifacts — talked about education.

“In school, all you get, in my view, is information,” he said. “You don’t really get knowledge. Knowledge is the whole application of that information — understanding where it goes, being wise about certain things and understanding certain scenarios.

“I think a lot of my knowledge, if I have any, comes from my life, my background — and a little bit of it comes from school. Most of it comes from my parents, where I grew up, my environment, America and back home.”

In addition to the portraits, the exhibit includes traditional Somali fabrics and artifacts, including currency, tapestries, a drum and carved utensils.

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Columbus, Ohio

Somali refugee passes bar exam, runs for Ohio House

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Before Ismail Mohamad could become possibly the first Somali-born attorney licensed to practice in Ohio, he first had to convince his family that he was pursuing the right profession.

They knew he was tough, having escaped the violence of civil war in Somalia with his mother and seven older siblings when he was 5. They fled to Ethiopia, and later to Kenya, keeping up his education while facing challenges as refugees in an unstable region.

They knew he was smart, earning mostly A’s at Northland High School after arriving with his family in Columbus in early 2005 at age 12. Pushed by his mother, who stressed education to all of her children, he took college classes while at Northland and helped mediate disputes at the school.

But becoming a lawyer?

“There is a stigma with Somali parents, where almost all of them want their children to be doctors for some reason,” said Hodan Mohamad, one of Ismail’s five older sisters. “Mom wanted him to be a doctor.”

That was a problem, however. “I don’t like blood,” Ismail said.

Ismail’s decision to enter Ohio State University for a career in law, rather than medicine, troubled his family. But that anxiety faded away on Nov. 13, when Ismail raised his right hand and was sworn into the Ohio Bar.

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“There is a big push for immigrant families to want to be doctors and engineers,” Ismail, 25, said. But he knew coming out of high school those were not areas he wanted to pursue.

“Civil rights is a big issue of mine, making sure people’s rights are being protected, especially the immigrant community, the black community and really any under-represented communities.”

Ismail believes he is the first Somali-born lawyer licensed in Ohio, but confirming that is difficult. Neither the state nor local bar associations track such information. If he’s not No. 1, he’s definitely among the first.

Omar Hassan, director of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, said the Somali community is proud of Ismail, but he doesn’t think he’s the first in Ohio.

There have been others, Hassan said, specifically mentioning Hodan Siad, a Somali-American from Columbus who graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 2008.

Contacted by The Dispatch, Siad said she moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue government work and was never licensed in Ohio. She is licensed in Maryland and Washington.

The ability to affect lives drove Ismail to law, and, he said, also has him exploring politics. He is running for the Ohio House in the 25th District, challenging Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent, D-Columbus.

If elected, Ismail would become the nation’s second Somali-American state lawmaker, following 34-year-old Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis, who took office in January.

Ismail’s road to the Ohio Bar was not an easy one.

Violence first pushed his family out of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, and then, as civil war spread, his mother decided the country was no longer safe. The family fled to neighboring Ethiopia in late 1997, where they lived about four years before going to Kenya.

“In Ethiopia, the police were better but the nation was not welcoming,” Hodan Mohamad said. “In Kenya, the nation was welcoming, but the police; when you go out you have to show proof of your age or you will be caught and have to pay money.”

Ismail’s father, Cali Casayr, came to the United States in 1997 through a visa lottery, but the rest of the family couldn’t afford to join him right away. Casayr spent years working in Columbus, sending money to help support the family.

“My parents never had a lot of money, but they always knew the value of education and made sure their kids were going to school. Mom did a lot of different work for us to get the best education she could,” Ismail said.

Only those who could pay for one got an education in Kenya, Ismail said, and that helped him transition to school in Columbus.

“That’s something taken for granted in the U.S., but coming from a background where people literally have to do whatever it takes to get an education, you value that much more,” he said.

Ismail settled into school and knew he had to work hard. His mother, Shamis Mohamad, said she gave her kids a seven-year window after arriving in the United States to integrate, educate and find career paths.

“I’m happy now. I feel like everyone has become successful,” she said.

Ismail said there were some struggles in school, including fights among African ethnic groups. “That’s when I became active in the different nonprofits I worked with, both in high school and in college. The need for integrating the Somali community to the broader community was a big push that I championed.”

That included trips to the principal’s office, where he would help interpret and “try to mediate conflicts between different ethnicities or for Somalis who didn’t know what was going on.”

As Ismail moved on to Ohio State, the family tried to talk him out of a legal career, Hodan Mohamad said, speaking at Our Helpers, a non-profit agency she started in 2012 to help immigrants, particularly Somalis, integrate and find assistance.

“But he insisted on doing it. He said, ‘This is what I want to do and I’m going to make it happen.’”

At one point, Hodan said, the family had a meeting, concerned that Ismail wasn’t reading enough or struggling enough. They questioned whether he was actually going to school.

“He was like, “Mom, just wait; I’m going to invite you to my graduation,’” Hodan said.

“The day we were going to his graduation ceremony was really a big deal and really a surprise for all of the family.”

Now, mom says she is very happy, noting there are a lot of doctors, but a big need for Somali lawyers. Plus, she said, her son can serve as an example to others in the community.

Being among the first Somali-American attorneys in Ohio means a lot, Ismail said. Even when he was still in law school, he said, he was already getting calls asking for help.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “I don’t know who is giving out my cell number, but a lot of people have been calling me around the city. I’m currently not charging them anything. There is a big need and people are not able to pay. They are taken advantage of with legal fees that are extremely high.”

Ismail hopes to start his own practice, though for now he’s more focused on his run for the Ohio House.

“I see the issues people are dealing with, and I know I can be a voice for others in various communities,” he said.

jsiegel@dispatch.com

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Columbus, Ohio

Hoyo’s Kitchen Wants To Be Columbus’ Gateway To Somali Culture

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At Hoyo’s Kitchen, Angie Sharkey says she likes a little of everything.

Sharkey, who came with two colleagues from the Columbus Metropolitan Library, says they’re regulars here. When owner Abdilahi Hassan comes around to take her order, she tells him, “Surprise me.”

Tucked into a nondescript Cleveland Avenue strip mall, between an Irish pub and “Waterbeds and Stuff,” Hoyo’s Kitchen has the curious honor of being the city’s only “fast casual” Somali restaurant.

In fact, it’s one of the few Somali restaurants here at all – surprising for the city with the second-largest population of Somali refugees in the country.

In the three years since it opened, though, Hoyo’s already earned a devoted following in Columbus – and expanded a lot of appetites. The food website Eater recently called Hoyo’s one of the “Midwest’s 38 Essential Restaurants.” It was the only Columbus establishment to even make the list.

Mother’s Kitchen

Over the past decade and a half, tens of thousands of Somali refugees settled in Columbus, mostly on the city’s North Side. Hassan, 29, is one of them, after moving with his family to Columbus from the D.C. area 14 years ago.

But food’s always been on his mind.

“I love my mother’s cooking,” Hassan says. “I grew up basically hyping my mom up. Every time she would make something different, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, if only you’d open up a restaurant, people would be flocking.'”

After graduating from Ohio State in 2014, Hassan convinced his mother to open a restaurant with him. Quickly, it became a family endeavor.

“Everyone from my nieces and nephews to my grandparents jumped into the kitchen when we really need them,” Hassan says. “From the very beginning, this was an homage to my mother’s kitchen.”

“Hoyo,” Hassan explains, means “mother” in Somali.

Hayat Dalmar, 56, is the mother of restaurant owner Abdilahi Hassan and the head cook of Hoyo’s Kitchen.
CREDIT GABE ROSENBERG / WOSU

Not So Scary

Just after the lunch rush, Hassan’s mother Hayat Dalmar, 56, is back in the kitchen. She pulls from the oven a large pot of rice, bright orange from the spices.

“I brought my kitchen from my house to this restaurant,” Dalmar says, laughing.

Of all her dishes – goat, chicken, chai – she says rice is by far her favorite to cook.

“I like rice because my mother, she used to be a great cooker and I think I took it from her, and I have the passion,” Dalmar says. “I like to make rice.”

Hassan says certain aspects of Somali food still seem “exotic” to Americans. Goat, especially.

“There’s a lot of people that are scared of Somali food,” he says. “Or just scared of trying something different.”

But a lot of Somali food might be more familiar than people think. Hassan explains Somali food is an “organic fusion,” combining flavors from Indian, Middle Eastern and East African cuisines. Dishes like chabatti, a flat bread, or ugali, a sort of corn porridge, have versions all over the world.

Hoyo’s Kitchen serves a Somali chai tea, flavored with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, spicier than the kind served in most coffee shops. And they’re well-known for their sambusas, the Somali version of an Indian samosa: fried and triangular-shaped pastries.

“Everybody loves sambusa,” Hassan says. “That’s like our gateway drug. That’s our gateway into Somali food.”

The main difference between sambusas and samosas, Hassan says, is beef.

“Somalis are meat eaters, so ours has meat in it,” he says. “We don’t mess with veggies.”

Around Columbus, Hassan has graduated from hyping his mother’s food to hyping Somali food in general. He wants Hoyo’s Kitchen to be a sort of ambassador, which is also why he embraced the label of “fast casual.”

Columbus boasts a glut of “fast casual” restaurants, which split the difference between fast food and casual dining. Chipotle is the most famous, but Columbus has plenty of local “fast casual” chains like Fusian, 6-1-Pho and Bibibop.

“I’m a student of the game,” Hassan says. “You know, I studied the industry.”

By breaking down Somali dishes into parts, Hassan hopes to make it more approachable – for white people, for African-Americans, and just for everyone who hasn’t encountered this particular cuisine. They’ve made headway on that part, something Hassan credits to Columbus Food Adventures, which brings a tour by every Friday night.

Hassan, though, has big ideas for what Hoyo’s Kitchen could be.

“We want to be the bridge between our Somali community and the larger American population,” Hassan says.

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Columbus, Ohio

Central Ohio’s Somali community mourns deadly attack

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) — Somalis who call Central Ohio home are mourning an attack considered the deadliest in their native country.

On Saturday, a truck bomb killed more than 300 people in the capital city of Mogadishu.

Somali-Americans living in Central Ohio went to a north Columbus mosque with a clear message on the violence.

“Pray for the victims and number two, condemn with the strongest term what happened in Mogadishu,” explained Horsed Nooh, director of the Abubakar Assidiq Islamic Center.

For Nooh, Saturday’s deadly attack strikes close to home.

“I lost some family members. I lost some friends. Many of them were the brightest minds from Columbus. They grew up here, they graduated from these schools and they went back to contribute.”

Sharif-Ali Hashim also has loved ones in the African capital city. He said while they’re physically fine, emotionally they are hurting.

“My brothers, I have my sisters, relatives, friends, I talked with them and everybody and some of them they were in tears,” said Hashim.

Hashim explained people are turning to their faith to comfort their pain.

“Without faith, you cannot move.”

Currently, members of Central Ohio’s Somali community are working on a fundraiser to help attack victims and their families.

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