NBC NEWS — There’s a mom and pop grocery store in Willmar, Minnesota that carries a few items you won’t find in the freezer aisle at any Wal-Mart. Like cubed camel meat.
“We chopped it and we weigh it. You can’t get it anywhere except us,” said Abdilahi Omar. He’s the owner of Ainu Shams Grocery, which also sells goat meat, ghee, and Ethiopian flatbread.
In recent years, the arrival of thousands of Somali immigrants from East Africa has reshaped the Main Street in this tiny agricultural town and many more throughout the state. These refugees are opening businesses in once empty storefronts and introducing their customs to new customers in places once only found in America’s inner cities, where newcomers like these have traditionally settled upon arrival.
“If you want to know what Minnesota will look like in 20 years, go to Willmar,” said Ken Warner, President of the town’s Chamber of Commerce.
Redefining the Demographic
On two square blocks along Litchfield Avenue, Willmar’s otherwise sleepy main street, Somali women run errands while talking on cell phones tucked into their hijabs and men in traditional hats called kufi sip coffee at a local café called Bihi’s.
According to the Minnesota State Census, the official Somali population here is 1,500 — though informal estimates put that number at over 2,000. Combined with the city’s Latino population, the two groups now make up close to 25 percent of Willmar’s population, which is still dominated by farmers of Swedish and Norwegian origin.
The days of family farms have passed here. Many of the large agribusinesses that have since taken their place now depend on immigrant labor.
From Civil War to Jennie-O
The first wave of Somalis came to Minnesota as refugees in the 1990s after the outbreak of civil war in their homeland. After settling in the Twin Cities, many moved to Willmar, where they found work at the local Hormel-owned Jennie-O turkey processing plant.
Today over 20 businesses in and around Main Street are Somali-owned. Many of those have used community-based financing which complies with Islamic law prohibiting the collection or payment of interest.
Despite religious and cultural differences, there are many things these Somali immigrants share with their neighbors, said Abdirizak Mahboub, a local entrepreneur here.
“We speak the language. We are God-loving people, you know, in our own perspective. We work hard,” said Mahboub, 56, who owns an interpreting agency that employs over 30 translators and interpreters and has contracts with area hospitals, courts, and law firms.
On his desk, Mahboub displays photos of his two children, both of whom grew up here and graduated from Willmar High. Without the children of immigrants like Mahboub, Willmar’s school district would have had a net loss of over 1,000 students in the school system. Now, the children of Somali and Latino immigrants represent 50 percent of the district’s population.
“That is our future. We need to embrace the diversity that will be coming in our future workforce,” said Aaron Backman, the director of Willmar’s Economic Development Commission.
No one is pretending that assimilation has come easy here. But there are signs that Willmar’s youngest residents are embracing both cultures. Step inside the Somali Star Restaurant and you might meet Hassan Yusuf, the 8-year-old son of owner, Bashir. Ask him his favorite food, and he won’t say camel meat.
“McDonald’s,” he says with a smile.
His proud father patted his boy on the head — and winced, just a little bit.
Somali Man charged the deaths of 4 in fatal I-55 accident
STAUTON, IL – A Colorado truck driver has been charged following an investigation into a multi-vehicle accident that killed 4 people and injured 11 others. Mohamed Jama, 54, of Greeley, Colorado, turned himself in to the Madison County Jail Monday.
The accident happened on southbound I-55 in Madison County on November 21, 2017.
The fatal accident killed 2 sisters, Madisen and Hailey Bertels and a friend, Tori Carroll, and an out of state woman, Vivian Vu in another vehicle.
Authorities say the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer driven by Mohamed Jama failed to slow down and stop for cars in front of him in a construction zone.
By the time it was all over, 7 vehicles were damaged and the people inside them injured or killed.
The sisters attended high school in Staunton.
The deaths deeply touched Staunton where people knew the young women or knew people who were their friends. Many in town were still grieving the loss. Matthew Batson said, “I’ll hear stories about them all the time, even though it’s been five months? Yes, it’s a lasting effect.”
The Madison County State`s Attorney Tom Gibbon said if convicted of all the crimes Mohamed Jama could spend the rest of his life in prison. With summer coming on and more construction zone Gibbons says there`s a warning for all of us.
“Each of us out there in our cars we really need to pay attention, watch out, slow down you never want to see something like this to happen again it so terrible for all the victim I’m sure that no person would want to be the cause of something like this.”
Jama is charged with 4 counts of reckless homicide and 8 counts of reckless driving. He`s being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.
CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing
EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”
That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.
After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.
Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.
“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.
Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.
“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.
She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”
Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.
“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.
She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.
“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”
Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.
“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.
The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.
She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.
“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”
When radicalization lured two Somali teenagers … from Norway
Acclaimed Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad spent years researching what happened. Now her book, “Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad” is available in the United States.
Seierstad, who discusses her book Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, said she didn’t go looking for the story.
“The story actually came to me,” she said. “It was the father of the girls who actually wanted the story to be written.”
His name is Sadiq, a Somali man who worked for years to bring his family to Norway. He hoped for a better life. He thought things were going well, then everything collapsed when Ayan and Leila disappeared.
When the girls left home, their parents were in shock, Seierstad said. “They hadn’t understood what was this about. Why? And then as months went by and they got to learn more about radicalization, they realized that all the signs had been there. That the girls were like a textbook case of radicalization. And he [Sadiq] wanted the book to be written to warn others, to tell this story to warn other parents.”
It is a perplexing story. Ayan and Leila were bright, and opinionated. They didn’t put up with being pushed around.
“And that is somehow part of why they left, in their logic,” said Seierstad, adding that the girls were convinced Syria and ISIS offered a chance of eternal life.
“They believed that life here and now is not real life. Real life happens after death. And this life is only important as a test. So the better your score, the better you behave in this life, the better position you will have in heaven for eternity. So isn’t that better?”
Seierstad is known for her in-depth reporting. Her book “One of Us,” about Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terror attack, is an international best-seller.
When published in Norway Seierstad said, “Two Sisters” became the top-selling book for two years running. What pleases her most is the breadth of her readership. She gets email from young Somali girls, and also from government officials who want to prevent future radicalization.