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Understanding the World Around Us: A Deeper Look into Somali Culture
St. Norbert Times
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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This semester, St. Norbert is offering cultural workshops through language services, which can be found on the SNC website. Among these was a course called “Understanding Somali Culture,” which was held on February 9. Hamida Ismael, a local Somali immigrant, taught this course.

The course was attended by locals not only from St. Norbert College, but also community members who desired to learn more about the Somali people they were working with. Although you may not personally know any Somali people, it is important to understand their culture and why they immigrated to places like Green Bay. In understanding the reason so many immigrants have chosen to live in Green Bay, it is crucial to look at the history of Somalia. The group also discussed Somali traditions and culture such as the Muslim faith, traditional weddings, heritage, and typical ethnic foods.

There have been major conflicts in Somalia since they were colonially ruled in the late 1800’s by Britain, Italy, and France. At the time, Somalia’s neighbor, Ethiopia, was one of the only uncolonized African countries. Because of their strong Christian roots, this caused Europeans to favor them, which led to giving Ethiopia a mineral-rich location on the Gulf of Aden. After Somalia’s fight for independence in 1960, they struggled to find a proper ruling government which created a perfect entrance for warlords, often from local tribes, that used the money for their own tribe’s benefit.

As southern Somalia started to develop faster than the north, tensions rose because the north wanted them to be a unified country. Civil war broke out in 1988, which caused the north to become Somaliland, influenced by a desire to be separated from the south. There was a lot of death and destruction at this time, which caused more tensions and lack of hope for people. At this time, people became so absorbed in war; they were killing people they once called friends and they were also highly influenced by people whose countries they fled to as refugees. These countries influenced them with culture and religion, often in hopes of accomplishing their public agenda, while giving the Somali people a false sense of hope. Soon, Islamist militias overthrew the warlords and spread a new kind of war, which included not just killings, but torture, like cutting off people’s arms and tongues.

Family life in Somalia was scary at the time of civil war as well. It is, and was common for couples to have many family members. There was a “survival of the fittest” mentality. As the family ran from militias, it was not uncommon for the slowest and sickest to fall behind and be killed. Luckily for Hamida, she and her seven siblings all survived. Hamida’s family also took in three children whose parents were killed and sought safety with them.

At this time, many people were seeking a new home, one that was safer and had more opportunities. In 1993, the first group of Somali people started to immigrate to the United States, often finding homes in Virginia and Washington D.C. These people were often of high class or were political figures.

Today in Somalia, the north is a fairly peaceful place and its industry and infrastructure has started to grow. The south is still not a very safe place for people to live, especially for women and children. Women in Somalia often wear a burka and full dress to cover their bodies for fear of being beaten or raped. This fear has continued to envelop these women into the United States where they can still be seen wearing full head dresses. As of August 2012, Somalia has a new government, which includes a parliament of 200 members. Their newly elected president is Hassan Sheik Mohamud, a moderate political activist and academic.

In Green Bay, there are about 200 Somali families. There are 86 Somali students enrolled in the Green Bay Area School District. Most of these families are new to the area. Not until recently did Somali people start immigrating to Green Bay. Often the families will move here to learn the language and learn to drive before moving to a bigger city, where they have more job opportunities. Other places that have large populations of Somali immigrants include Minnesota, Washington, California and Ohio. There are about 32,000 total Somali immigrants in the United States.

You can find more classes like this one on the Language Services page on the SNC website. Each class subject is typically only a one time occurrence and can range from sign language to weddings around the world. Prices also depend on the course, but discounts are offered for SNC students.


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