“I moved to America when I was 9 years old,” says Deq Ahmed, a librarian and administrative assistant at Rochester Math and Science Academy, a charter school that specializes in education of Somali youth.
“I’m more American than I am Somali.”
Such is the sentiment of many Somalis in Rochester. They are overjoyed with their inclusion in the American Dream, happy to be a part of the melting pot, and eager to build better lives for their kids than they have for themselves.
Somalis today find themselves victim of the same xenophobia that dogged Arabs in the months and years after 9/11, and in large part still pervades. The prejudice against young Somali men is in many ways a continuation thereof, another iteration of the proverbial boogeyman, Islamophobia’s latest target.
“It changes the whole community,” says Abdi Roble, a Somalian man living in Rochester, says of the extremist ideology that creates a stereotype of Somali culture. “People look at you when you are walking down the street… it creates vulnerability.”
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Roble sees anti-Somali sentiment as an opportunity.
“Every race of people that has come to America has encountered this. It’s part of coming here.”
Many in Rochester are working to combat that vulnerability, to instill structure and discipline where there was once an identity crisis.
“We are doing all in our capability to divert them [from extremist ideology] and tell them that this is the right way,” says Roble. He says that while his efforts as a father and as a community leader to improve the lives of Somali youth have been successful thus far, it’s important to remain vigilant against pervasive extremism.
“No matter how much you close your doors,” says Roble, “thieves will always try to get in.”
Those sentiments were echoed by other Somalis in Rochester, who say that their culture, ideologies, and religion is not that espoused by ISIS, or by the young Somali men arrested Sunday for allegedly attempting to obtain forged passports for terrorist groups.
“We are worried about people in the Minnesota community getting involved in a bad situation overseas. We want to reach our youth and get them help,” says Omar Nur, director of Somalia Rebuild Organization, a nonprofit whose aim is to improve the lives of Somali youth living in Rochester. His organization funds literacy programs and sports leagues for Somali youth. He, like Abdi Roble, sees progress. He cites the example of Munira Khalif, the Somali-Minnesotan girl recently accepted to all eight Ivy League Schools, plus Georgetown, Stanford, and the University of Minnesota.
“There’s a big gap between the life we left, and the life that’s here. And we try to fill in that gap.”