“On a Sunday morning in December 1990, I ran outside to play with my close friends. Before I finished drawing the lines of my hopscotch on the ground, I saw rebels hiding behind the walls. Some men began digging trenches…As I completed the last line of my hopscotch, my mom grabbed me by the neck with all her strength, her eyes wide and full of fierce determination and a mother’s instinct to protect her child…Within minutes, the city streets filled with the sound of artillery. The men who had dug trenches fired heavy rounds that rocked our house, rattling the ceiling and sending loose plaster upon our heads…My family huddled together like panic-stricken sheep.”
Hudda Ibrahim’s family was among the lucky ones who were able to survive being caught in the crossfire between Somali rebels and government forces in Mogadishu. After a two-day ordeal, the family was able to escape to their car and drive away. “The bullets striking the back of the car were thunderous.”
After many years, during five of which Hudda was separated from her family, they were resettled in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Since then Ibrahim has become a leader in the St. Cloud, Minnesota, Somali community, teaching English at St. Cloud Technical and Community College and writing this book (2017) to educate non-Somalis about Somali history, their refugee and resettlement experiences, their culture, customs, and religion; their struggles in an alien world of American culture (including their adjustment to Minnesota winters!); their local business ventures; and their health challenges. Recently she has initiated a series of “Meet Your Muslim Neighbor” dialogues between refugees and traditional U.S. citizens in St. Cloud.
The book is a straightforward, matter-of-fact account that addresses many of the myths, stereotypes, and questions that non-Somalis have about their new neighbors. One of Ibrahim’s achievements is her ability to take on sensitive and controversial issues directly, without apology, confrontation, or ill-will. She is neither overly defensive of her people nor resentful of the barriers and at times hostile reception they have received. A hallmark of her work is the mutual understanding she displays on both sides of the cultural divide.
It is a book that educates without alienating anyone.
In addition to the standard techniques of chronological narrative and factual exposition, the book uses excerpts from interviews Ibrahim has conducted among Somali refugees in St. Cloud. These first-hand reports lend credence to her accounts and allow us to hear a range of voices, from the authoritative Imam to the college student who recalled asking on her first day in the U.S., “Where is the snow?”
The interviews for the book were completed before the infamous mall stabbing in September 2016, when a young Somali American man attacked several people in the local St. Cloud Crossroads Shopping Center. (http://www.sctimes.com/story/news/local/2016/10/06/falconer-cleared-mall-shooting/91660404/) As Ibrahim recounts in her Postscript the community came together--Somalis, traditional St. Cloud residents, college students, city officials, other leaders, and faith communities—to mourn together, bind our collective wounds, and begin the work of both healing and recommitting ourselves to build stronger relationships across our differences of history, religion, and culture.
A march was organized to demonstrate our unity, using a banner with the word “United” in English, Spanish, and Somali. A local group distributed “Love Your Neighbor” signs which sill dot our cityscape on the property of homes and churches.
We still have a vocal minority of “nativists,” who are hostile to immigrants and refugees (http://www.sctimes.com/story/opinion/2017/11/18/stop-hate-falsehoods-being-spread-against-somalis/862449001/), but Ibrahim’s book makes an important contribution to cross-cultural understanding both in St. Cloud and in the nation.