Somali students push for acceptance

Patricia Drey

Somali students – a growing group on campus – shared food, music and art on Northrop Plaza on Wednesday, with the hope they could teach others more about their culture.

Somali Student Association President Mukhtar Gaaddasaar said Somali students need to integrate better into the University community.

“It can be a little bit difficult for them to really integrate,” Gaaddasaar, an English and political science junior, said. But Somali students do not want to be seen as outsiders, he said.

The University does not have statistics on the number of Somali students, but Somali Student Association members said the club has grown from less than 20 members four years ago to more than 200.

Although the numbers are growing, club members said students from other cultures still have many questions about their culture.

“Everybody wants to know what the head covering is about,” first-year student Farhiyo Abdulle said.

Every summer, people ask how she can bear the heat of her head-to-toe covering, she said, and simply being a black student separates her from others in her classes.

“I always feel out of place,” she said.

Many Somalis are Muslim and the Quran, the Muslim holy book, instructs women to cover from head to toe, she said.

Deqa Mohamed, a Somali junior studying public health, said the more religious people are, the more they choose to cover.

Mohamed said her parents let her decide how to cover with the advice that she knows the Islamic rules and she will suffer the consequences if she disobeys them.

Differences in dress are easy to spot, but other differences might not be so obvious.

While many U.S. students get financial help from their families, it is the other way around for Somali students. Many send money to family members in other countries.

Mohamed said together she and her siblings in the United States send approximately $100 to $200 per month to family in Somalia.

Faiza Aziz, a health and wellness senior and Somali student, said these financial obligations make it tougher for Somalis to attend the University.

In addition to being available to answer questions, group members danced, sang and displayed Somali art on Wednesday.

The association displayed local artist Abdulasis Osman’s paintings. Though Osman has lived in the Twin Cities for the last 13 years, he still paints pictures of Somalia.

Osman, who studied at a school of fine art in Florence, Italy, bases some of his paintings off of pictures, and some – such as a scene from downtown Mogadishu, Somalia – from memory, he said.

Through his paintings, Osman said he can have “a piece of Somalia” in his house.