Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Oral Histories Document Personal Experiences and Reflections of Minnesota's Somali Community

Clockwise from top left: Nimo Farah, Saida Hassan, Osman Ali.

Clockwise from top left: Nimo Farah, Saida Hassan,
Osman Ali.

Through a partnership with Macalester College and funded through ACHF, 48 new oral histories from Minnesota’s Somali community have been added to the MNHS collections.

“The Somali community was identified as an underrepresented group in the MNHS collection,” said MNHS Oral Historian Ryan Barland. “And one of the best ways to engage with them and fill that gap was with an oral history project.” Guiding the project is Ahmed Samatar, an international studies professor at Macalester who specializes in Somali studies.

The oral histories cover individuals across Minnesota including Rochester, Moorhead, Mankato and the Twin Cities. Project leaders relied on the Somali community to identify subjects to document. “There are a number of politicians, community activists, the people you'd normally expect to be considered a leader,” Barland said. “But there are also regular people who the community knew had a compelling story that should be told.”

Stories include Abdi Warsame, the first-ever Somali on the Minneapolis City Council, and Osman Ali, founder of the Somali Museum of Minnesota. While each oral history explores an individual's unique experiences, common themes appeared across the interviews, including time in refugee camps, hopes for the future of the Somali community in Minnesota and the importance of remembering and preserving Somali heritage and history.

Many interviewees also noted that they wear several identities. Nimo Farah, a community organizer and poet in the Twin Cities, said, “I’ll always be Somali. But I’ve spent most of my life in America, so I do deeply consider myself American. I consider myself a Minnesotan because I found so many different communities here. I consider myself a Muslim woman. I consider myself a black woman. … I think the intersection of all those things is me, and I get to choose however I want to.”

The oral histories will be published and made available through the MNHS library, educational resources and online on the “Voices of Minnesota” and “Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees” websites.

This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.