As the nation faces its dilemmas with Islamaphobia within every corner of the country, St. Cloud served as one place where the conversations about race and religion are continuously growing.
Last Thursday evening, Somali panelists spoke to a room full of community members about what it is really like to be Muslim in Minnesota as well as St. Cloud.
Conversations about race and religion have been ongoing within the St. Cloud community for years, with the 10th annual ‘Conversation on Race’ seminar being just this past fall. However, this community conversation was brought upon by an external news entity, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). MPR decided to hold a special called ‘Muslim in Minnesota’ due to the large Muslim and Somali population in the St. Cloud area. MPR stated that the United States will reach a 2 percent Muslim demographic thirty years from now, whereas 20 percent of students in the St. Cloud school districts are Somali.
Topics of conversation included the City Pages article which was released with the headline “St. Cloud is the worst place for Somali’s to live.” An article in which many in the Somali community believe that it is an incorrect interpretation of what St. Cloud actually is like.
“I agree that the headline was terribly wrong, that headline did not do us a favor as a community,” said Haji Yussuf, a local Somali business man and a panelist at the conversation. “It took away from everything that we should have been talking about. I agree with what Lul said, it is not the majority of our citizens in St. Cloud that are doing this.”
Assimilation was also a topic of discussion between the panelists, as well as not losing faith or culture.
“Like I said, I’ve been here for 23 years. There are two things that I cannot change: the way I dress and my religion,” said Lul Hersi, a 14-year St. Cloud citizen and local interpreter. “The rest of it, I’ve tried so hard to assimilate to an American, to respect my neighbor, to work with the people that I work with, to teach the ones that as about my culture and my religion, that much I’ve done in this city for the past 14 years.”
Webber asked Mayor Dave Kleis what he felt his responsibility was in regards to informing the public about false information and “addressing the misunderstandings that come from incorrect information.”
“Well, it’s the responsibility of everyone to debunk those,” said Mayor Dave Kleis. “There are things that the city government does, there are things that the state government does and the federal government; too often those lines are blurred.”
A vote at a recent city council meeting was also a large topic of discussion. St. Cloud City Council recently approved a plan by company Gold N’ Plump to build housing for immigrant workers from other countries. Somali panelists shared their frustrations about this plan.
“We have our city council voting in favor of giving a place so that Gold N’ Plump can bring 32 foreign workers to do the jobs that our community needs,” said Yussuf.
Mayor Kleis as well as City Councilman Dave Masters responded to the remarks by explaining that the vote pertained to a specific land use ordinance, nothing to do with hiring practices.
Webber stated at the beginning of the conversation that not much will be fixed from the conversation being held, however, many felt that this conversation, as well as more to come, are crucial to achieving racial harmony in St. Cloud, and the country.
“We are not different from anyone else. It’s because we’re immigrants and there were people before us and things changed for them, so it will change for us too,” said Hersi.