Cultures & immigration beat: Book charts Somalis' path to Minnesota

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 15, 2013 - 4:54 PM

Ever wonder what brought so many people from Somalia to Minnesota?

A new book published by the Minnesota Historical Society offers a detailed explanation, documenting the political, economic and social factors that led tens of thousands of Somali immigrants and refugees to make the state their new home.

Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, a local writer, is the author of "The People of Minnesota: Somalis in Minnesota." It's the latest in a book series that chronicles the lives of people who have helped define the state, including Swedes, Jews, Ojibwe, Germans, Hmong and African-Americans.

Yusuf writes that three words best tell the story of Somali people: sahan, or pioneer; martisoor, meaning hospitality, and war, a Somali word that literally means news. Somalis are a chatty bunch, and news travels fast and mostly by word of mouth. Those same three words also explain the migration to Minnesota.

Somali refugees first began flocking to the state in 1993, and today Minnesota has the nation's largest Somali population.

Though the first arrivals came to the United States in 1990, they initially went elsewhere. San Diego was the original magnet city, but jobs were scarce there.

On May 20, 1992, an ad in the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader announced that a turkey plant in Marshall, Minn., was hiring. Four Somalis from Sioux Falls applied and were immediately hired. News of their success reached San Diego, and soon a sahan party left to investigate. Four bachelors from California hopped in a car and traveled to Marshall's Heartland Poultry plant, where they, too, found work.

Jobs were the initial draw, but those who chose to stay did so because they saw something in Minnesotans that resembled their own ways -- hospitality.

Books may be purchased at the Minnesota History Center store or at local bookstores. A book launch with the author will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 24 at the African Development Center, 1931 S. 5th St., Minneapolis.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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