Like the displaced people themselves, this week’s news about the global migration crisis just kept coming.
On Sunday, Spain’s new socialist government accepted about 600 hungry, exhausted migrants after Italy’s new right-wing government denied the desperate diaspora.
They’d been saved from flimsy dinghies by the rescue ship Aquarius, a name that may conjure a ‘60s sensibility. But regarding migration, the dawning of this new age is less hippie and more unhappy.
This is true most everywhere, but particularly in Europe, where waves of Mediterranean migrants have resulted in an undertow of populism that threatens even leaders like Angela Merkel, the German chancellor challenged by factions within her own party, not to mention rival right-wing movements. On Monday, Merkel bought a two-week reprieve as European leaders meet on the metastasizing migration and political crises. But elusive consensus may mean the continent’s most consequential leader’s coalition government could collapse.
On Tuesday, the U.N.’s Refugee Agency gave quantitative context to the issue when it reported that by the end of 2017, 68.5 million people — or one of every 111 humans worldwide — were displaced due to “wars, violence, persecution” and other factors.
And on Wednesday — World Refugee Day — President Donald Trump reversed his controversial policy on child separation at America’s southern border but pledged at a Duluth rally that “the border is going to be just as tough as it has been.”
Border boasts are increasingly heard worldwide as regimes respond to rising public pushback. But disruptive, even destructive transnational factors spanning multiple flailing or failing states mean unmitigated migration is likely to continue.
“We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in the sobering report from the U.N.
“What the fracturing, the collapse or the weakening of these states is doing is creating vast zones of disorder,” said Thomas Friedman, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author who will be among four prominent Minnesotans receiving a 2018 Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the McNamara Alumni Center on Tuesday, June 26.
And, added Friedman, “what this is doing is creating a new geopolitical divide in the world. And the relevant political divide in the world today is not over East/West, North/South, communist/capitalist, it’s actually between the world of order and the world of disorder. And what’s happening on the macro stage [is] tens of millions of people armed with cellphones so they can see how the other half is living — and they can actually figure out how to get there — are trying to get out of the world of disorder to the world of order.”
Some Somalis likely lived a version of this flight from disorder, and many ended up living — and thriving — in Minnesota. And just like most migrants fleeing conflict, climate-change disruptions, economic desperation or other hardships, these new arrivals rapidly adapted and contributed to their community.
So, it’s fitting that on Saturday, at the end of this week of whirlwind, worldwide news about migration, a new Minnesota History Center exhibit, “Somalis + Minnesota,” shows how migrants enrich Minnesota — or anywhere they settle.
Created in partnership with the Somali Museum of Minnesota, the exhibit highlights the lives of a cultural cross-section of some of these new Minnesotans, including state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who made her own news after topping another immigrant, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, to get the DFL Party endorsement for the Fifth District congressional race (a competitive, multicandidate August primary awaits both candidates).
Showcasing such stories is one of the museum’s motivations, said Exhibit Developer Kate Roberts, who added that while the display does not ignore the well-chronicled challenges facing the community, “What we wanted to do in this gallery was not repeat the stories that you hear in the media so much, but talk about community solutions to those stories.”
Of course, the settlement of Somalis is just the latest contribution to Minnesota’s mosaic. Recent years have seen Vietnamese, Hmong, Karen and other immigrant communities enrich the state. Roberts observes that the Somali experience has “possibly more similarities than differences, but one difference is the speed in which the Somali community has grown.”
The exhibit “is trying to reach all communities to get together and learn from each other,” said Osman Ali, founder and executive director of the Somali Museum of Minnesota.
This includes young Somalis who may be more familiar with Minneapolis than Mogadishu. Some of these youth are exhibit guides, and Roberts said that when some see the Somali History and Culture Room portion of the exhibit, which depicts some city life as well as more pastoral artifacts, “their eyes get big, they get very animated, they start talking to each other and say, ‘This is what our parents and grandparents keep trying to describe to us!’ I mean it’s almost magical to see the light bulbs go on.”
“It connects the youth with our families through the artifacts and tells them how their ancestors were living,” said Osman. Beyond that, “We build the bridge that connects the Somali community with other communities.”
Osman added that “Somalis + Minnesota” reflects what makes the state unique. “This exhibit is going to tell about how Minnesota is different from other states — how they accept this unique culture that will be shown and displayed in their History Center — something which is for all communities, not one community.”
Roberts takes pride, too. But she adds that, “Many people talk about Minnesota being a welcoming place, being a place where there are ready jobs ..., reasonable housing. But we also want to recognize that throughout Minnesota there are still some Somali people who feel that they need more community, who want to be more accepted, and the exhibit does touch on that, too: That Minnesota has some work to do in reaching out to the Somali community and welcoming it, so I think we’ve come a long way, and I think there is more to be done.”
In Minnesota, indeed.
And in the nation and the world, where there’s much more to be done to get governments, and most profoundly people, to expect, accept and help the millions on the move.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.