The story of the immigrant is one that you can still hear today, but the story of changing identity can be a little harder to pin down. When does someone consider him or herself an American vs. when is one seen as an American? Is it when they are officially a citizen? When they participate in American holidays such as the 4th of July? Or is it when they lose their accent? Alan M. Kraut explores this in Doing as Americans Do: The Post-migration Negotiation of Identity in the United States. Kraut digs into what society says it is to be American and how this idea has excluded people from society, jobs, and experiences. Historically, in an attempt to blend in and more easily assimilate into American some immigrants sought surgery to change facial features to be more western European. This created its own tension as people within the immigrant community accused the person of “selling out” their heritage, yet having the surgery didn’t automatically make the person be viewed as American. It could leave an individual in cultural limbo.
In Minneapolis the Somali population is welcomed, watched, but welcomed. There are services available to them, English lessons, English and Somali speaking teachers in the schools, programs to help them find jobs, financial support until they find work, and help finding affordable housing. In the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis is the heart of the Somali population in Minnesota.
The Somali population in Minnesota isn’t a coincidence. It’s calculated. The people arriving in the state each day are doing so because they have heard, through word of mouth, that Minnesota will take them. Some of the people arriving have come alone, on a refugee visa, others are families who are reuniting after spending months or years apart. Minnesota has become a safe haven for many of them.
The Somali community is facing many of the same issues that immigrants in the early 20th century faced. The issues have not changed, just the laws surrounding them. Then new population of Somali immigrants still struggle to find jobs, in part because of the language barrier, in the U.S. speaking another language is only seen as an asset if you also speak English fluently. For many of these new arrivals English isn’t something they have learned in advance. Another challenge many of them face is the fact that some children have had barely if any school. In Somalia many of the schools have been closed due to the wars between the clans, meaning that many children coming to the U.S. have had little or no experience in a school system. This makes the transition hard for children who are trying to learn a new routine of being in a classroom.
Even though Minnesota is welcoming, and many immigrants find a place in the Twin Cities there is still culture clash. Mohja Kahf beautifully and exquisitely expresses what it is like to live in the middle of this culture clash in her poem My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears. She tells of her Syrian grandmother’s rituals before prayer and the clash of cultures when she is seen washing her feet in Sear’s bathroom by white women. 
Cedar-Riverside experiences some of this same culture clash in a different setting. The local Starbucks is a meeting place for the men of the Somali community to come together every afternoon and talk. During this time it is not a place for women, but women from the community who are not Somali still stop there for coffee, unwelcomed by the men. It creates tension in the community, as it becomes a silent battleground for space. More than anything I find that the examples from these readings and my own experiences show that a lack of understanding between two cultures can cause more issues than needed. Programs already in place, such as ESL classes, have been adjusted to better fit the experiences of their students who may have not spent much time in the structured environment of the American school system. This is just one change but understanding that you can’t force someone to give up their heritage for them to be considered American is a big step in creating cultural dialogue.
Photo Credit: edkohler, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Cedar-Riverside,_Minneapolis#/media/File:Wadajir_Grocery.jpg
 Alan M. Kraut, “Doing as Americans Do: The Post-migration Negotiation of Identity in the United States,” Journal of American History 101, no. 3 (December 2014): 716.
Minnesota Historical Society, “Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees.”
Beth Hawkins, “Innovative program in Minneapolis helps Somali children ease the transition to school,” MinnPost. October 11, 2013.
 Mohja Kahf, “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears,” from Emails from Scheherazad.