Nimo H. Farah’s story of arrival in the United States is typical of many other foreign-born Somalis living in Minnesota. Nimo, a multidisciplinary artist, first arrived in the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1990’s after the outbreak of Somalia’s civil war. Starting out in Virginia, Nimo and her family migrated westward to Minneapolis, Minnesota where they joined a growing Somali community, establishing themselves in the most unlikely of climates (Minnesota’s winters can best be described as miserably cold).
Yet at last estimates, Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in North America and has established itself as a visible socioeconomic, cultural, and political presence. On a recent walking tour of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, a socio-economic hub for the community, Nimo described the neighborhood as a treasury of the Somali experience in Minneapolis. In particular, the colorful Cedar Towers residential buildings have been home to many new Somali immigrants over the decades.
“So many people have stayed there, so many weddings have happened in the community room of these buildings, and the elevators are an experience!” says Nimo laughing.
The Somali-American community in Minnesota has also made a political mark. Take for instance Ilhan Omar, current candidate for the Minnesota legislature who recently made history with her win in the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party primary and is now poised to be the first Somali-American to hold that office nationally.
Meanwhile, in the western suburbs of the Twin Cities, a large number of African immigrants—primarily from Liberia—have also set roots in the state. And in the capital city, St. Paul, there is a strong showing of East African residents and businesses, many from Eritrea and Ethiopia. 2014 Census findings show that there are an estimated 82,000 foreign-born Africans living in Minnesota, not counting their American-born second and third generation children.
In 2015, local Economist and professor at Concordia University, Bruce Corrie, published a report on the economic impact of African immigrants on the Upper Midwestern state. His findings showed that the community had a collective income of nearly $2 billion dollars while “the market serving African products and services” was estimated at $281 million annually. Yet, as Corrie reported, “African immigrants in Minnesota…are largely invisible on the policy radar.”