Hello and welcome to Crossroads, I'm Sarah Elzas. Fifteen years ago, very few Somalis lived in the United States. But that changed with the civil war in Somalia in the early 1990s. Tens of thousands of refugees came to the US. Somalis are today the largest African refugee group in the United States.
Today we'll hear two stories of Somali refugees making lives for themselves in different parts of the U-S—one from the middle of the country about American style democracy in the Somali community of Columbus, Ohio;
Pullquote: Few years from now most of Somalis are going to be eligible to vote. One of our main goals is to educate people through democracy and through practice the vote. And participate in the local elections and federal elections too.
We'll also hear a portrait of a Somali woman in the northeast, in Portland Maine, narrated by her 11-year-old son:
Pullquote: My name is Abdi and I'm 11 years old….
The U.S. accepts a limited number of refugees each year through its refugee resettlement program. They are screened in their home countries, and once allowed in the U-S, they are taken in hand by NGOs and religious organizations, who help with housing, food, jobs, and other services.
Many Somalis originally settled in cities like Chicago; Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee. But once in these large cities, the new immigrants became disillusioned with the crime, housing, schools, and lack of employment. They began looking for other places to live.
In Central Ohio, 600 miles west of New York City, and in the middle of the Great Lakes Region of the U-S, the Somali community now includes more than 35-thousand people: not quite the Mogadishu of the American Midwest, but enough to make up a small city. Columbus Ohio now has the second-largest Somali population in the country. Tom Borgerding, a producer at the public radio station in Columbus, has this story:
[Piece: ‘Adjusting to America' by Tom Borgerding. Somali community activists in Columbus, Ohilo, prepare an election]
That from Tom Borgerding, Managing Editor and a reporter at the public radio station WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States.
The first Somali refugee was admitted to the United States in 1986. By 2003, over 43-thousand Somalis had entered the US as refugees. And the number continues to grow, because of continuing political and economic problems in Somalia. Many arrive as refugees or asylum seekers. Others are sponsored by family members who are already legally inside the United States.
The state of Maine is the farthest north you can go on the east coast of the United States. In demographic terms, it is one of the whitest states in the country. Large numbers of Somalis first began moving to Lewiston at the beginning of 2001. Lewiston is a small town in the middle of the state. There are now over 2,000 Somalis living there. Their arrival shocked the small city, unused to immigrants. The mayor even wrote an open letter asking Somalis to stop coming. Storefront mosques have sprung up on the main street, as the Somalis settle in. And residents have settled into an uneasy tolerance of the newcomers.
Even in Portland, the capital of Maine, with a larger population… the adjustment isn't easy. As an immigrant, as a refugee- And as a single parent. Anne Glickman produced this profile of a Nimo Saeed who came to Maine in 2000 with her three young children. Because her husband was unable to get refugee status, she's been raising her family alone. She didn't speak a word of English when she arrived. One of her top priorities was to learn how to read. Her eldest son, Abdi helped narrate her story:
[Piece: ‘For My Children, For Myself' by Anne Glickman. Abdi narrates his mother's story in Portland, Maine]
That piece was produced by Anne Glickman, a radio producer currently based in Chicago, Illinois. She produced this piece at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. And that brings us to the end of Crossroads. From me Sarah Elzas, goodbye.
Producers: Tom Borgerding and Anne Glickman, presented by Sarah Elzas
Mixer/music selection: Ariane Gaffuri