Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Local Somali vote is hidden, yet powerful

Keith Ellison, First Muslim elected to the US Congress & Amy Klobuchar newly elected MN US Senator

By: Said Sheik-Abdi
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 11/15/2006

If you are a Minnesota politician and eager to get voters for your future election, you would be well advised not to overlook the Somali community’s votes in the Twin Cities. You may be thinking that the majority of them are aliens or illegal immigrants, or that they are less interested in American politics, or that there are language and cultural barriers — but that is not the case.

The truth is that 99.9 percent of Somalis in Minnesota have legal documents, and there are thousands of Somali Americans living in the Twin Cities whose votes made a huge difference and attracted national media in the campaign of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress and the first African American congressman from Minnesota,

and that of Amy Klobuchar, the newly elected Minnesota U.S. senator.

Both the congressman and the senator have worked very hard to win the hearts and minds of the new naturalized citizens, and in fact, they did win easily. The young Muslim and African American U.S. congressman was connected to the Somali community since 1994. He used to provide legal advice to the underrepresented community, says Hashi Abdi, executive director of Somali Action Alliance, a Somali organization pursuing social change and social justice in the Twin Cities.

Despite being an African American and representing the DFL Party, Ellison and the Somali community share a common value that is their religion. The Detroit-born congressman became Muslim when he was in college. Since he started running for Congress, he often visits Somali malls and mosques. During Ramadan in the month of October, like any other Muslim, he observed fasting, prayed next to Somali Americans, and celebrated with them.

Keith Ellison, visiting Somali shops during his campaign - James Estrin/The New York Times

There is a big assignment ahead of the 43-year-old lawyer and moderate representing the state’s Fifth District at the national level. “The whole Muslim community is watching very closely to see if he can bridge the gap between the U.S. government, communities of color and the Muslim world,” says Abdirahman Ali, a Somali American who voted for him.

Even after winning his congressional seat, Ellison attended the Somali Institute for Peace and Justice Forum on Somalia, held at Mitchell Law School Auditorium in Saint Paul on Saturday evening, where he was one of the guest speakers. His topic was “ Somalia: the United States’ role in facilitating peace and reconciliation.”

Similarly, the newly elected senator, Amy Klobuchar, has been in touch with the Somali community since two Somali cabdrivers were shot to death on different occasions. She played a vital role in the arrest and sentencing of those who committed the crimes.

On October 21 this year, Klobuchar attended the Somali Action Alliance candidate forum where she was asked several yes-or-no questions:

• If elected, will you work with the community to find a permanent solution to the smooth operation of the Somali money service businesses, so that the Somali community can send money to their family members back home?

• If elected, will you support federal legislation to ensure adequate funding for ESL [English as a Second Language] programs, well-trained teachers, and the addition of native language proficiency goals?

• If elected, will you support comprehensive immigration reform that includes taking steps to reduce the backlog of families stuck in the family reunification system?

Supporters of Amy gather for a photo at a Somali Action Alliance event - "Now elected U.S Senate Amy Klobuchar answered all questions "HAA" meaning yes in the Somali language"

• If elected, are you willing to meet with the community within 90 days of taking office to follow up on the commitments you made today and the issues presented to you today?

The 46-year-old Hennepin county attorney (now our new U.S. senator) answered all questions “Haa,” meaning “yes” in the Somali language, which appealed to the audience of more than two hundred.

Klobuchar did not limit her campaign to this meeting only. The following Saturday, October 28, along with her daughter and campaign managing team, she visited Carmel Mall, the oldest Somali mall in Minnesota, where she met with Somali businessmen and businesswomen.

Speaking to the Spokesman-Recorder about her visit to the mall and the current obstacle to Somali money wire services, she said that her visit was “to know more about Somali businesses in Minnesota,” and “there has to be a way that the community can send money back home for support of their family members.”

“I am very pleased to see Amy in the mall and meeting with the community,” says Busad Kheyre, a Somali social worker at African Community Services in the Twin Cities and a businesswoman at the mall. “This is an indication of having a positive working relationship with the community.”

Kheyre, a mother of four children who is anxious about the closing of Somali money wire transfers in Minnesota, says, “This is the only way we can support our family members back home, and Amy can address this issue to Washington politicians.”

Although there is no accurate census of the Somali community in Minnesota, many estimate that more than 100,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, and many more family members are expected to come in the years ahead. They are the largest East African community in Minnesota to become naturalized in recent years, and politics is definitely one of their interests.

Said Sheik Abdi welcomes reader responses to [email protected]