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Community dance helps Somali family stay connected to roots

Thursday March 8, 2018
By Ester Ouli Kim

Suweyda Bahir stands in the front and looks to her dance instructor for direction at the first of many practices to come. “American, they are, my kids,” Esther said. Through activities like learning this dance, Esther’s children learn more about Somali culture. The youth at the community center are practicing a modern version of a traditional Somali dance that is often used at weddings and various celebrations. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)

Hodan “Esther” Bahir came to the United States as a Somali refugee. Because of the war in Somalia, she lived in Kenya for five years before coming to the United States with her family in 1999 when she was 15-years-old.

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Today, Esther has five children born in the United States and became a U.S. citizen herself in 2008. “I’m so happy,” Esther said repeatedly as she described what it was like to call a new country her home.

Esther and her children are American and they are also Somali.

At the Somali Community Services Center in Rainier Beach, Esther and her children connect both cultures through dance. Esther said American culture is strong but she still shares Somali culture with her children. “That’s why I bring [them] here,” Esther said.

Hodan Bahir and her children come to the Somali Community Services Center in Seattle to practice for a community event. Bahir, who often goes by Esther, takes two trips to bring her son and four daughters Salma (15), Suweyda (13), Suheyb (11), Samra (10) and Sabrina (7) on a Saturday. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
Esther claps along to the music at the Saturday practice. Esther came to the United States at age 15 with her brother, sister and father. Nine years after she arrived, she became a United States citizen. “Now it’s my home,” Esther said. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
Esther’s five children and other youth line up in formation for part of the dance. All of Esther’s children were born in Washington. Many of the parents of the children pictured have similar stories as Esther. Somali displacement has endured from the 1990s to the present day, according to the United Nations. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
Some of the youth take off their shoes to dance. The group of youth and volunteers also shared personal moments at the practice as a close member of the Somali community had recently passed away. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
Esther (far right) watches her children and smiles often during the practice. “Cause I’m a mom,” Esther said. “Raising kids, it’s very hard. Everybody knows.” When Esther first came to the United States nearly 20 years ago, she said things were new and challenging. Esther compared that experience to having her first child. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
The girls in line wear uniquely patterned skirts as they dance. Esther doesn’t worry too much about her daughters possibly being singled out because of their clothes. She said they live in a great neighborhood with a good community that understands the Muslim faith. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
Suweyda (middle) and Salma (right) watch as others continue to dance. Esther taught her children to cook Somali food, showed them Somali culture on TV and danced with them at home as well. Esther said she knows it’s different because her children have never been to Somalia. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
The boys and girls form separate lines at one point in the dance. When Salma got her first student identification card at Foster High School, she showed her friends and compared their cards to her mom’s, Esther, who also went to Foster High School. “Kids okay, they speak Somali, they know my language,” Esther said. “I don’t speak very well, I worry about me.” Esther got her GED but she had to put her education on hold multiple times because of her pregnancies. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)
Esther spontaneously dances in the circle with her children and the rest of the youth at the community center. She laughed as she joined in. Esther said she misses Somalia where many of her family members still remain. It’s important to Esther that her children connect with their Somali culture and speak the Somali language. (Photo by Ester Ouli Kim.)

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