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Nearly 40,000 gather to celebrate Somali Independence Day in Minneapolis

Hiiraan Online
Sunday July 1, 2018

Festival go-ers in Minneapolis celebrated Somali Independence Day on Sautrday. PHOTO: Dalmar Gure/ HOL

Minneapolis (HOL) - Close to 40,000 Somalis celebrated Somali Independence day on a sticky Saturday afternoon at the heart of the Somali-American community with a street festival in South Minneapolis.

Lake St, between Blaisdell Avenue and Stevens, was blocked off to mark the beginning of 'Somali Week ‘ in the Twin Cities - the largest concentration of ethnic Somalis in the U.S.  - with a cultural festival that spanned more than four city blocks near the city centre.

Consisting of the Somali Independence Day Festival, Xasuuso (Remember) 1960, and other cultural events, Somali Week is a week-long event from June 30th, 2018 to July 7th, 2018 hosted in various locations across the Twin Cities. The theme of Somali Week 2018 is Promoting Diversity through Unity and Inclusion.

In an afternoon filled with family-friendly events that included everything from face painting, live music, and carnival games, to a mobile library and a health and wellness centre; the throngs of festival-goers had no shortage of activities to fill their afternoon.

Each block, which at peak capacity had between 8 to 10,000 people, had a distinct theme and was targeted to certain age groups with family and kid activities set up on Stevens Avenue, and the main stage which propped up live music and cultural dancers set up on Blaisdell Avenue.

The heavy police presence, which is typical for an event of this size and magnitude in a major American city, was the most visibly Somali-American police officers within the Minneapolis Police Department.

The Minnesota National Guard helped out with setting up the staging area of the festival.

The elaborate cultural festival was well attended by election officials. With the August primaries nearly a month and a half away,  politicians have understood the importance of the ‘Somali-vote’  to their election campaigns. They brought with them warm wishes and congratulatory messages as they danced to Somali music.

Several high profile government officials attended the event including:

Jacob Frey - Minneapolis Mayor
Amy Kloubachar - United States Senator
Tina Smith -  Former Lt. Governor and U.S. Senator
Peter McLaughlin -  Hennepin County Commissioner
Tim Walz - Minnesota Gubernational candidate
R.T Ryback - Former Minneapolis Mayor
Mohamed Noor -  candidate for MN House of Representative seat 60B
Osman Ahmed candidate for MN House of Representative seat 62A
Hodan Hassan - candidate for MN House of Representative seat 62A
Richard Painter - candidate for U.S. Senate Candidate
Dave Hutch - candidate for Hennepin County Sheriff
Siyad Ali - MPLS School Board Member
Patricia Torres Ray - candidate for U.S. House of Representative CD5
Jamal Abdi Abdullahi - candidate for U.S. House of Representative  CD5

Missing from the podium was the nation’s first and only Somali-American lawmaker Ilhan Omar who made history when she won a seat in the Minnesota House. Ilhan is throwing her hat in the ring for Keith Ellison’s vacated seat. If she wins, she will be the first Somali-American member of Congress.

Daud Mohamed, the Chairman of the organizing committee said that the event which lasted more than 10 hours took over 9 months to plan and coordinate.

The event has been held annually for the past four years by the Somali Community in Minneapolis. The organizing committee is formed by a coalition of Somali community groups led by Ka Joog,  a nationally-recognized Somali American nonprofit youth organization.

The first Somali Independence Day festival has grown from a single city block and less with than 5,000 participants to nearly 40,000 revellers in 2018.

Daud told Hiiraan Online that Minnesota is home to thousands of Somali-Americans children who have never seen their parents homeland. The festival is a way for them to experience their culture at home. Conversely, Minnesota is home to the largest concentration of Somali's in America.

He says that the festival is a great opportunity for anyone curious about the culture of their fellow neighbours.

 "The Somali Independence Day festival is a public event. It's open for everybody to enjoy. I think that it's a great platform to educate each other about our history and encourage anyone who can to participate. "

He noted that the event is put on annually without any grants.

"We engage with local and major businesses to sponsor the event. Our sponsors are aware of our communities purchasing power and work closely with us to ensure that we put on this event. We're grateful for their support."

Mohamed Farah, the Executive Director of Ka Joog said it's important for Somalis to celebrate their culture while embracing the community outside its doorstep.

"The Somali culture remains vibrant in Minnesota It's very important for us to celebrate our culture and history. The theme of the event was promoting diversity through unity and inclusion. It's very important for us to build a connection beyond the Somali community. This is a growing and influential community that nobody can ignore and it's important that we build bridges outside our community and strengthen our ties within our community."


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