The Somali-American identity crisis

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

On November 26, 19-year-old Somali American Mohamed Osman Mohamud was arrested in connection with a failed plot to detonate a car bomb in Portland, Oregon. The arrest has brought attention to the nation’s growing Somali community.Zuhur Ahmed host of Somali Community Link on KFAI radio, believes it’s now particularly important for that community to come together.

The Somali community in Portland should treat the event as “an opportunity to educate their neighbors and their fellow communities about who they are, who the Muslims are, who the Somalis are,” Ahmed told PRI’s The Takeaway, “and to be actively involved in the community and show the other side of the community.”

Identities in the Somali community are changing rapidly, according to Ahmed. Many young people in the Somali American community are in the midst of an identity crisis. According to Ahmed, “they’re just lost in the mix of all these cultures that they happen to be surrounded by, and they just feel isolated.”

Younger Somalis are in a struggle with the older generation on how much to adopt and adapt to American culture. Young people already belong to two cultures, according to Ahmed, “trying to figure out which one they identify more with: their parents and rich traditional culture, or pop culture of America.”

“There’s a lack of connection between the parents and the children, and that the children are expressing that, but the parents are not yet getting it,” Ahmed says.” “Not that they don’t care but they have a lot of other things to deal with like survival issues, trying to bring clothing and food and shelter.”

This confusion and isolation can leave kids feeling vulnerable. They’re just lost in the mix of all these cultures that they happen to be surrounded by, Ahmed says. That may be what’s leaving them open to influences like gangs or the terrorist group Al Shabaab.

Much of the American media culture isn’t helping either. “There’s something negative that’s attached to being Muslim,” Ahmed says. “So being a young Muslim in America is difficult as it is right now because of everything else that’s happening in the world.”

The struggles, however, aren’t very different from what is faced by any other immigrant group. “Other immigrants overcome struggles and barriers,” Ahmed says. “I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, so we’ll be able to overcome that.”

“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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