The relentless heat continues to saturate the hazy twilight of summer this July in Milwaukee. The fierce efforts of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking Szymczak Grant recipients continues as an unrelenting source of power all over the world. The following piece speaks from recent graduate and employee of the Center for Peacemaking, Nadreen Bagoun, and her peace works with Alexandria Newell with in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis is a city of people with a certain peaceful monotony that characterizes its movement. Minneapolis is a first world Muslim city. Despite the fact that the majority of Muslims are Somali, to describe it as a Somali city would be unfair to the Somali identity. Unlike being Muslim, being Somali is not something that can be researched and understood fairly well in the course of a few days. To understand what it means to be Somali requires that one lives it. We have been in Minneapolis for over two weeks now. Our days we spend in a sea of Somali everything, yet somehow the essence of being Somali remains to us an obscure enigma. We ask infinite questions, but somehow the more answers we receive the more questions swarm our minds.
The Somali women of Minneapolis remind one of Africa. Many say the hijab is a sign of oppression, but in this city it soars like an eagle. To say that women comprise the backbone of society is an understatement in Minneapolis; women are the society. But for constant use of Somali, the East African men of Minnesota would only be black male Muslims. The men’s colorful African heritage manifests itself in the long, floating, picturesque fashions of the women. The Somali women of Minneapolis invalidate the image of the Muslim woman engulfed in black so much that her identity is nothing but abstract darkness. Fashion for Somali women means color. In the brightness of the days, the women, in their iridescent skirts, are, in fact, an extension of the city’s brilliant summer patterns. They give the city its soul. Years ago they also were the soul of another faraway city. Maybe it was beautiful; maybe it was not, for that is relative. What is absolute is that this distant home of theirs now weeps of wounds of war inflicted on it by its own.
The legacy of war hangs heavy in the air of this city. An invisible spark, it fires up in the people’s conversations for it is inescapable. Within the folds of the khimar of passerby women hide untold stories of the debacle of the Horn of Africa, and the atmosphere screams of the shameful smugness with which the world has chosen to erase this fact out of its memory. But the ability to forget does not mean the ability to not be reminded. Somalia has written its name on the face of this city. The streets of Minneapolis, its shops, its murals, its people all are proof that beneath the ashes to which Somalia has been reduced simmer defiant flames of hope. Or maybe revolution…