These Young Somalis Are Creating Their Own Traditions In The Midwest

Since the start of the civil war in Somalia in the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Somalis have decided to flee the violence and uncertainty back home.

Many of these refugees have been settled into bordering and western nations, becoming part of the ever-growing Somali diaspora.

One of the largest communities in the United States is in my home state of Minnesota. An estimated 25,000 Somalis live in the Midwestern state, according to census figures. That makes Minnesota home to about 1 in 3 people of Somali ancestry living in the United States today. Many of those Somalis live in and around Minneapolis, the midsize city of 400,000.

Soon after graduating college in 2011, I started photographing the city's refugee population. I studied in a small suburb, and after moving to Minneapolis, I wanted to get to know my neighbors.

I soon heard about Ka Joog, a local Somali youth leadership organization. I started attending its events, including a road race, spoken word and poetry readings, and performances at Somali Independence Day. Along the way, I got to know a number of young women and men stepping up as voices for change in their communities. The result of my project was an in-progress story examining a group of Somali-American youth, coming of age in Minnesota.

It had been more than a decade since the first Somali refugees arrived in Minnesota. Many of them were children at the time, and are now faced with the task of balancing tradition and transformation, heritage and a new identity.

Despite negative national attention about recruitment to terrorist organizations, including al-Shabab and Islamic State group, the community is revitalized.

They are poets, musicians, athletes, and mentors — young men and women creating their own traditions.

And some, including a young woman I photographed named Hamdi, have gone on in the past five years to start families of their own in the Midwest.

As the situation in Somalia continues to improve, I have also watched a number of the youth I met going back to Somalia, taking their skills and enthusiasm to build a new and better home as entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, musicians, and young politicians.

Some day I would like to return with them and photograph Somalia renewed.

Hanoolaato (long live) Somalia.

Ahead, some of the photos of the Somali youth I've met as part of my ongoing series.

Alex Potter is a freelance photographer and writer. The views expressed here are her own.

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