Defining our community: who should be included?

AndreaPhotoBy Kruse Scholar Andrea Stoesz

Recently, members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party in south Minneapolis, Senate district 60-B. made national history. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American woman, won an extremely competitive primary in a heavily DFL neighborhood, handily beating two competitors, all but guaranteeing her a spot in the state house. This primary was contentious, as Omar ousted one of the longest serving members of the Minnesota Legislature.

Originally from Somalia, Omar’s family fled civil war when she was young; they spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before eventually settling in Minneapolis. Omar will likely easily win election in November, as she hails from one of the state’s most strongly held DFL districts. If elected in November, Omar will be our country’s first Somali-American legislator.

This state legislative primary result signals the shifting demographics in the Twin Cities area, as we proudly continue to draw refugees and immigrants from across the world.  Nearly fifteen percent of Minnesota’s population is comprised of immigrants. Our immigrant population is diverse, with those from Mexico, Laos, Eastern Africa, India, and Vietnam making up the largest immigrant populations in the state.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of negative and hurtful comments, and sometimes even violent incidents, surrounding refugees and immigrants in our state and country. These comments and events are not only appalling, they also perpetuate an irrational fear of refugees and immigrants while simultaneously hindering our community’s ability to collaborate and make progress together.

As the demographics of the Twin Cities and our state change, we must reexamine how we define our community, and who is included in that community. Part One of the Communities of Excellence Framework requires us to define our community, and challenges us to answer questions such as, who are we, what common values unite us, and how do we want to evolve together as a community? How can we possibly answer these simple, yet complex questions as a community if we aren’t actively working to include all members of our community?

As a community, it’s our responsibility to ensure that the progress we make by electing our nation’s first Somali-American legislator isn’t undone by a fear of people who speak a different language than us or were born in a country other than the United States. We can’t make progress alone. It’s crucial that we continue on a path forward, together.

Read more about Andrea Stoesz here

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