This morning's St. Cloud Daily Times carries an article about a Somali Cultural night at Apollo High School. The students gave out awards signifying their gratitude for their teachers and others who have made special contributions to their success. The Times reports: "Student Liban Abdi, who was one of the organizers, spoke on behalf of the Somali students after the awards.“We love our teachers. We love our community. We love our teachers so much. They make our dreams come true."
Why are the students doing this, you ask? I think there are several reasons. First, they have come to a great country and find themselves at a school that is offering them a wonderful education. They miss their homeland, just like my German grandparents missed theirs, but they are thrilled that they are here in a country that gives them opportunities that they did not get in war torn Somalia. Second, they have witnessed a series of stories in the newspaper that portrays a few Somalis wrongly portraying their school as unfriendly and unwelcoming. They wanted, I believe, to set the record straight, and they chose this way of sending a different message. They know that there are a few problems which need to be corrected. Yes, we need to do a much better job throughout our community and in our schools of promoting understanding, but the the predominant them in our schools is learning in a supportive environment. Third, they believe, as I believe, that sharing and communicating about their culture will lead to a better understanding here in St. Cloud.
Listen. There are going to be Somalis who complain. When they complain, they are manifesting another component of America for which they, and we, should be grateful--that this is a country where any can complain and advocate for change. Our German ancestors, Irish ancestors, Chinese and Japanese ancestors came here and found aspects of our society about which they complained. When they arrived, they formed clubs, self improvement organizations, newspapers, and advocacy groups in order to make sure that they were understood, that their rights were protected, and that they could be more readily accepted into their new country. Many of those organizations still exists today, and some of you may even be members of them.
A few people want to complain that as part of their cultural celebration the Somalis sang for us their national anthem. Give me a break. They weren't singing it because they aren't grateful to be here. They were singing it for us because they wanted to share for us a part of their past. The message they delivered is, we are proud of who we are, we remember with mixed emotions the country we came from, but "We love our community. We love our teachers so much. They make our dreams come true."
And it is going to be true, also, that the few Somalis who complain are going to get way more press than the majority of Somalis who are saying, we love our community.....,it is making our dreams come true. In fact, there are a few people in our community who are doing everything they can to step on that message of hope. These few, prefer to focus on what divides us, instead of focusing on what unites us and brings us together. This is a part of our history--it is an ongoing cycle.
In part, the ability to complain and defend ourselves against injustice is what makes us strong. At the same time, the young Somalis who sponsored last night's event are doing what my German ancestors did, when they arrived here. Despite our complaints we said: We love our community. We love our teachers so much. They make our dreams come true." America and the American idea of freedom, justice and opportunity is stronger than anything that can divide us, stronger than the people who live for, and feed on, divisiveness, hate and anger.