When was the last time you read a book about the Somali experience in the U.S.? Due to the lack of books written about this topic, most people probably never have. That is why writer Marian Hassan wanted to create a new anthology.
Hassan, the author of “Bright Star, Blue Sky” and “Dhegdeer: A Scary Somali Folktale,” recently worked with young Somali American writers and poets to create “Crossroads: An Anthology of Resilience and Hope by Young Somali Writers.”
The anthology, which was published by the Minnesota Humanities Center, explores common themes, such as struggling with identities and a lack of belonging. The young writers live in Minnesota, both in small towns and large cities.
Through poems and stories, the book reflects on the past, present and future for Somali youth. It was published at the end of 2019 at a critical moment, right before the pandemic and during a presidential administration that was consistently spreading messages harmful to immigrants, according to Hassan.
“The last four years was unacceptably, outrageously disruptive and negative,” Hassan said.
This book offers a counterpoint to the mainstream narrative and opens discussions about cultural differences young Somali people face growing up in America, like language barriers and racism.
Hassan, who was born and raised in Somalia, describes growing up in a more homogeneous culture than Somali youth living in the U.S.
“Everybody I knew was someone who looked like me and accepted me,” Hassan said, adding that this was very different for the young writers in “Crossroads.” “I couldn’t understand their experience and how painful it has been for them.”
While living in Somalia, Hassan only had access to one main newspaper and the national television, which usually played military propaganda every night. Her father, a human rights lawyer, was often interrogated and detained by the government. Before and during the first few days of the Somali Civil War, the educated class was specifically targeted by the militaristic regime.
Hassan realized in those moments that telling both the individual and collective stories of her community led to the path to freedom.
Hassan admires writers who told the stories of that time, such as Somali poet and songwriter Mohamed Warsame, known by many as Hadrawi. His work ranges from love lyrics to criticism of the then-military regime in Somalia, which led to his imprisonment at one point.
His political commentary of the regime and stories of his imprisonment describe experiences much of the older generation can relate to and discuss with each other.
However, often the Somali youth are not included in that conversation, either because they did not go through those experiences or because they were too young to remember. “Crossroads” was created so this younger generation could tell its own stories.
“Good writing comes from strong emotions and where people are in their lives,” Hassan said.
The authors in this collection grew up in America and offer different perspectives that Hassan believes were important to capture. Hassan hopes that “Crossroads” readers will learn how resilient Somali people are.
“I think the book will change perceptions about the resilience of this community and the experiences of this community,” she said. “Also, (it is) not only for the Somali community. But by having this text used in our schools, it will change what is deemed important, what stories are told and what stories are not told.”