Somali American

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Somali American
Total population
Regions with significant populations

Somali Americans are Americans of Somali ancestry. The first Somalis to arrive in the U.S. were sailors who came in the 1920s. They were followed by students pursuing higher studies in the 1960s and 1970s, and a few migrants thereafter. However, it was not until the 1990s when the civil war in Somalia broke out that the majority of Somalis arrived in the United States. The Somali community in the U.S. is now among the largest in the Somali diaspora.


Former Somalia embassy in Washington, D.C..

The earliest Somali immigrants to the United States were sailors who arrived in the 1920s, mainly from northern Somalia. Eventually acquiring American citizenship, they actively participated in the Somali independence movement and served as key liaisons whenever Somali political figures visited the UN headquarters. For their substantial contributions to Somali society, these early Somali expatriates were rewarded with medals by the Somali government and some were also issued land back home. Following independence in 1960, Somali students began arriving in the US to pursue higher studies while living with relatives or on scholarships. Many of the youngsters returned to Somalia after graduation and went on to play an important role in the development of their nation. During the 1980s, a small number of Somalis settled in the United States. They were later joined by many other Somalis from different backgrounds, who sought asylum in the US after the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia in the 1990s.[2]

A Somali grocery store in Columbus, Ohio.

A large number of the Somali immigrants settled in Minnesota, which in 2002 harbored the largest population of Somalis in North America.[3] By 2006, Somalis in the state accounted for $164–$394 million in purchasing power and owned 600 businesses.[4] The city of Minneapolis in particular hosts hundreds of Somali-owned and operated commercial ventures. Colorful stalls inside several shopping malls offer everything from halal meat, to stylish leather shoes, to the latest fashion for men and women, as well as gold jewelry, money transfer or hawala offices, banners advertising the latest Somali films, and video rental stores fully stocked with nostalgic love songs not found in the mainstream supermarkets, groceries and boutiques.[5]

Somalis in the United States often send resources to their extended families abroad, remittances that were facilitated by the signing of the Money Remittances Improvement Act.[6] Following a greatly improved security situation in Somalia in 2012, many Somali U.S. residents have also begun returning to Mogadishu and other parts of the country.[7] A few of the homeward-bound immigrants along with some American-born associates have been sought and/or prosecuted for allegedly providing material support to the Al-Shabaab terrorist group, which is battling the Somali government.[8][9] However, according to intelligence officials, fewer expatriates were joining the group's ranks by late 2013.[10] Most of the returnees have instead repatriated for investment opportunities and to take part in the ongoing post-conflict reconstruction process in Somalia. Participating in the renovation of schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure, they have played a leading role in the capital's recovery and have also helped propel the local real estate market.[7]


Somali cultural event hosted by the Somali Student Association at the University of Minnesota.

Current estimates of the number of Somali immigrants living in the United States vary widely, ranging from 35,760 to 150,000 persons.[11] According to 2010 American Community Survey data, there are approximately 85,700 people with Somali ancestry in the US. Of those, about 25,000 or one third live in Minnesota.[1] California, Washington and Ohio have the next largest Somali communities.

Arizona has seen notable Somali migration in recent years, mostly to Phoenix and Tucson. Other states with significant Somali communities include Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Colorado and Florida.

In terms of cities, the heaviest concentrations of Somalis in the US are found in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul), followed by the Columbus, Ohio, Seattle, San Diego, Washington, D.C., New York City, Portland, Maine and San Francisco metro areas.[12][13]

Community organizations[edit]

Musse Olol, Chairman of the Somali American Council of Oregon (SACOO), with SAC Greg Fowler in Washington D.C., where Olol was presented with the FBI's 2011 Director's Community Leadership Award.

The Somali community in the United States is represented by various Somali-run organizations. Musse Olol chairs the Somali American Council of Oregon (SACOO) on the west coast, which offers guidance to new Somali families and works closely with the municipal authorities to strengthen civic relations.[14] The Somali Community Association of Ohio (SCAO) is one of several groups serving Columbus' Somali community.[15] In Minnesota, the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota (CSCM) and Somali American Parent Association (SAPA) also offer various social services to the state's resident Somalis.[16][17]

Politically, a Somali American Caucus in the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL) was formed to represent the Somali community.[18] A Somali American also chairs the Republican Party's Immigrant Relations Committee in Minnesota.[19]

Notable individuals[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Survey: Nearly 1 in 3 US Somalis live in Minnesota
  2. ^ Diana Briton Putman, Mohamood Cabdi Noor (1993). The Somalis: Their History and Culture. Center for Applied Linguistics. p. 1. 
  3. ^ New Americans in the North Star State
  4. ^ Economic Contributions of Somalis in Minnesota
  5. ^ Talking Point by M.M. Afrah Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA) Aug., 12. 2004
  6. ^ "Ellison and Paulsen Reintroduce Money Remittances Improvement Act To Help Somali Families Send Money Home". House Office of Keith Ellison. 6 May 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "SOMALIA: Returning diaspora help rebuild". Somalilandpress. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Gred Moran (31 January 2013). "Terror Trail of 4 Somalis Begins". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 8 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Ahmed, Majid (20 December 2012). "Crisis deepens within al-Shabaab after public rebuke of al-Amriki". Sabahi. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  10. ^ "Al-Shabaab Recruits in the U.S.". CNN. 23 September 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013. 
  11. ^ Chapter 1. Somali History and Immigration to the United States
  12. ^ "Translation Seattle". Lingo-Star. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Martin, Laira. "Little Saigon on the Map". Our City San Diego. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  14. ^ "FBI Honors Local Somali American with the Director’s Community Leadership Award". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  15. ^ "SCAO - Our Mission". Somali Community Association of Ohio. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  16. ^ "CSCM - About Us". Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  17. ^ "Somali American Parent Association". Somali American Parent Association. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "Somali American Caucus". Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 
  19. ^ Shah, Allie (13 October 2012). "Somali-Americans begin making mark on local politics". Star Tribune. Retrieved 9 February 2013. 

External links[edit]