The Burma-Shave-style signs lining the street next to Steve Sorensen’s white clapboard house don’t mince words. “Take your Muslim Somalian diaspora and put it where the sun doesn’t shine!!!” the cheery red-and-white messages proclaim.
Sorensen, a retired former federal VA worker who’s lived in St. Cloud for 35 years, posted the signs two days after the election. He says he would have no matter which presidential candidate won. But as a supporter of Donald Trump, Sorensen says he’s hopeful things will be different now.
“It’s just that some of the political correctness that we have had to endure, some of it’s going to go away,” he said. Sorensen is especially hopeful the new president will change the country’s policies on immigration, including adopting a temporary ban on all refugees.
“If you can’t be vetted, if you’re coming with the wrong idea of what the United States is, you’re going to have to meet different standards,” Sorensen said. “I think our immigration policy has gotten way out of hand.” Attitudes such as Sorensen’s are what members of St. Cloud’s Somali American community say they fear with the election of Trump to the White House.
The victory of a presidential candidate who called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and blamed Somali refugees for bringing terrorism to Minnesota left many Somalis shocked and worried about the future. They are less concerned about actual policies that a Trump administration might impose. Instead, they are worried that those with anti-Muslim or anti-Somali feelings will feel emboldened to act upon hate and distrust.
“Many people are scared, to be honest with you,” said Abdul Kulane, executive director of the Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization. “We are afraid of his message that has gone to the community and to our neighbors and to people who we work with.”
Somalis in St. Cloud felt targeted in this election, especially when Trump spoke at a rally at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport two days before the election. He said Minnesota had “suffered enough” for taking in thousands of Somali refugees and specifically mentioned the mall stabbings at Crossroads Center in St. Cloud.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric caused many Somali citizens to come out to vote in large numbers, many for the first time, said Kulane, who writes a voluntary monthly opinion column for the Times. “There was overwhelming emotion attached to this election,” he said.
Haji Yussuf, co-founder of #UniteCloud, which works to reduce cultural tension in St. Cloud, said he’s had many calls and conversations with Somali residents who are shocked and worried about the election results. “They’re looking at their neighbors and their friends twice. They’re not sure what happened,” Yussuf said. “People are not sure what to do. They don’t know what’s next.”
As a U.S. citizen, Yussuf said he’s not concerned about his rights. But there’s concern among some Somalis that if the Trump administration dramatically tightens policies on refugees and immigration, it will be much more difficult for their family members still overseas to join them. Some Somalis are postponing overseas travel, worried they might not be allowed to return to the U.S. if they leave, Yussuf said.
But aside from those practical concerns, there’s also a feeling among Somalis that many more of their neighbors resented their presence than they previously thought. Faisal Ali works at a group home in St. Cloud, where he helps the elderly and people with disabilities with daily tasks. Ali was a Somali refugee in Kenya and came to the United States with his mother six years ago when he was 14. This is the only country where he has a sense of identity.
Ali said he’s been anxious since the election, knowing the majority of people who live in his home district voted for Trump.
“All the things that he has been saying about people of my religion and my community, I felt like that would automatically disqualify someone running for the highest office in the land,” he said. “It looks like a lot of people in this country agree with that, and that’s scary a little bit.”
Ali noted there have been some issues in St. Cloud with the Somali community, including tension in the high schools and the Crossroads attacks. The mall attacker was a Somali refugee who investigators say apparently was inspired by radical Islamic groups.
But Ali said Trump “put a lot of us in one bowl,” lumping all Somalis together and creating a climate of fear. Being a Muslim and being labeled a terrorist, “it doesn’t feel like being included in the fabric of this country and community,” he said.
Some immigrants are taking heart from Trump’s acceptance speech after the election, in which he called for unifying the country. The election was the topic of discussion among students this week in their English language classes at Hands Across the World. The nonprofit helps refugees and immigrants new to St. Cloud learn English, get established and learn marketable skills.
Founder and executive director Brianda Cediel said the news of Trump’s win was well accepted by students from Somalia, Burkina Faso, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.
“The hope for them is that President (elect) Trump is going to stick to his words when he mentioned that he’s going to work with Democrats and Republicans,” Cediel said. “They said they really want him to do that. They just keep living here with a hope that everyone is going to be respected.”
Despite Trump’s comments about deporting illegal immigrants and limiting the number of refugees the U.S. accepts, there wasn’t much fear among the students, Cediel said.
“They hope that he’s going to restore peace here and the healing that he said, and accept everyone and keep contributing to the good for the country,” she said. The reaction surprised her, Cediel said, but it gives her hope. Yussuf said Trump’s win has made him realize there is a need for more understanding that one of #UniteCloud’s aims is to create conversation, but apparently it wasn’t enough, Yussuf said.
“There (were) a lot of people that had feelings about their new neighbors, about people moving into this area, especially in Central Minnesota, and they just didn’t know how to express themselves,” he said. They were afraid if they said something, they’d be labeled a racist or a bigot, Yussuf said. Instead, that anger came out at the ballot box.
Still, there are many reasons why people voted for Trump, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are anti-immigrant or racist. For some, it was the economy, a lack of opportunities or other reasons, Yussuf said.
“If we want to be neighbors, if we want to get along and make this place prosper, we have to sit down and listen to both sides,” he said. “We cannot just assume that people are angry because they don’t want others here. There’s a reason. They’re suspicious, they’re fearful. And that has been used by politicians in this election to get out the vote.”
Yussuf hopes maybe Trump’s win can be a turning point when people can talk less, listen more and get to know their neighborhood. “Maybe this is a breakthrough that we all wanted,” he said. “Maybe this was meant to happen for the better, for our community. Maybe now we can listen to each other.”