Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations
In 1994, I moved to Columbus, Ohio, to begin my graduate studies at The Ohio State University. During the five years I spent there, I was unaware of the influx of Somalis into my community. I might point to dedication to my studies as one explanation for this oversight, but as I reflect on my graduate education, I realize that it was more likely naiveté that caused my inattention to the demographic changes in the city.
In 2012, I was drawn back to Columbus, a majority white city with a minority mayor (in this case, African American), for an article I was writing on that topic. Much of my fieldwork took place with African American respondents in Columbus. Fond memories of the city and the connection I felt doing research in African American communities made the trips feel like coming home. What surprised me most were the demographic changes in Columbus’s historic black neighborhoods: by then, Somalis were an easily identifiable group in these communities and in others that I visited during my trips. Once my piece on the mayor was published in 21st Century Urban Race Politics: Representing Minorities as Universal Interests (2013), I started researching Somalis in Columbus. I was intrigued to learn that Columbus was home to the second-largest Somali population in the United States. My interest increased as I explored the reasons for this phenomenon and visualized new lines of research on the Somali experience in Ohio. My research to that point had focused on urban politics and governance, racial and ethnic politics, and urban education policy. Broadening my research to include the migration literature appealed to me as an interesting challenge. Because so many Columbus respondents referenced the Twin Cities and because that region contains the largest Somali population, I decided to design a comparative case study on Somali incorporation in Columbus and the Twin Cities.
As I moved forward with data collection and field research, one of my colleagues encouraged me yet cautioned me about the challenges I might encounter as a woman and a non-Somali. But as it turned out, Somalis in Columbus and in the Twin Cities welcomed me with open arms. Given my inability to speak Somali, my lack of training in the Islamic tradition, and my rudimentary understanding of Somali homeland history, the openness of the Somali respondents in both regions was extraordinary. My respondents encouraged me to ask questions and then patiently educated me on a range of issues. Without their exceptional cooperation and assistance, this book would not have been possible.
At Trinity College, where I have spent the majority of my academic career, I am deeply indebted to several colleagues who helped me develop this project. I am particularly grateful to Zayde Antrim, Diana Evans, Tony Messina, and Abby Williamson, each of whom read draft chapters and provided important feedback. Tony Messina read the entire manuscript and offered his expert guidance on a range of theoretical and practical issues. Serena Laws and my good friend Roger Kittleson, at Williams College, spent considerable time reading sections of the manuscript. Sonia Cardenas, Andy Flibbert, Isaac Kamola, Reo Matsuzaki, Lida Maxwell, Kevin McMahon, and Mary Beth White each played a role in creating a rich intellectual community for me as I worked. President Joanne Berger-Sweeney and Deans Tom Mitzel and Melanie Stein offered vital support and encouraged me to prioritize the research for this book. Trinity College’s Faculty Research Committee and the American Political Science Association provided generous funding that made the research possible. I am also extremely grateful to the committee that awarded me the Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professorship.
Rachael Barlow, then the social science data coordinator at Trinity College, was enormously helpful with quantitative data collection and analysis. Dave Tatem, Erin Valentino, and Rob Walsh were also valuable library and IT resources. Several Trinity College research assistants helped me at various stages of the research and writing processes. Nasri Abdulai, Jessica Bosco, Julianna Maisano, and Kyle Pulik each contributed greatly to this project. A special thank-you goes to Will Schreiber-Stainthorp, one of my Posse Scholars. In addition to co-authoring an article with me as an undergraduate, Will read the entire manuscript and provided feedback that was as good as any that I might receive from my colleagues who hold doctoral degrees.
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