This is a talk given by one of the greatest Somali poets to grace this earth. Beautiful yet also so eloquent. Simply stunning.

Hi.
You probably didn’t know this at the time but my name is Hamda Yusuf.
Actually…
Scratch that.
My name is
Hamda Ahmed Yusuf Abdale Mohamed Hussein Mohamed Mohamoud.
And before you even say anything,

stop.

Because I already know that my name probably puts up more flags in an airport than a Mexican driving in Arizona.
Know that the deep piercing stares are directed at my hijab
And not my infectious smile.
Know that I’m already judged not for who I am
but for what I wear
and just for the record

It isn’t a towel.

But somewhere in all of that self-pity I realized that it really shouldn’t matter how you perceive me to be.
It should only matter how I perceive myself to be.

And I already happen to know that I’m Hamda Yusuf,
poet.

I’m Hamda Yusuf and my kind of a Friday night is a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’ve seen the Lion King 17 times and I’ve cried every time Mufasa died.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and Albus Dumbledore is my hero.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’m a mustache enthusiast.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and apparently I scare Juan Williams at airports.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’m Muslim.
Not Moslem
or Islams.
But Muslim.
It’s really not that hard to say.
I’m Hamda Yusuf and I’m sick and tired of hearing about countries banning the burqa to protect women rights when they’re really just taking away our right to choose.
And since when has it become okay to take off the layers but illegal to try and put them back on.
Is it me or is the world going insane?
Threats of burning Qur’ans and protests against building mosques as if we had done something wrong.
Besides fight for the American Dream we were told to fight for.
And you.
Knower-of-nothing-you, every-Muslim-is-a-terrorist-and-every-terrorist-is-Muslim-you, I-get-all-my-facts-from-conservapedia-you,
have the audacity to tell me there’s no such things as Islamophobia in the world?

Well I’m sorry.
Because I’ve been sent on a mission to talk to every single person who has ever called me a towelhead and unfortunately for both of us,
you’re on my list.

So how about you take a seat on my couch,
take a sip of my mother’s tea
and I’ll explain to you as politely as can be,
how my father has told me more times than I can count on my fingers that I can be whatever I want to be.
I can be that lawyer,
be that doctor,
be that engineer.
But I will never
ever
ever be,
just another towelhead.

I came to this country as a refugee in 1990, at the time of recession and when foreigners where a rarity. As a result, we had become a “Somali shock” overnight. It was common at the time to hear racial slurs, to wake up to the sounds of “perkele”, to drink tea to “mutakuono” and to dance to “vitun neekeri”. People would stop to gawk on the streets, kids yelling “look mommy, a nigger”. Grandmothers would ambush me in the swimming hall shower and scrub me down, hoping to wash the color off. Others, after a few pints, would come over to touch my hair and make inappropriate propositions. I went from being an individual, with aspirations, feelings and rights, to a degraded sub-human: a “mud face”, “nigger”, “whore”, and “social loafer”.

On the good days when I needed exercise, which was usually from Monday to Friday, I got that while being chased by skinheads, at 7:30 every morning on my way to Finnish lessons. I had gone, overnight, from hating running, to becoming a talented long distance runner.

What were these skinheads doing at the bus station at that ungodly hour? These were young boys and a few older diehards who’d mapped our movements, formed a vigilante mob and decided that we had to go. To get to the language center, we had to walk through a darkly-light tunnel, pass the taxi stand, then cross the road and walk a few blocks to the center. The skinheads would converge in the tunnel, set upon us, raining blows like a machine gun and then run after us. Those guys also introduced me to gender equality: justice was meted out to even the women. You had to make a mad dash for the exit of the tunnel, out to daylight, to humanity which just stood nonchalantly watching, laughing and from there onward it was smooth, languid running.

When one of us finally managed to call the police, we were told to keep on running, after all, it is in our African blood, isn’t it? Isn’t that how we got to Finland? Tired of being chased, harassed and physically attacked, I approached the police and reported the skinheads. I was told to run and to avoid being chased. The police eventually agreed to escort us every morning to the language center. We went from the nightmare of having skinheads on our heels to being trailed by one or two police cars. Not what one would hope for, especially coming from Africa, were the police spell trouble and torture. On the last day of being escorted and as a farewell gesture, one of the police men drove up closely, rolled down his window and told me “run, nigger, run”.

Twenty three years later, racists are still chasing and beating up on innocent people.

Recently, a Somali mother with two children under the age of six was left wailing, crying her eyes out and devastated at the Pasila station. She had come from Malmi that morning, cheerfully talking to her Finnish children and looking forward to the day. A person behind her on the escalator violently pushed her three-year old baby out of the way and stood in front of her. She asked the person, a blond woman, why she pushed the child. The woman looked back, snickered and smacked the six-year old girl on the face, smashing her lips and nose wide open. The mother, shocked by the brutal act and the amount of blood spilling from the face of her daughter, yelled for the bystanders to stop the running woman. THEY JUST STOOD AND WATCHED, LIKE SPECTATORS IN A STADIUM. The mother could not run after the woman and leave her kids on the escalator.

When the police came, all the witnesses were slowly dispersing. They refused to step up and be responsible citizens. The mother implored the spectators, tried to appeal to their decency and humanity, but to no avail. Now the case has not gone far, the children are psychologically traumatized and the mother wrecked with feelings of hopelessness, anger and deep hatred. Why do Finnish people do this? Why did they choose to be passive, watching such a heinous act? This is a child, a child! I could understand if it were an adult being attacked. But a defenseless CHILD: that is just plain callousness. Please, if you were at Pasila that day, please go to the police and do your bit. That deranged woman needs to be brought to justice. The next child she attacks could be YOURS.

Times have changed, mostly for the better. The face of racism has changed from milky white to differing hues of yellow, red, chocolate and sometimes green. Racism is no longer exclusive to the Finns. No, we also have migrants doing that. It is okay to bash the Somalis, if only to score brownie points and curry favors. If you’re a frustrated migrant, with low self-esteem and disgruntled disposition, just walk up to a Finn and tell them how you despise those nasty Somalis, sit back and expect to be invited for coffee the next day. You’ll be sorely disappointed for your turn will come too one day. But as you attempt to do this, don’t forgot that you’re here, enjoying relative peace, because we did the running, bit the bullet, endured the worst and paved the way for you.

Why am I opening up old wounds if times are better, as I claim? Because I am tired of hearing that the Finns are racists. That we cannot integrate into this society because we are of a different color, religion and culture. That Finns want us to give up our culture and religion. If that were the case, why are our children learning, free of charge, their mother-tongue and religion in schools? Where else in the world do you have such endless and highly sought after educational opportunities, all paid for by the state?

I’m not denying that racism isn’t a problem in this country. Racism is a global phenomenon that can also be found in Somalis as well as in other migrant communities. Take the example of migrants running on the tickets of populist parties here. I am talking about the ones who glare at you, huge bucket loads of condescension dripping off them and whose mistreatment is even worse than the actual racists. God forbid you should run into them in the hospitals, the government offices and even on the streets.

However, I have a problem with generalizing it to the wider population. The majority of the Finns, often silent and in the background are tolerant, peace-loving and civilized people.

The racists, although vocal and visible, are a small minority in this country. How do you recognize them? They have one thing in common: hatred. It is targeted at people who are doing well, who have jobs, businesses, high salaries, education, good living standards and who speak languages other than just Finnish. They’re easily manipulated and gullible because of their low educational level. And so they take it out on people that they perceive to have led to their misfortune. They tend to live in denial and have a utopian outlook on life: like waking up one day to the sound of angels singing in harmony, violins playing and finding a colorless Finland.

If all Finns were racists, like some claim, then life here would be hellish. Imagine that for a moment, imagine it again for a little while longer, and let it sink in slowly.

Take the opportunities available in this country, learn the language, get an education, work hard and abide by the national laws/norms. If, despite all that, you still feel unwelcome and sick of it all. Don’t despair, there are other countries looking for competent workers and who will gladly take you in. Finland is fast becoming a country known for training and exporting highly skilled labor. But remember to come back. Running away is not the best and only solution. I write from experience here.

We need to engage the tolerant majority constructively, unite forces with them, find common goals and work towards an inclusive Finland. I believe that this is our country, no matter what, and we will be here long after the storm has died down. I love Finland and I love being a Somali-Finn. This is my country, my home, my mother is buried here and my children were born here. Stop being apologetic, stop complaining, roll back your sleeves and join us in finding a solution and building bridges.

 

Meet the Somalis

The Open Society has published a serious of narratives on Somalis in Europe (below). Whereas other Somalis in Europe seem to have reached self-actualization, sadly the ones in Finland are still grappling with obtaining the basic necessities of life. Jamilah’s story resonated the most with me. I could see myself in her story, especially about the part where she started wearing hijab as a result of being discriminated against. When things get so miserable, she leaves Finland only to realizes that Finland is home. There is no going back. The other thing that caught my eye is the disparity in the level of integration. Somalis in Norway, the UK, Sweden and Denmark are doing better than the ones in Finland and Holland. 

Meet the Somalis is a collection of 14 illustrated stories depicting the real life experiences of Somalis in seven cities in Europe: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Leicester, London, Malmo, and Oslo. The stories allow readers a unique insight into what everyday life is like as a Somali in Europe. Meet the Somalis is based on the firsthand testimonies of Somalis in Europe interviewed during six months in 2013.

The Somali community in Europe is a vibrant, diverse minority group, including people of Somali origin born in Europe, Somali refugees and asylum seekers, and Somalis who have migrated from one country in Europe to another. There are no accurate figures for the number of Somalis in Europe, but on the whole they are among one of the largest minority groups.

The illustrated stories focus on challenges faced by Somalis in their respective cities in Europe and issues raised in the Somalis in European Cities research, including education, housing, the media, employment, political participation, and identity.

Meet the Somalis depicts experiences many of us will never know, like fleeing a warzone with your children or, worse, leaving your loved ones behind. But more often, these stories portray the values shared amongst many of us, like the importance of family, well-being, and identity in an ever-changing world.

Stay tuned: Meet the Somalis will be translated into other languages soon.