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I-35 Catastrophe Hits Home for Somali Community

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I-35 Catastrophe Hits Home for Somali Community


I-35 Catastrophe Hits Home for Somali Community

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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I'm Cheryl Corley in for Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, a political chat from the East and West Coast.

But first, as Minneapolis continues to investigate the cause of the deadly collapse of the I-35 bridge, its residents are beginning to feel the impact on their lives. It's especially true for those who live in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, just south of the bridge.

It's home to several thousands Somali immigrants. In fact, Minnesota has one of the largest concentrations of Somali refugees in the Western Hemisphere. The disaster could create a huge economic hardship for the community. It's also braced for personal tragedy: among the missing, a pregnant Somali woman and her 20-month-old daughter.

Joining us now is Abdirizak Bihi. He is the director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, and he joins us from Minnesota Public Radio in Minneapolis. Welcome.

Mr. ABDIRIZAK BIHI (Executive Director, Somali Educational and Social Advocacy Center): Thank you.

CORLEY: Many of the people living in Minneapolis are refugees from the civil war. How does a disaster like this resonate?

Mr. BIHI: That is the most important question. A lot of people do not understand how negative it impacts on the Somali community more than the general community because of the historical background of the Somali community. Somalis went through a brutal civil war in the cities of Mogadishu, and all over Somalia and Hargeysa, Kismayo and central Somalia.

And, you know, millions of people fled to the refugee camps where, you know, rape, and terror and genocide were constant. And it took them years before they were airlifted to the United States of America. And finally they thought they found peace. But being a Muslim and after September 11, it has more other impacts on the community. And as soon as this happened, like anybody else in America, people were thinking about terror. And a lot of people were thinking about the backlash on the Muslim Somali community.

The first thing that everybody was discussing in the coffee shops and in the Internet, and people were calling us and calling people like (unintelligible) community from all over the world, from Somalia, and saying, are you guys okay? What happened? So it has created a lot of fear that people were talking about, what could it be? Though (unintelligible) law enforcements, including Homeland Security, our chief of police, and everybody said there's nothing to worry. This is a structural problem so far and terror has nothing to do with it.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Mr. Bihi, tell me about the Somali community that lives in the area where the bridge collapsed.

Mr. BIHI: The neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside is called the mecca of Somalis in the state of Minnesota. And it's a neighborhood of immigrants, historically. It's right there about a mile, I would say, away from it. And a huge number of our community members are part of the 200,000 people that were said - that used the bridge on a daily basis.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. The Somali community spans each side of this bridge. Tell me a little bit about how dependent the community is on the bridge.

Mr. BIHI: The community has a lot of dependence on the bridge on many reasons. One of the most important reason is that we have a huge number of people who work in the cab-driving industry. And also we have growing labor group in our community that are driving trucks, locally and nationally, that come home to this neighborhood.

And also we have a lot of businesses in the Twin Cities - halal, which are kosher grocery stores, a lot of Somali malls, what we call Somali markets. And all those businesses are dependent on the bridge, most of them for delivery of food and the delivery of material and items that are consumed on a daily basis.

And also our neighborhood is the mecca of Somalis that have a lot of spiritual mosques, where people pray, and also community centers where they get social services. People tend to come a lot to this neighborhood, and to and from on this bridge. And that that is going to be a difficult at least for the first few days until the community figure out how to get the information out to go around streets.

CORLEY: Well, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. BIHI: Thank you for having me.

CORLEY: Abdirizak Bihi is the executive director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We wish you well.

Mr. BIHI: Thank you.

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