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From COVID-19 to the killing of George Floyd, Sahan Journal’s reporters chronicled some of the biggest stories of 2020.
Our reporters documented how COVID-19 has affected communities of color and students stuck at home, how young Black immigrants took center stage during the George Floyd protests, and how the election has energized many new Americans to come out to vote—and run for office themselves.
As this year draws to a close, here are some highlights from the past couple of months.
- A Minneapolis cop told Somali American teens he was proud U.S. troops killed ‘you folk’ during Black Hawk Down. The police union fought to keep his job anyway: The officer’s words—described as volatile, prejudiced, and horrific—remained a secret for five years. They highlight the Minneapolis Police Department’s troubled relationship with people of color, and especially the Somali community.
- Minnesota’s first generation students are working three jobs, supporting their families—and figuring out how to apply for college during a pandemic: Three friends from St. Paul have their eyes set on the University of Minnesota. But navigating the application process—college counseling, savings, and all those financial aid forms—is harder than ever.
- COVID-19 is devastating Minnesota’s Latino communities. Here’s what that looks like for one family: Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, executive director of Unidos MN, spends her days watching her father in his ICU bed through an iPad. “During the weekend we thought he wasn’t going to make it,” she said.
- Minnesota Latinos ask for timely coronavirus information in Spanish—then get referrals to Google Translate: Minnesota Spanish speakers looking for the latest public health data on COVID-19 infections say they’ve been calling friends for translations.
- Minnesota’s 2020 Teacher of the Year read her class a picture book to help them understand the George Floyd killing. Minnesota’s largest police association didn’t like it: Students, parents, and educators rallied behind Qorsho Hassan, and her dedication to teaching about racism. As for her south metro school district? They’re looking into it.
- The cost of practicing journalism for an Ethiopian reporter? A jail cell, a caravan across the Sahara, a raft on the Mediterranean — and exile in Minnesota: Henok A. Degfu started working on newspapers as a 13-year-old in Addis Ababa. Today, he’s built an audience of millions, covering politics in Ethiopia from an office 8,000 miles away in St. Paul. But the government he escaped 15 years ago hasn’t stopped chasing him around the world.
- Never so much engagement. Never so much division. Hmong voters are becoming a new swing constituency: They have been solidly in the DFL camp, but both major parties are now making major efforts to attract the growing and increasingly diverse Hmong vote.
- Minnesota school districts say they want to fill classrooms with talented teachers of color. Then they lay them off: Qorsho Hassan became Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year shortly after Burnsville schools laid her off. The superintendent, school board chair, and teachers union all claim they wish they could keep teachers like her in the classroom. So why didn’t they?
- ‘Power is the number of voters you have’: Minnesota’s growing Muslim population expands political reach through organizing, activism—and winning: ‘No more sambusa diplomacy’: Muslim political organizers want real political participation—not just friendly mosque visits with the old political establishment.
- The cost of worshiping at one Minnesota mosque? A firebombing, a Confederate flag, an assault, and a blogger who films Muslim children: Dar Al Farooq sought federal grants to protect the mosque and school from threats and harassment. The money didn’t come until an assault near the building landed an imam in the hospital.
- The Minnesota GOP has a problem winning voters of color and new Americans. Could Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan offer a solution?: “I’m an American and I’m a Minnesotan, just like every other person in our party”: GOP chair Jennifer Carnahan challenges preconceptions about race, opportunity for women, and winning it all in 2020.
- How did an August primary election in Minneapolis turn into a national right-wing disinformation campaign against absentee ballots?: A right-wing conspiracy outfit partners with a man of questionable reputation in the Somali community to allege “ballot harvesting fraud” in Minnesota.
- In the August primary, diverse millennial candidates in Minneapolis drove new voters to the polls. What lesson will the DFL take into November?: For years, the Minnesota DFL has been talking about immigrants and people of color as the future of the party. With last week’s record primary turnout, that future is here.
- As students, they never had Somali teachers. Now they’re Minnesota’s first Somali public school principals: On July 1, Abdirizak Abdi and Akram Osman started new roles in St. Paul and Bloomington. It’s a milestone in representational leadership for Minnesota’s increasingly diverse student population and an educator workforce that’s lagged behind.
- As Asian Minnesotans call for justice for George Floyd, some feel targeted for officer Thao’s role in death: “A lot of the social media attacks have happened to people named Tou Thao,” said Hlee Lee-Kron. The name “Tou,” which means “son/boy” in Hmong, is the most common name in the community, and “Thao” is one of the 18 clan names.
- Young, educated and Black: Here’s how Minnesota’s politicians with African roots are reshaping the state’s politics: Fifty years ago, lawmakers in Washington opened the doors to immigrants from Africa. Today, dozens of new Americans — from Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, and more — are running for office in Minnesota. And they’re winning.
- Latinos could make up America’s largest voting group of color. Organizers in Minnesota have invested hugely to make it happen in 2020: Groups like Unidos and COPAL have spent months trying to drive Latino voters to the polls in Minnesota. Why vote this time? “Many of our lives depend on it.”
- The world’s first and only Hmong plastic surgeon helps his patients to reconstruct their lives. As a young refugee from Laos, David Thao started with himself: Growing up, David Thao translated doctor’s appointments for Hmong elders. Now, as a founder of the Hmong Medical Association, he speaks for the community—and for himself.
- Left in ashes by unrest, Twin Cities entrepreneurs begin to navigate insurance claims to rebuild their businesses: Recouping insurance money is likely to be anything but simple for many.
- ‘I have suffered too long’: Somali woman breaks the culture of silence on sexual assault to motivate others: Muna Ahmed said she was sexually assaulted at 19. Now 23, she’s speaking out for the first time. “I’m fed up with shame culture and shaming victims,” she told Sahan Journal.
- ‘I want people to know that the Oromo people are here’: A killing in Ethiopia ignites a youth revolution in Minnesota: Young protesters, who call themselves qeerroo, speak out about what they want from the government in Addis Ababa (and St. Paul), and what they learned from George Floyd.
- KSTP-TV reporter asks Muslim woman: What’s the difference between a hijab and white supremacist gang regalia?: Sophia Rashid agreed to tell a reporter about feeling threatened by an Aryan biker gang in Stillwater. It didn’t go well.
- Volunteers at Hmong-owned City Tailor make masks for Twin Cities medical workers: “The people are doing it from the kindness of their hearts,” said David Thao, a Woodbury-based plastic surgeon who helped with the effort. “These are people who are spending days making masks and giving them out without the thought of, ‘I’m going to take advantage of the situation and make a quick buck.’ And that’s the beauty of it.”
- Somali woman sews face masks for Minnesota health care workers battling coronavirus pandemic: Recruited by her daughter, who is a student at the University of Minnesota, Hawa Elmi is helping to fill the personal protective equipment gap in Minnesota.
- New generation pushes Hmong mental health concerns into the light: A younger generation is kindling a difficult but important conversation about mental health and suicide in Minnesota’s Hmong community, hoping a public discussion will break the stigma and lead people to get help.
- Using long-held techniques from his native Mexico, local Latino man treats the aches and pains of his customers: Out of his clinic in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis, Jesus De La Torre dispenses massage, natural remedies, and advice, all with gusto.
- ‘Cried with joy’: Minnesota’s Liberians find elation, relief in new residency law: Minnesota’s Liberian community is celebrating a new federal law that opens a path for permanent residency in the U.S. Advocates say it’s a happy ending to a long, hard-fought journey. Just a year ago, many Liberians feared deportation.
- Hmong women sold their embroidery in refugee camps for $1 apiece. The culture they documented is beyond value: How did 700 pieces of Hmong paj ntaub, or “flowery cloth,” end up in a senior center in Madison, Wisconsin? Ask the cultural archivists who rescued them, and turned them into a new book.
- ‘So many stories I didn’t know’: Kao Kalia Yang started out writing her family’s refugee memoir. Now she’s sharing the journeys of others: The Minnesota author’s new book, “Somewhere in the Unknown World,” began when she collected her uncle’s story about fleeing Laos. Then she spoke to a Liberian hospital worker, a Karen parent from school, a Jewish singer from Ukraine—and created “a collective refugee memoir.”
- Northfield has long called itself the town of ‘cows, colleges, and contentment.’ After Election Day, it’s becoming something else: a model for rising Latino power in rural Minnesota: “We all belong the same way in this community”: Mexican Americans won seats for the first time on the Northfield school board and city council.