Somali Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

Beginning in the 1990s, thousands of Somalis began to immigrate to the United States of America. Many of these people settled in Central Ohio, enhancing Ohio's cultural and social landscape.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries, like Poland, Hungary, Latvia, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state. By the 1960s and 1970s, immigrants from Asian and African nations began to migrate to Ohio. These people were primarily coming to the United States to escape political turmoil and religious persecution.

People from Somalia were one of the last national groups to immigrate to the United States. By 2008, approximately forty-five thousand Somalis resided in the Central Ohio area. These immigrants began to arrive during the 1990s. Following the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, political turmoil and violence characterized Somalia, prompting thousands of people to flee this nation. Many of these people came to the United States, including Ohio, hoping to live peaceful and productive lives.

Despite the dreams of the Somali migrants, life proved to be difficult for many of them. In 2008, only seven percent of the adult Somalis in Central Ohio spoke English well enough to secure employment. Fifteen percent of the Somalis had become American citizens, with an additional seventy-five percent eligible for citizenship. Most Somalis migrated to the United States with their entire families, with the average Somali household in Central Ohio having seven or eight members. The more successful Somalis were those who became fluent in the English language. Some Somali residents survived by producing traditional products for their fellow Somalis. Many Somalis in the United States sent portions of their wages to family members still in Somalia.

Further complicating acceptance of the Somalis among traditional Ohioans were the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. More than ninety-nine percent of the Somali immigrants were Islamic. Following the terrorist attacks, many Americans questioned the loyalty of Muslims. Some Americans even engaged in hate crimes against Muslims, and discrimination against and skepticism towards Muslims still occurs at the time of this writing, almost seven years after the terrorist attacks. Despite these obstacles, Somalis continue to migrate to the United States and to Central Ohio, hoping to improve their lives. Somalis also established organizations, such as the Somali Community Association of Ohio, to assist the immigrants in establishing new and better lives.

While relatively recent arrivals to Ohio, Somali migrants still diversified the state socially and culturally.

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