The nation now has as its president-elect a man who came to Minnesota on Nov. 6 and described the growing, contributing Somali-American share of this state’s population as unwanted, and its impact on this state as “horrible.” Since Donald Trump’s election, people invoking his name have scrawled messages of exclusion and racial enmity on places including a high school bathroom in Maple Grove and a college campus sidewalk in St. Paul.
Those are despicable words and deeds, antithetical to values Minnesotans have long held dear.
But to their credit, Minnesotans of goodwill are rallying in response.
“Minneapolis is a better, stronger place for having our Somali and East African immigrants and refugees in it,” Mayor Betsy Hodges posted on social media soon after Trump’s airport campaign rally. Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak chimed in that “a people who faced unspeakable violence and trauma” in their native land have “become part of our community and made us all better.”
Still more heartening was the display that greeted students arriving at Maple Grove High School the day after its bathroom was defaced. Students and faculty posted a wall of their own graffiti bearing dozens of uplifting messages, including “Love always speaks louder.”
We hope that proves true for Minnesota’s new Americans in the next four years. To be sure, many Minnesotans who preferred Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Trump are rattled by the election’s results. But longtime Minnesotans can only imagine the fear and sense of rejection that must be washing over the state’s recent arrivals from foreign lands after the election of a candidate who made hostility to immigration a campaign theme.
What’s worse is that their fears may be well-founded. Undocumented immigrants — even those who have spent nearly their entire lives here, working and paying taxes — are vulnerable if Trump follows through with campaign promises of mass deportation. So are Minnesotans of East African descent, who stand accused by the president-elect of bringing “disaster” to Minnesota.
You’re wrong, Mr. President-elect. Somali-Americans are bringing brainpower, talent, entrepreneurial spirit and civic engagement to Minnesota. They are neighbors, co-workers, caregivers, taxpayers, and active citizens. One is a Minneapolis City Council member; in January, another will be a Minnesota legislator. Labeling them as “horrible” only serves to alienate a segment of our community that’s seen terrorists prey on its most vulnerable.
In this state, welcoming immigrants is more than “Minnesota nice.” It’s also necessary for economic prosperity. Immigration can do much to ease the shortage of skilled workers that’s forecast for the next decade as baby boomers retire. That’s why the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have been leaders in support of legal status for undocumented residents and a larger, legal flow of skilled workers into this country.
Last week, the good students and teachers at Maple Grove High showed this state how to respond when immigrants are the targets of hate. They spoke up, personally, promptly and powerfully enough to be heard. If high school students can do that with paper, markers and tape, how much more can Minnesotans in higher positions do?