Coming to America!
March 10, 2003 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Coming to America! Rejected by several countries, this relatively small tribe that has been living in slavery and in violent refugee camps is coming to the US. NY Times reg. req.
posted by Plunge (43 comments total)
A good friend of mine emailed me this link. One of those feel-good things you just want to share, especially during this time of tension. I wish them all the very best.
posted by Plunge at 1:57 PM on March 10, 2003

Wow. What a neat story.
I have mixed feelings... I am happy they are finding a place to live in peace, yet it must be frightening and alien... and very hard.

I wonder if they distribute them in cities with others whom they consider friends? Otherwise, I think the loneliness would be overwhelming, and terrifying.

Can you imagine your first look at a busy street in NYC that you had to cross if you'd lived in Somalia your entire life?
posted by Espoo2 at 2:18 PM on March 10, 2003

the idea of this tribe being offered a homeland is indeed heartwarming but the reality of it makes me tense and nervous for them. it's all well and good to teach them about indoor plumbing and strawberry jam but someone needs to brace them for the possible negatives. not that the negatives aren't outweighed by the positives in the long run, but letting them see america as some sort of perfect dreamworld is only going to make the transition that much more difficult.
posted by t r a c y at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2003

i don't really understand this story. why are they called the bantu tribe? i suspect the author has got it wrong, bantu is a group of tribes.

the article loved playing up to some awful stereotypes about rural africans and presented them as people with no culture.

i found the piece to be very patronising.
posted by quarsan at 2:30 PM on March 10, 2003

Not only will they suffer shock from going from Somalia to the United States, but from going from the country to the city. Why can't we recreate a little Bantu community somewhere warm and rural, say, in West Texas?
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:34 PM on March 10, 2003

Hi quarsan, it sounds like you might have a more familiar knowledge of Africa and the bantu. Why don't you tell a little more about it? For what its worth, these people are not 'rural Africans'. The article says these people were slaves. Taken from many regions centuries ago and deprived of any possessions, rights and education, any culture they had was destroyed.
posted by PigAlien at 2:46 PM on March 10, 2003

From the title of your post, I thought you were talking about the kindom of Zamunda. I have the same questions as above: why split them up? why cities vs. rural?

Many of the Lost Boys of Sudan were relocated to the U.S. in the same way. Here's pretty much the same article with different subjects.

I read "Up From Slavery," and it sounds like American slaves had difficulties adjusting to freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation.
posted by Frank Grimes at 2:53 PM on March 10, 2003

Nice post. It makes me ill, however, that 50 years of this sort of goodwill is being hijacked by a preemptive war.

I relate it to India. For many Indians, there is a lingering distaste for the British. This continues to be shown, even through Indian film.

I wonder, in fifty years time, what the world citizens will think of American citizens, when they travel. Sons and daughters of American wars of which they had no part, bespoken and derided by the children of history, thousands of miles away.
posted by four panels at 2:55 PM on March 10, 2003

My only question is....Isn't distributing them throughout cities across the U.S. going to put the final nail in the coffin of this tribe existing at all? Not that its not a much better way of life for them to go elsewhere. Any where at all would be an improvement, obviously. It just seems such a shame to split them up when all they truly have in the world is each other.
posted by SweetIceT at 3:06 PM on March 10, 2003

Taken from many regions centuries ago and deprived of any possessions, rights and education, any culture they had was destroyed.

Great, this country needs more of that. Sure, let them all in. Not a welfare recipient amongst the whole bunch I bet. These people won't be an immediate leech off of society. They have plenty to contribute.

Why worry about cleaning a toilet, some refugees said aloud, when the bushes never need to be cleaned?

Yeah buddy. Say hello to your new neighbor! And how about the cites they named as resettlement locations. Boston?! Hey, why not Beverly Hills? Nothing is too good for our uneducated, cultureless, shit in your bushes little buddies.

What a crock of bullshit. Yet another example of your tax dollars being pissed away. And it will only get worse, like the day they discover it is far easier to steal here in America that work.

This is exactly why the INS needs to be done away with and replaced with the Gestapo.
posted by a3matrix at 3:09 PM on March 10, 2003

This is exactly why the INS needs to be done away with and replaced with the Gestapo.

This is exactly why Americans are stereotyped as being assholes.
posted by catfood at 3:24 PM on March 10, 2003 [1 favorite]


Your ancestors came from where? Even the Native Americans came from elsewhere, then settled here.

This is one of the better ways, I've seen the recent administration spend my tax dollars.
posted by SuzySmith at 3:49 PM on March 10, 2003

It is amazing what comes out when you post what you think is a nice feel good piece.
posted by Plunge at 3:49 PM on March 10, 2003

I'm sorry, Plunge. I thought it was a nice piece and worthy of discussion. It does, however, frighten me for all immigrants that there are people who really think that they have any more of a right to live in the United States than anyone else. So much for embracing diversity.

"But most people here are willing to do what it takes to live in a country that outlaws discrimination."

Yep. No discrimination here.
posted by catfood at 4:02 PM on March 10, 2003 [1 favorite]

Wow, a3matrix, what a beautiful asswipe you are.
No offense intended, of course, just pointing out the fact.
posted by signal at 4:10 PM on March 10, 2003

I think quarsan is right on both counts. Glenn Reynolds of had an excellent point when he noted that the article says "But they know little about racism, poverty, the bone-chilling cold or the cities that will be chosen for them by refugee resettlement agencies," about a group of people who have spent their lives in squalid refugee camps after being enslaved for having darker skin. That strikes me as more than a bit patronising, to say the least.

Why aren't they being settled in rural regions, for that matter? The Bantu (think of them as the Celts of Africa) managed to dominate sub-Saharan Africa through extensive cattle-herding, and the article itself points out that most of them are trained as subsistence farmers anyhow. Picking oranges and ranching cattle might not be the best jobs in America, but they're better than Somalian refugee camps, and agricultural work is at least something they're familiar with.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:48 PM on March 10, 2003

I give the Somalians 0.4 generations before the majority of them are working 2.3 jobs each...and 1.1 generations before they amass enough capitol and hard-earned education to buy and sell a3matrix many, many, many, many times over.

Actually, I'm quite willing to loan them a nickel today, so that they can do that now.
posted by Dunvegan at 4:54 PM on March 10, 2003 [1 favorite]

The state department is coordinating the relocation effort in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- the refugees immediate needs will be provided for by a collection of non-government agencies. Here's a list of approved settlement sites. Welcome..
posted by eddydamascene at 4:57 PM on March 10, 2003

Actually they could all have blonde hair and blue eyes and I still wouldn't want then coming to the US. We have enough people, k thanks. At least drop them in Mexico, and let them sneak over the border like everyone else.
posted by Beholder at 5:18 PM on March 10, 2003

It is amazing what comes out when you post what you think is a nice feel good piece.

What so feel good about this? If you are so hip to this then clear out a bedroom in your house and let them move in with you. Just cut down your bushes first.
There is a point when people are going to have to accept where they are as being home.
These people are going to be screwed when they get here. Mostly because all you "let them all in" types seem to vanish once they are here, and instead leave them to the state to deal with.
How come they couldn't be settled in Liberia or something a bit closer to what they know?
This has NIMBY all over it and all of you are onboard. If not, go get that bedroom ready, and put a roll of toilet paper next to the forsythia bush, if you can teach them to use it.
Oh bad a3, you are so mean and cruel. HA!
You are all overly optimistic. I cannot wait to hear how this works out.

Oh and Dunvegan, Fuck you. Isn't it just like a liberal to always want to give something away for free.
posted by a3matrix at 5:26 PM on March 10, 2003

Beholder: Actually they could all have blonde hair and blue eyes and I still wouldn't want then coming to the US.

What's sad/funny is that you probably don't even realize how fucked up that comment is.
posted by signal at 5:31 PM on March 10, 2003

NAFTA exports US jobs, while we continue to allow dirt poor uneducated immigrants to fill our already overcrowded cities, and we wonder why we have urban sprawl.
posted by Beholder at 5:50 PM on March 10, 2003

Beholder: and we wonder why we have urban sprawl.
We don't have urban sprawl, we have suburban sprawl, driven by the consumer's desire for large chunks of private property and automobile-based transportation. Most urban areas across the U.S. become ghost towns after 5pm because of our increasingly isolated suburban lifestyles.

A3matrix: Oh and Dunvegan, Fuck you.
Well, thank you for your contribution, A3matrix. You clearly have given us some insightful comments to ponder.
posted by 4easypayments at 6:13 PM on March 10, 2003

a3matrix - just because someone isn't entitled to your help, or it isn't your responsibility to help, doesn't mean you shouldn't help. we are human beings, after all. which aspect of your life exactly will be depleted by their coming here?
posted by mcsweetie at 6:15 PM on March 10, 2003

We don't have urban sprawl, we have suburban sprawl

We have both.
posted by Beholder at 6:24 PM on March 10, 2003

It's nice to see that somebody in our government is doing something helpful overseas; it's a good reminder that not everything is screwed up yet.
posted by pyramid termite at 6:27 PM on March 10, 2003

Houston huh... Given the trouble I have getting around Houston I really hope their resettlement folks are above top notch.
posted by rudyfink at 6:51 PM on March 10, 2003

Wow, Beholder, a3, every day the Statue of Liberty stands must be another day of pain for you guys. Maybe they'll replace it with a nice iron gate.
posted by lbergstr at 6:58 PM on March 10, 2003 [1 favorite]

I live in Boston. These folks are moving into my backyard, as did a contingent of the Lost Boys from Sudan.

Which is fine by me. Makes it much less likely that a3 and Beholder will want to live here.
posted by kewms at 7:10 PM on March 10, 2003 [1 favorite]

Oh and Dunvegan, Fuck you. Isn't it just like a liberal to always want to give something away for free.
posted by a3matrix at 5:26 PM PST on March 10

For free? Are you referring to the nickel, a3?

Let's see...I pay taxes, how's that? A lot of taxes. Done it for years.

I hereby give the government of the United States leave to use any of those endless thousands of dollars for the use of retraining these individuals to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and well-being in this country.

But I do take your point. The NIMBY point. And, you are correct in opining that it is easy to talk, but you believe that we should not accept a responsibility on your behalf. That those of up who believe in this idea of "sanctuary" should be the ones to support it. You want nothing of this "helping refugees" business. It seems, a3, that you have a terrible fear that somehow you shall be forced to bear excruciating hardship due to this influx of 1500 very grateful people, scattered aerogel-thin across this great land.

So, I decided to do what I could to take on a little more of the responsibility. I looked to see if my city was one of the cities where any of the Somali refugees will be relocated. Well, there you go. It is.

While in college, I taught English as a Second Language to recent immigrants from Mexico, China, and Japan in my hometown in the Midwest. I also work in the information technology sector, ergo: computer skills. So I found a local organization who assists in settling refugees, and signed up to volunteer to assist by tutoring in either language or computer skills.

Oh...and yes, you are correct, a3...there will be expenses to be met.

Well, as my taxes are being used at the moment, in most part, to fund a buildup to a war that I do not support, I decided to reach down into my pockets even further (prior to April 15th) and send a contribution to one of the organizations that will assist the Somali refugees in this country. I followed a link to such an organization organization and made a donation, specifically on behalf of the "Metafilter a3matrix Compassion Fund."

Thank you, a3. It is important to remember to act in the service of one's beliefs. I personally believe that it is a moral responsibility to extend sanctuary and support to anyone escaping slavery. So, it's only right that I reinforce these beliefs with action. Perhaps this modest personal contribution shall, in some small way, help to alleviate some of the pain you suffer surrounding the fear that others helping others, somehow, hurts you.

I stand behind my belief in helping fellow human beings escape slavery.

Even those who are enslaved to their own deficit of humanity.
    “We are all illiterate, but we will learn,” says 40-year-old Mohammed Yarow in discussing his future in America. What will he do there? “I will do anything,” he replies. I will live wherever they put us. We will eat what you eat,” he responds to further questions. “We are very adaptable,” he adds. “In a few months we will fit in to any new life. Our ancestors had to change from being Bantu to being Somali. We can do it again.”

posted by Dunvegan at 8:20 PM on March 10, 2003 [13 favorites]

Dunvegan, there's a big ole hug waiting for you in Georgia.
posted by mcsweetie at 8:41 PM on March 10, 2003 [1 favorite]

That was great, Dunvegan. Thanks from me too.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:16 PM on March 10, 2003

"This is exactly why the INS needs to be done away with and replaced with the Gestapo."

Holy Shit! Do you know what the Gestapo was? Do you have any knowledge of them aside from as a cute reference? Assuming that this was mere hyperbole, and that you are not actually interested in seeing these people put on a train to an extermination facility, I am interested in hearing why no refugees or immigrants should be allowed into this counrty club land of ours. If you are a straight-up racist, or neo-nazi, or you actually accept the idea that people can be "cultureless", than, you know, i guess that's your right. Otherwise, speak like a fucking civilized human.


ehnographic side comment: "Bantu" refers to a language group represented by peoples all over sub-Saharan Africa. Nelson Mandela is from a Bantu people. The term was, at best, not specific enough. Or shit, I see no reason why there can't be two occurences of the same name in two different places, especially seeing as how often the word that Westerners choose as the group-name for tribal or nonliterate peoples could also be translated as meaning "people".
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:31 PM on March 10, 2003

Dunvegan, you are my new personal hero.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:48 PM on March 10, 2003

Reilly> Not just a linguistic group, though. I don't know if you've read "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, but he has a chapter in there titled "How Africa became Black". Essentially, he traces the predominance of Bantu-based languages in Sub-Saharan African to the fact that a proto-Bantu tribe originally domesticated cattle and millet prior to their neighbours, and the increased population this provided them with allowed military conquest of neighbouring territories (and from there, expansion).

As I understand it, the Bantu-speaking people of sub-Saharan Africa are analogous to the Celts or Slavs, rather than "Indo-Europeans". If I'm not mistaken, Somalia is dominated by a people Dr. Diamond refers to as "Nilo-Saharans", a distinct ethno-linguistic group. To refer to the Somalian Bantu as such is therefore analogous to talking about the "Ukrainian Slavs" or "Irish Celts". While peculiar, it's not inaccurate so far as I understand it. IANAA(nthropologist), though.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:43 AM on March 11, 2003

Nice one, Dunvegan.
posted by sennoma at 4:57 AM on March 11, 2003

Feed the troll until it bursts? Quite funny.

I don't think I've ever had my warmest hopes for humankind so fundamentally challenged and then so fundamentally reconfirmed in so small a space of time. Thanks Dunvegan.

This morning I was driven into work by a Somali asylum seeker, who has been in this country (UK) for a couple of years after fleeing from persecution and torture. I didn't want to pry too closely into this painful area of his past, so I can't tell you whether or not he is a Bantu. Certainly coming here was a culture shock for him, but he now works as a taxi driver. Far from going around shitting in bushes whilst accepting dole handouts, he drives a large people carrier extremely competently around London, whilst drinking cappucino and conversing eloquently about the relative merits of war on Iraq, and the chances of Arsenal football club taking the triple this year.

His plans for the future include improving his education and getting a better job, which will help pay the increasing pensions burden on this aging population (of which I am a vulnerable part, being in my early thirties). If we don't get an increase in economic migrants over the next thirty years, at least in my country, we're looking at a population containing a bigger proportion of retired people than working people.

Incidentally, he's been asking me about which computer system he should be looking at for internet connectivity, so hopefully he can soon come here and speak for himself. If he did, I think you would like him: he has quite a wicked sense of humour and an instinctive understanding of people, apart from being one of the warmest human beings I have met so far this year.

Until such as a time as he can reply for himself, I would just like to point out to a3matrix and Beholder that in my opinion you are both bigoted little trolls, and not really worth the time people have spent here in dealing with you. I despise what you appear to be, and the vitriolic tripe you have spouted here, but when it's your turn in the meat grinder (as it inevitably will be), I hope to have more compassion for you than you patently have for your fellow human beings. In fact, I look forward to paying some of my taxes towards helping you out of it.
posted by walrus at 7:27 AM on March 11, 2003

More information about the Somali Bantu may be found here, a publication that is designed to assist aide workers and others who are working with refugees in the US.

In regards to the article's use of the term "Bantu," this seems to be the general indentifier of this group of people. Most likely it was used to distinguish them from the "Arabic" groups in Somalia (the term is used in a similar way in South Africa). It's not clear without further research how this name came to be used to refer to this specific group of people, although it's first use in western social sciences was by W.H.J. Bleek in 1862, and as noted above refers to a large geographic/language grouping. Perhaps it was what this group of people were called by early Arabic settlers, Italian colonizers, an early anthropologist, or even aide workers. "Naming" is a very complicated process, especially in Africa where the names of many ethnic groups come from outside conquerors and colonizers. However, it seems as though "Bantu" is indeed the term used by this group of people to describe themselves, as noted in the following paragraph (found here):

"The Bantu slated for resettlement, especially those who fled the once forested Juba River valley, are politely referred to as Wagosha ("people of the forest") or Jareer (term used to describe Africans with hard or kinky hair). Derogatory terms to describe the Somali Bantu include adoon and habash , which translate as "slave". Some Somalis also call the Bantu ooji , which in Italian means "today" and refers to the Somali's perception of the Bantu as lacking the ability to think beyond the moment. The Bantu refugees generally refer to themselves simply as the Bantu. Those who trace their origins to an east African tribe refer to themselves collectively as Shanbara, Shangama, or Wagosha. Those Bantu refugees with very strong cultural and linguistic ties to southeast Africa refer to themselves as Mushunguli or according to their east African tribe, such as Zigua . In Bantu languages, such as Swahili, people from the Zigua tribe are called Wazigua , while a single person from that tribe is called Mzigua . The word Mushunguli may have evolved from the word Mzigua.

However, while the journalist's use of the term "Bantu" seems to be correct, I would have to agree with quarsan's and Pseudoephedrine's comments above in regards to the patronizing tone of the article.

By the way, IIAA(nthropologist), although not one who does research in Somalia.
posted by vitpil at 8:32 AM on March 11, 2003

Three individual refugees' stories, via YWCA Sydney's website.

For historical perspective, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum has a site on the Voyage of the St. Louis.
posted by plep at 2:24 PM on March 11, 2003

a3matrix, you're a brave man at the keyboard. I wonder how you would fare if you had to explain your opinions face to face with, say, the maasai. You are well to the right of sensible and the very definition of charmless.

vitpil, I believe that they should be located as close to their ancestral homelands as possible.

Their culture has not been destroyed as is perfectly clear in the articles. I think the original article wasn't well researched and fialed to address many important issues.

They clearly have a strong attatchment to their history and land. they should return there.

on a side issue, having spent a fair amount of time with bantu and cushitic people, they would make the finest of neighbours.
posted by quarsan at 9:57 PM on March 11, 2003

How is anything I said at the keyboard brave quonsar? I merely stated my opinion, as unpopular as it apparently is.
I fully admit to really stepping over the line the other day, and I apologize to dunvegan for what I said to him. I refrained from posting anymore as it became clear that I could not post clearly do to my anger and frustration in this type of matter, not necessarily this matter itself. For the record, I do not hate these people.
I do think that we will not be doing anyone any favors, them or us, by relocating them in scattered groups to this country. Sure, there will be some immediate benefits for them. But long term, down the road, I foresee problems.
I really think a better alternative could be found. Maybe the newly formed nice government of Afghanistan could carve out a place for them, and they could all stay together as the tribe they once were.
I don't pretend to have the answers, and I blanket apologize to the community for comments that were uncalled for. Lesson learned, no posting when very tired, blame falls squarely on my shoulders.

I will reiterate though, this issue is one of my pet peeves. I dislike the immigration policies this country has, and often wonder why we can't adopt something a bit more selective like Australia and New Zealand have.
You will however find that on other issues I am no where near as militant.
I am opposed to the Iraq war, though I dare say probably for different reasons than most of you.

All that said. I am sorry for being a dick. I shall make a concerted effort to engage brain before fingers type in the future.
posted by a3matrix at 5:20 AM on March 12, 2003

a3matrix, the name is quarsan.

it is funny how these people are pronounced as being backward because they don't know how to use a flush toilet. we all had to be shown how to use one when we first saw one.

on the other hand, all the african tribes i have been with have extremely sophisticated methods of conflict resolution, justice, social cohesion, relationships with commmunity etc etc.

but i suppose the ability to flush a bog outweighs all that.
posted by quarsan at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2003 [2 favorites]

Thank you, a3matrix.

I apologize for my pique, also.

Participation in this thread has lead me to believe that action in support of beliefs is a very good thing.

Also, I think this dialogue shall support more thinking and action on my behalf in the future, in greater ratio to talking and kvetching.

BTW [this is neither here nor there] I am a she.
posted by Dunvegan at 6:00 PM on March 15, 2003

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