Tonight, June 21st, a Somali immigrant, Ifrah Jimale, met Mike Farrell, the actor who played Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running, popular U.S. TV series “M*A*S*H.” The occasion was the annual fund-raising dinner and celebration for the Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights.
Ms. Jimale told her amazing and moving personal story to the audience of 1,000 people.
In the Somali nomadic tradition, she was sent by her family to the U.S. to see if it was a place where the family could live in peace and security.
Her initial impressions of the U.S. were not positive. At the Cincinnati airport, when she told a U.S. immigration agent that she was a “refugee,” Ifrah was immediately detained and jailed and forced to wear a red jump suit. After a considerable period in a Cincinnati jail, she was told that she was being transferred to another immigration detention facility in Atlanta. She had no idea where that was; she thought it might be in Mexico. In Atlanta she was kept in that detention facility for another period of time. Finally she was released into the care of a relative.
She then came to Minnesota, where she was put in touch with Advocates. The organization provided her a pro bono (no fee) attorney, who helped her obtain asylum in the U.S.
Ifrah was illiterate when she came to the U.S., but she found a Minnesota teacher who taught her how to read and write. Eventually Ifrah obtained a college degree at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She now is a journalist with a blog for the Twin Cities Daily Planet called “Ask a Somali.” Earlier this month the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists awarded her blog second place in the independent news blog category.
Her June 12th blog posting is a good example of her writing. The question was, “I keep seeing Somali women with cellphones tucked into their headscarves. Is this a common thing?” She answered that it is now common in the Twin Cities, but she advised her Somali sisters “to take a lesson in looking ridiculous from Somali men, and walk around with a bluetooth headset everywhere you go.” In an aside that was educational for we non-Somalis, Ifrah said, “If you don’t think that women wearing hijabs care about fashion, take another look at all of the beautiful colors and ways of wearing them.”
Ifrah with a big smile thanked Advocates for helping her to find her life in the U.S.
Mike Farrell, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, was this year’s recipient of the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award. I discovered that he is a long-time activist for human rights and social justice, especially against the death penalty. He is the President of Death Penalty Focus. It “is one of the largest nonprofit advocacy organizations in the nation dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment through public education; grassroots and political organizing; original research; media outreach; local, state and nationwide coalition building; and the education of religious, legislative and civic leaders about the death penalty and its alternatives.”
Farrell concluded the program with an eloquent, passionate call for everyone to stand up and take action to protect human rights. (I hope that the speech will be published and that I can add it in a Comment to this post.)
My May 20, 2011, post, “Two Women “Shakers” Rock Minneapolis Dinner,” reported on last year’s annual dinner for Advocates for Human Rights.