Monday, January 2, 2017

Somali Bantus In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (article excerpts & videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides general information about Somali Bantus and extensively quotes a Pittsburgh Pennsylvania newspaper about Somali Bantus who live in that United States community.

This post also showcases two videos of Somali Bantu weddings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, historical, sociological, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to those who are featured in these videos and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

"The Bantu (also called Jareer, Gosha, and Mushunguli) are an ethnic minority group in Somalia who primarily reside in the southern part of the country, near the Juba and Shabelle rivers. They are descendants of people from various Bantu ethnic groups, whom were captured from Southeast Africa and sold into slavery in Somalia and other areas in Northeast Africa and Asia as part of the 19th-century Arab slave trade.[2][3] Bantus are ethnically, physically, and culturally distinct from Somalis, and they have remained marginalized ever since their arrival in Somalia.[4]

These Bantu are not to be confused with the members of Swahili society in coastal towns, such as the Bajuni, who speak dialects of the Bantu Swahili language.

All in all, the number of Bantu inhabitants in Somalia before the civil war is thought to have been about 80,000 (1970 estimate), with most concentrated between the Juba and Shabelle rivers in the south.[5] However, recent estimates place the figure as high as 900,000 persons.[1]

The term "Somali Bantu" is an ethnonym that was invented by humanitarian aid-supplying agencies shortly after the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia in 1991. Its purpose was to help the staff of these aid agencies better distinguish between, on the one hand, Bantu minority groups hailing from Somalia and thus in need of immediate humanitarian attention and on the other hand, other Bantu groups from elsewhere in Africa that did not require immediate humanitarian assistance. The neologism further spread through the media, which repeated verbatim what the aid agencies' increasingly began indicating in their reports as the new name for Somalia's ethnically Bantu minorities. Prior to the civil war, the Bantu were simply referred to in the literature as Bantu, Gosha, Mushunguli or Jareer, as they still, in fact, are within Somalia proper.[6]”...

Resettlement in the United States
In 1999, the United States classified the Bantu refugees from Somalia as a priority and the United States Department of State first began what has been described as the most ambitious resettlement plan ever from Africa, with thousands of Bantus scheduled for resettlement in America.[27] In 2003, the first Bantu immigrants began to arrive in U.S. cities, and by 2007, around 13,000 had been resettled to cities throughout the United States with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.S. State Department, and refugee resettlement agencies across the country.[27]

Among the resettlement destinations, it is known that Salt Lake City, Utah received about 1,000 Bantus. Other cities in the southwest such as Denver, Colorado, San Antonio, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona have received a few thousand as well. In New England, Manchester, New Hampshire and Burlington, Vermont were also destinations selected for resettlement of several hundred. Plans to resettle the Bantu in smaller towns, such as Holyoke, Massachusetts and Cayce, South Carolina, were scrapped after local protests. There are also communities of several hundred to a thousand Bantu people in cities that also have high concentrations of ethnic Somalis such as the Minneapolis-St. Paul area,[28] Columbus, Ohio,[29] Atlanta,[30] San Diego,[31] Boston,[32] Pittsburgh,[33] and Seattle,[34] with a notable presence of about 1,000 Bantus in Lewiston, Maine.[35][36] “...

by Ryan Deto @RyanDeto, September 21, 2016
“I am Somali Bantu, but that does not mean that I am not also American.”
... Welcoming Week (Sept. 16-26) is currently being celebrated throughout the county. The week-long celebration highlights the city’s success in attracting and resettling immigrants to Pittsburgh — more than 18,000 since 2000 — and the diversity they bring to the region.

But for refugee groups like the Somali Bantu, there is little to celebrate. The community, comprising 200 to 300 people, has been living in Pittsburgh since 2004, but hasn’t achieved many markers of immigrant success. Few of their children are attending college, few families have purchased homes, and discrimination is still very much a part of their lives.

“There are not a lot of Bantu in Pittsburgh,” says Mwaliya. “We cannot live the same life we lived back home. If you don’t have enough people to open [Americans’] eyes and to advocate, our struggles will continue.”

So what is holding Bantus back? The answer may be as complex as the journeys many of them took to arrive on U.S. soil.

Mwaliya is a Somali Bantu who originally resettled in Salt Lake City in the early 2000s, and came to Pittsburgh in 2011. “Most people I knew lived here,” he says. “The community here needed help. We were missing an organization so we could help ourselves.”

Mwaliya says when he arrived, only five elders in the community had received citizenship, and there were problems obtaining interpreters in the county courts and area hospitals. He started the Somali Bantu Community Association of Pittsburgh in 2012. Since, he says, most Bantus have gained citizenship, and interpreters have been provided in schools, courts and medical centers.

Some of these achievements came with a fight. In 2006, Education Law Project on behalf of the Bantu community sued Pittsburgh Public Schools for better language and cultural services. PPS settled and developed policies to help second-language learners and guard against ethnic intimidation.

But these improvements haven’t propelled Bantus into great educational attainment. Kristen Tsapis, who has volunteered with the community for years, says the several young Bantu are currently working towards associate degrees at schools across Southwestern Pennsylvania. But according to Mwaliya, only three college-age Bantus are currently enrolled in four-year universities, and few Pittsburgh Bantus have obtained degrees. “Wherever we go, we are educationally behind,” says Mwaliya.

The Bantus, while living in Somalia, were banned from going to school, and many are illiterate as a result. When they were sent to refugee camps in Kenya, schooling was available, but girls didn’t attend and the classes were taught in English and Swahili, not the Bantus’ native language, Kizigawa.

To understand the Bantus’ struggles is to understand their history. Originally brought to Somalia as slaves from west and southeast Africa during the 1800s, Bantus were freed during the Italian colonization of Somalia in the early 1900s. Many converted to Islam to avoid persecution by ethnic Somalis during the slave-trade era and continue to practice the religion today.

Bantus eventually settled in the Jubba Valley of southwestern Somalia. However, they were denied access to modern amenities due to their minority status. The Somali civil war broke out in 1988, and military groups invaded the Jubba Valley, bringing violence, rape, starvation and death.

A few years later, many Bantus walked to refugee camps in Kenya, and while they were safe from Somalis, the camps still had a litany of problems. Mwaliya says that both he and many other Bantus he knew spent more than 12 years in the camps, where they were brutalized by Kenyan authorities, and no real jobs were offered. Farmland was not provided, and many Bantus abandoned their farming traditions.

Mwaliya recognizes the problems of the camps, but says nothing was as bad as their lives in Somalia during the civil war.

“You can’t even compare the camps to Somalia,” says Mwaliya. “You can see a kid dying there, just asking for something to eat or drink.”...

Mwaliya says without work or farming access, and with little education, the camps put many Bantus into a cycle of dependency, something he wants to see his community break out of.

“You can advocate when your rights are violated, and you can advocate to move forward,” says Mwaliya. “You don’t get people to move you forward without moving yourself forward.”

In order to help refugees transition more easily, resettlement agencies offer language, housing, and job-placement services as well as a few months’ cash for rent and food. But agencies often have limited resources. After about a year, many refugees must provide for themselves.

Local groups like Northern Area Multi-Service Center offer cultural-assimilation programs, and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council offer free English classes. These programs have helped thousands of refugees and immigrants adjust to life in Pittsburgh, but those programs might not be reaching the Bantus.

A 2007 graduate thesis by Leah Taylor on Pittsburgh’s Bantus from University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health points to some problems in the early years of the Bantus’ resettlement: “This lack of cooperation among providers and the system of resettlement in the U.S. that encourages refugees to work as soon as possible, regardless of language ability, further hindered the ability of the Somali Bantus to exercise personal agency after arriving in the U.S.”...

Page 2 by Ryan Deto @RyanDeto, September 21, 2016
...."unlike the Bhutanese, Ervin Dyer, of Pitt Magazine, who wrote a graduate research paper on Pittsburgh’s Bantus in 2012, says Bantus have an insular nature that has kept them from accessing services that could help.

When Bantus arrived in Pittsburgh, the community spent years moving from subpar housing to subpar housing: from Lawrenceville and Homewood to the Hill District and Manchester in the North Side, and finally to Northview Heights, where around 80 percent of them live today.

“They were used to operating alone. They were excluded in Somalia, they were used to operating in their own world,” says Dyer. “... [Many] don’t even speak and write in their native language, let alone English. They were really up against it.”

A 2007 Georgetown Immigration Law Journal article on Bantus argued that if they were not given adequate support, they would become vulnerable to “an intergenerational cycle of poverty, which is hardly a humanitarian act and could have dire consequences for both the African refugee and their American neighbors.”

The Bantus also differ starkly from their African counterparts in terms of education. Slyvester Mejer hails from Nigeria and is the associate director of the Union of African Communities of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Unlike most of the Bantu, he says 60-70 percent of other Africans arriving to Pittsburgh come from educated backgrounds.

Despite such challenges, Dyer believes Pittsburgh’s Bantus are on the right track. He says many youth performed well in high school, an “extreme achievement considering their background,” and almost none of them have criminal records. Dyer adds that while living in Northview Heights presents problems (census figures show that 41 percent of households in the neighborhood make less than $10,000 a year), it has provided Bantus an opportunity to live close to one another, and has provided a safe place for them to practice their cultural traditions.

“They found a challenge of concentrate[ed] poverty, but they also found a community that understood social challenges,” says Dyer. “Perhaps it wasn’t so broken to the Somali Bantu. It gave them this sort-of village. They could recreate the life they wanted.”

...In Pittsburgh, many African refugees, including the Bantus, were resettled in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. And while relationships between American and immigrant communities in Northview Heights are going smoothly now, Fatuma Muya, a Bantu from Northview Heights, told City Paper in December 2015 that many African Americans have bullied Bantu youth over the years, calling them names like “Africa” and “stink.”

Police relations haven’t gone over very well either. Chirambo says when some Bantus in Pittsburgh call the police to settle disputes, the police sometimes arrest the father out of confusion. In December 2015, five boys were arrested by Port Authority Police during a ruckus at Wood Street T station. Out of hundreds present during the commotion, all the boys arrested were Bantu and at least four of the five cases never went to trial. The boys’ families claimed they were discriminated against, which Port Authority denied.

“The events of last year, when you see stuff like that happening, it is disappointing,” says Mwaliya. “It seems hopeless. The solution is to have it come from the inside.”

But the county seems to be providing more outside help too. Betty Cruz, formerly of Mayor Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative, helped create a community blueprint with Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services to make it easier for immigrant communities to connect to services and funding. She says more can, and needs, to be done to help immigrant and refugee groups in the Pittsburgh region...

Cruz says while Pittsburgh groups do offer English as a Second Language classes, the region doesn’t offer professional English-language services to help immigrants obtain high-skilled jobs like engineering and health-care work. Mwaliya says many Bantu men work as janitors and dishwashers and the women work in laundry service.

“It makes the difference from being stuck in survival jobs, to moving along the pipeline into [high-skilled] work,” says Cruz. “It is a big barrier right now.”

Another Bantu group was recently created to take on these issues. Abdulkadir Chirambo came to Pittsburgh from Erie to study at Pitt eight years ago, where he earned a degree in criminal justice. Chirambo, a relative of two of the boys arrested during the Wood Street ruckus, was recently tapped by community elders to start the United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh group. He has been integral in the Northview Heights garden project and has started providing family crisis counseling within the community.

“We want to let people know we are alive and here,” said Chirambo, while weeding the community garden one Saturday. “[We were invisible] in Somalia, we don’t want that here.”....

Example #1: madina and dadiri wedding [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania]

Abdikadir muya Published on Aug 24, 2013

mjomba Audio & video Center in Pittsburgh, PA (Abdikadir Muya)
Notice the custom of giving paper money to the bride and groom (as seen at around 6:00 in this video and at other times.) I've noticed this custom of "spraying money" -and other referents - in other African videos, but particularly in Nigerian wedding and party videos.

Example #2: somali bantu Pittsburgh wedding mberwa and Asia A new journey together

Fato Mada Published on Jun 29, 2014

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  1. This topic is of particular interest to me because I've lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since August 1969.

    I've noticed some women in Pittsburgh who I thought were Africans (i.e. born in Africa) wearing what I assumed were traditional colorful long dresses with East African style draped head scarfs. Given the article, I now assume that those women are Somali Bantus.

    (By the way), this custom of those females wearing their traditional African clothing -which in the winter is worn under a winter coat-is in contrast to what appears to me to be the custom of other Black African women [i.e. women born in Africa] wearing "standard" American clothing and no head wraps or long head scarfs).

    The article quoted above indicated that 80% of Pittsburgh's Somali Bantus live in the neighborhood of Northview Heights. That neighborhood is some distance from East Liberty/Garfield where I live. However, I have noticed some African families (who I now think are Somali Bantus) living in East Liberty/Garfield.

    I remember seeing a man (dressed in "standard American clothing") with a woman and their young daughter (both dressed in what I considered "East African style traditional clothing") in the lobby of a doctor's office in that community. I remember nodding my head at that family (as a number of Black people used to do when we encountered some other Black person even if we didn't know him or her)*. But that family didn't acknowledge me. They just continued to stare straight ahead. Thanks to that article, given the difficulties and dangers that that ethnic group faced in Somali and Kenya, I have a better understanding for why they don't automatically see other Black people as potential allies in case of trouble.*

    Also, I recall my daughter (who at that time was a teacher in the neighborhood elementary school) telling me that African girls in that school were being teased by (other) Black children because of their dark skin (although their skin was the same complexion as some of those students doing the teasing). Students in that school wore uniforms, but I do recall some girls wearing long head scarfs. Notice the quote in that Pittsburgh article that "many African Americans have bullied Bantu youth over the years, calling them names like “Africa” and “stink.”

    *I think that at least one reason for the African American custom of nodding your head at another Black person or otherwise greeting another Black person whether you know him or her or not is that we were acknowledging that we're in the same boat [we come from the same culture and may encounter the same difficulties] and we can potential count on each other if those difficulties occur. But I've noticed that this custom of Black people nodding at other Black people we come across has been disappearing since at least the 1980s, probably because gang activities have made Black people less trusting of each other.

    1. Also, notice this quote from that same Pittsburgh article:
      "In 2006, Education Law Project on behalf of the Bantu community sued Pittsburgh Public Schools for better language and cultural services. PPS settled and developed policies to help second-language learners and guard against ethnic intimidation."