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Life History Interview

For my Life History Interview paper, I interviewed a 19-year old woman from Somalia
who is in my English class. She and her family moved from Somalia to Utah only a few years ago,
and are still slowly adjusting to the cultural shock, the language barriers, and the constant feeling
of obligation to become more "Americanized;" though, everyone has resisted the urge to become
"Americanized" because they are a tight knit culture, and don't want to change that in any way.
When my interviewee first started high school, she didn't know any English. To fix that problem,
her school counselor put her in special education classes until she could catch on with the rest of
the students. Unfortunately, she caught on to the language quickly, and it was difficult to transfer
her into regular classes, so she stayed in special ed until she graduated. She misses Somalia deeply;
however, with the raging war going on, she feels lucky that she got out when she did. My
interviewee and I went to a nearby coffee shop after school, and discussed the difference in both of
our cultures, and how different the culture is here in America. Although we quickly ran out of time,
since I had to escape to work, she and I exchanged cell phone numbers, and emails, and proceeded
on with the interview via messaging. The interview, and the continuation of the interview went
extremely well. She opened up quickly, and had no trouble with describing and answering any of
the questions that I asked her. I picked my interviewee, because she has always been really quiet in
my English class, and I wanted to get to know her better. I felt good about how the interview went,
and even about our friendship that has started because of it. I think my interviewee liked the
attention I gave her by asking her questions about her culture, and wanting to get to know it a little
bit better. Even though she felt nostalgic during the interview, she had a great time telling me all
about the different foods, activities, and comparing the differences of both the Somalian and
American cultures.
First off, my interviewee described her culture very candidly--if you meet anyone from the
older generation, they will immediately despise you; if you meet anyone from the younger

generation, they will, generally, be alright with meeting you, and will accept you faster than the
older generation; and if you are a man, all of the men of the family will accept you with open arms.
Men work on the field farming, while women are inside cooking and cleaning. When my
interviewee's family moved to Utah, that quickly changed, since there aren't any fields in the
urban, industrial part of the country; however, women are still expected to cook and clean, while
men generally don't do anything because of the lack of fields. This reminded me of how America
used to be--with old-school, traditional gender roles--and it was interesting to me that we, as a
society, have developed slightly further past the gender roles in our culture, but in other countries,
the gender roles are still very much prominent.
Somalian women wear a lot of colorful, loose, and baggy dresses known as "Hijabs" and
"Burkas." These outfits are also known as the "mother/wife" outfits, since they are baggy enough
that you are comfortable and can easily relax. The men generally wear pants, but for comfort, they
wear a "Maoose" which is a long skirt that is wrapped twice at the hip.
Family is extremely important to Somalians. Her family is consisted of eleven people
including: her mother, her father, herself, and her eight siblings; however, she also has five half
siblings since this is her father's second marriage. Older generations include more of the
community as part of the family. While she considers her nuclear family as her only family, her
mother, on the other hand, will introduce many of her friends to the family, and expect them to call
this new acquaintance "Aunt/Uncle." Also, if you have anything wrong with you--whether it be a
sickness, a disease, or even just an emotional problem--you do not tell anyone, because everyone
loves to gossip, and will not only spread all of the details to anyone who will listen, but they will
also exclude you from the community. This, of course, reminds me of high school, since teenagers
are notorious for spreading gossip around, and love to create drama.
Eye avoidance is generally done by men and women when concerning the other gender. It's
seen as wrong and not acceptable to make eye contact with anyone from the opposite gender. It is
also seen as a big "no" to be alone with a person from the opposite gender. If you are to be close to

them, it is brief, and always supervised. Men and women are not supposed to mingle, since
women--at a young age (usually 13)-- are promised to be married to men who are much older than
they are. I have only heard of this kind of set-up in the Middle-East, and Africa, and it makes me
sad that it's still popular in various areas of the Eastern Hemisphere. I think that women, and men,
should have a choice in who they marry, and when they get married. It disgusts me, whether it's
tradition or not, that families would pawn their daughters off to older men if they have a decent
enough bidding on her.
The most commonly used foods are rice, beef, oatmeal, and broth. If you are to prepare
food for a special occasion, you would prepare "Halwu" which is a sweet dessert with a gummy
bear consistency. In their culture, the host goes all out for guests of honor and will prepare large
amounts of food days in advance before the guest of honor arrives. The etiquette includes eating
with your hands; however, they've recently switched over to using silverware. Husbands eat first,
and once they're finished, the children sit down to eat, and once they finish, the wives finally sit
down to eat. On rare occasions, they'll all sit down to eat at the table, but it still has to go in the
same routine order. I would become bitter if I had to wait for everyone else to finish eating the
food that I prepared before me.
Before wedding celebrations, the bride and the groom go to the Mosque. Wedding
celebrations are also the only occasion that calls for dancing, since it is not seen as an appropriate
activity outside of weddings, and has only been introduced as a "wedding" activity recently. When
guests do dance, it is a lot like the traditional African dancing, which requires a lot of movement of
the lower half and pelvis from both genders. The wife and husband are put into different rooms
where a sheikh prays for them, and then pronounces them husband and wife. Women wear the
traditional white dresses for their weddings, and mean wear suits. Older female guests at the
wedding wear loose, more extravagant, and colorful dresses. Men generally wear suits.

Most Somalians are Muslim. Their main holidays are Ramadan and Hajj, and they
celebrate by fasting. On these holidays, they go to the Mosque to pray, talk, and communicate with
one another. Many stereotypes are rooted into the Muslim religion. Because of this, my
interviewee has faced a lot of religious, and even racist discrimination. Since my interviewee is
Muslim herself, she told me that whenever she wears the traditional Muslim-appropriate clothing,
everyone around her is constantly whispering, and trying to get as far away from her as possible.
Just because she is wearing clothing that is deemed as "different," and just because people hear
many stereotypes about this religion, does not mean that she in fact is part of the stereotype. She is
an honest, young woman, who just wants to fit in, and it's absolutely brutal that people would treat
her this way. My interviewee also told me, that her family has had many missionaries sent to their
doorstep to speak about the Book of Mormon, and to try and convert them. She told me that she
despises Utah--particularly--because of it, since it happens so often (she thinks that since her
neighbors are all Mormon, they're the ones who keep sending the missionaries to their doorstep).
Also, because Somalians are originally from Africa, they generally get the stereotype that they will
steal because they are black. If they go shopping, anywhere, they are always followed around and
"watched" to make sure they won't steal from the store. That seems to be a consistent experience
that all African-Americans go through. I have a lot of empathy for her, since I have never
experienced that myself, and can't imagine how obnoxious that becomes.
My interviewee also confessed that Somalians are extremely blunt with what's on their
mind. If you're generally a short person, people will call you "Lega-Yeddd," which is translated
into "Short-Stubby Feet," and if you're ugly, they'll call you "Wiage-Hunn," which translates into
"Horrible Face." This isn't meant out of disrespect, it is just a way to point you out in a crowd
instead of calling you by your name. Older Somalians diversify themselves as a different race, and
are extremely racist against Africans. Somalians generally believe that they are the superior race,

and that people from Africa are beneath them. If you are not directly Somalian, everyone will
judge and exclude you from the community.
I learned a lot from my interviewee. She has an interesting experience with living in
Somalia, and living under those regulations and cultural differences. I, on the one hand, would
never dare describe someone as "Horrible-Face," whether it's out of disrespect or just a way of
picking them out of the crowd. I also think it's interesting that even though Somalians are
originally from Africa, they separate themselves from Africans, and see themselves as the superior
race. Who would've thought that the same race, although from two different countries, would still
be ethnocentric and racist towards each other? However culturally different that is from me, on a
serious note, she truly has been through a lot from the moment she escaped Somalia, to trying to
readjust in the United States, and on top of that, being discriminated against because of the color of
her skin. This assignment has helped me understand what privilege truly is. While I know the
definition of it, and some real-life examples that have happened to people I have never personally
met, it was truly a great experience for me to hear those same real-life examples happen to
someone who I do know, and for them to be able to tell me their experiences face-to-face. I think
it's interesting that, in class, when we were discussing the different social classes who experience
privilege, we briefly discussed how anyone from the African-descent is watched over while they're
shopping to make sure they're not stealing. While privileged, white, Americans address that as an
issue is one thing, it's completely different when someone actually has that same experience and
can describe to you how it feels. It shocks me that we still live in a society where we don't trust
people who have a different skin tone. I learned that, not only is privilege a serious issue that we
have with this society, but it greatly impacts great people who have good intentions, but might not
have the same shade of skin as I do.