As the group of young Somalis recently invited to Minnesota on a trip organised by the US Embassy here discovered, it is, in fact, possible to retain your national heritage and to be accepted into the culture of your home country.
While that may sound obvious to anyone from a multi-ethnic country, the experience was an eye-opener for the young people on the trip, because it flies in the face of what many of them have experienced in their everyday lives back home in Denmark. Here, successful immigrants are often described in terms of how closely they come to achieving a level of Danishness that many natives themselves can’t live up to.
Making matters more complicated is that back in Denmark, ethnic minority groups – and this applies to more than just Somalis – also face the unrealistic expectations of their parents that they remain faithful to their national heritage.
For the young people themselves, many of whom actually feel they belong to both cultures, there is little chance that they can satisfy the demands of either group.
This is no different for immigrant groups anywhere, but when you don’t feel a part of your home culture and when the debate around you is sharply anti-immigrant, you need to find acceptance somewhere. In Denmark we’ve seen that there are two preferred ways of doing this: by joining radical groups and by joining criminal gangs.
Whether by coincidence or design, as US ambassador Laurie S Fulton and her delegation were visiting Minnesota, back in Denmark a court was handing down its sentence to a 17-year-old Somali immigrant convicted of raping a 10-year-old girl.
Also involved in two other attempted rapes, the young man blamed his behaviour on his strict Muslim upbringing and the horrific experience of being forced to fight as a child soldier after being sent back to Somalia by his parents for “re-education”. During his trial, he admitted that he attempted to rape the girls, but claimed it was a “cry for help” to escape from a home where “nothing was permitted”.
There’s no telling whether his explanation is just an excuse or a valid reason, but you can only wonder whether the rapes would have happened if he felt there was no contradiction between being Somali and being Danish.