Fatuma Muya, a Somali Bantu refugee and a U.S. citizen since 2012, displays the flag of Somalia. (Photo by Morgan Trisk/PublicSource)
Most people in Pittsburgh know very little about the Somali Bantu community residing here. You can catch signs of their culture throughout the city: glimpses of women and children at bus stops in colorful dresses and hijab, the smell of savory samosas drifting out of homes. These are just two of the outward signs denoting their presence. Roughly 550 Somali Bantu live in Pittsburgh, mostly in clusters within Northview Heights, Lawrenceville, Carrick and Mount Oliver.
But what do we really know about Pittsburgh’s Somali Bantu community? My vague memories of the war in Somalia include scattered images of starving children on the nightly news. Yet there is so much more to their stories than media soundbites from two decades ago.
This year, I began working with the Somali Bantu refugee community in Pittsburgh as part of a church-led community effort to help them thrive in this city. What started as the simple task of collecting clothing items or kitchen utensils for families evolved into a deepening understanding of their hopes and their struggles here. As I became acquainted with our neighbors, their complex stories emerged. The flight from their war-torn home country and the hardships endured to build a new life in Pittsburgh show their resilience and strength.