Everyone has an identity: Discussing race and politics

Panelists discuss race, identity, and immigration in modern America.

Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

Identity is a complex thing.

That was one of the central messages from the “Controlling Borders and Policing Race” panel on Tuesday, which featured four panelists from diverse backgrounds, including two local candidates for city council and mayor, respectively.

The panelists included Aar Maanta, a musician whose humanitarian work has led him to become goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, and Bukata Hayes, the Executive Director of the Greater Mankato Diversity Council. 

Also included were Ayan Musse, a local business owner and diversity inclusion specialist, and Fardousa Jama, a candidate for the Mankato city council. 

The panelists introduced themselves and were asked a number of questions related to race, identity, and immigration

One important theme was the complexity of identity, and connections to relatives in other countries. 

Panelists also discussed their experiences in America, particularly when they first came. Ms. Jama, spoke about her first days at school in America, where her shoes and notebook were taken from her. 

Mr. Hayes, a mayoral candidate in Mankato, spoke about his experiences as a black man in America, as well as the diversity within the black community in general. “There’s a lot of diversity among black folks in the United States,” Mr. Hayes said.

Ms. Musse pointed out the risks she and other immigrants have faced, both in immigrating to other countries and the difficulties of acclimating to life there. “Nobody would risk their lives to come to another country if it was safe at home. Nobody would put their children on a boat if it was safe at home.”

Unfortunately, governments and state officials aren’t always, or even often welcoming. Many of the questions they ask can be downright intrusive. Maanta, who has lived in the United Kingdom, spoke about his experiences with border officials and government agents.

“It’s not unique to the United States” he said. He recounted that he has been asked how often he prays, and whether or not he goes to pubs and bars. “These questions come up all the time.” 

And they don’t come up in isolation; Maanta said that many people of Somali descent in the U.S. and U.K. that he has spoken to said that similar things had happened to them, their relatives, or friends. 

One of the last topics raised during the panel was related to how teachers can make immigrant and minority students, particularly those with different identities, feel safe and accepted at their school. Ms. Musse responded “The only thing I will say is, celebrate them. Celebrate them.”

Artwork designed by David Bassey | MSU Reporter.

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