We have so much respect for our elders.: Becoming Minnesotan

Bibi Abdalla and Sumaya Yusuf, Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, 2004.
  • Name - Sumaya Yusuf and Bibi Abdalla
  • Age at interview - 15
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Saida, Sagal and Hodan, Brian Coyle Community Center, Minneapolis, 2004.
    Children at Somali Independence Day, Minneapolis, June 27, 2004.

    Family, Gender Roles, Somali

    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Traditions & Values: What makes up “culture”?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    In many cultures around the world there is a much stronger emphasis on respecting one’s elders. However, there is sometimes a different understanding of who is an “elder.” In Somali culture, anyone who is older than you is considered an “elder,” including a sibling or cousin who might not be that much older. The idea is that as people age they have more experiences, and those younger should respect the wisdom that their elders gained in the time before they were born. Along with the expectation that younger folks will respect their elders, there is also the expectation that elders take their responsibility seriously and do not abuse their power, but set a good example for those coming along behind them.

    To learn more about Somali history and culture, visit our Somali Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Sumaya Yusuf and Bibi Abdalla 1
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    Narrators: Sumaya Yusuf (SY) and Bibi Abdalla (BA)

    Interviewer: Andy Wilhide (AW)

    SY:  You do need to take care of your parents. I feel like that’s the one thing that is unique about the Somali culture, that we have so much respect for our elders. We take care of them, and we realize that that is so important. Like my father, yes, he’s my father, and I have to obey him, but if his aunt says something to him that he’s doing wrong, he’s going to listen, even though he is older, and he has kids, and he has a family, and he’s grown. If my aunt says, "you're doing something wrong," he's going to listen.  It doesn’t matter how old you get, you still have to listen to your elders. Even your siblings, like all my siblings, they have to listen to me, because I’m the oldest sibling. If I’m wrong, of course, then I’m wrong. If I say something, then they have to obey me because I’m the oldest sibling. It just works that way.

    AW:  Does that actually happen? Do you get Saida to listen to you?

    BA:  Actually, when she first came here it was like that, but, now, we are more like friends than sisters. It's just like, I yell, she yells, I yell, she yells. We get sick of each other. We go away and then we come back and we talk. It starts all over.

    SY:  I think it's the same way. My brother, when people see me and him walking down the street they think that he’s my older brother. Because he looks older, he’s taller. But I’m the oldest one. Me and him, we’ve always had a close bond.  I've always been really close to my brother.  To me, I look at him more as a friend than I do as a brother. So, he doesn’t listen to me. If I say something, he takes it into consideration, but I don’t run around bossing him around or anything. Yes, it’s the same thing with our family.

    BA:  Me and Saida, it’s probably because there is a year apart between us. But, then when it comes to my sister, Jumila, you know, she says something and the whole house is just…you know. She’s like a mom to me. I respect her like I respect my mom. I remember one day, I just said something back and my mom, she didn’t say anything, but her eyes just got big. It's the same as if I'm saying that to my mom. Never again…I don't even go that road.

    AW:  What about the little ones?

    BA:  The little ones, they look up to us like we look up to Jumila. We’re like a mom to them, basically. If we say, “No,” it’s no. If we say, “Yes,” it’s yes. That’s just the way it goes.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  An agreement or friendship that unites individuals or peoples into a group.


    Noun:  The thought process of considering, of taking everything into account; something considered a reason for a decision.


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    Noun:  An older person or an older member, usually a leader, of some community.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 554