America (Minneapolis) the beautiful

Somali and Somali-Americans celebrated Somali Independence Day
Hundreds of Somali and Somali-Americans celebrated Somali Independence Day on West Lake Street in Minneapolis on June 29. Photo by Jim Walsh

Donald Trump announced his “Salute To America” Fourth of July party in February, tweeting that Thursday’s event would feature “a major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!” 

Spare me. More Trumpian Fourth plans have been announced, including tanks, fighter planes, velvet ropes and a pricey VIP section at what is normally an egalitarian for-the-people birthday party on the National Mall. But if Trump or anyone else wants a taste of what America truly is and can be, I’m here to say that they should skip the District of Columbia and get a load of Minneapolis. 

I was proud of my city as I tooled its busy streets by bike on June 29. It was a sticky Minnesota summer day, and the scene on West Lake Street between closed-off Blaisdell and Stevens avenues screamed progress with a capital P: At the same time that bulldozers, fire hoses and jackhammers pounded the pavement under I-35W towards the future of this thriving metropolis, vendors set up tables and booths for the start of the week-long Somali Independence Day celebration.

At the other end of Lake Street, the event stage was set up in front of the Blaisdell White Castle and New Horizon Academy, with Kmart on one side and the Immigrant Resource Center on the other. As hundreds of flag- and fan-waving Somali and Somali-American Minnesotans took part in a celebration so free, so open and so uniquely American, I took great joy in being a stark minority, a super pale male, and I couldn’t help but think about the racism in this state and country and about how Trump and others have made me so skeptical of patriotism.

Not today. Heartened, I jumped on my bike and toured the neighborhood, landing at the Chinese American-helmed Dollar Store and Indian American-helmed Uptown Tobacco & E-Cig for supplies, and at the African American-helmed Funky Grits for beans and rice. I window-gazed the goods at the Polish American–helmed Finer Meats and Eats, the Colombian American-helmed Cocina Latina, the Japanese American-helmed Kyatchi, the Mexican American-helmed Cinco de Mayo Mercado, the Mexican American-helmed Valerie’s Carniceria and, finally, landed at the Japanese-American-owned Ramen Kazama for a delicious feast of chilled summer ramen. 

Then it was on to the Driftwood Char Bar, where Canadian rocker Dave Rave led his jubilant band of Minnesota rockers through a manifique set of rock ‘n’ roll, and where the between-band bar chatter was all about new ways of being, and the refreshing badassery of World Cup heroine Megan Rapinoe and New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  

It was all so gloriously and organically, y’know, American, the next day I was inspired to get back on my bike and return to Lake Street, the very same spot that hosted the Somali party just 24 hours prior, now the meeting point for a march of more than 1,000 people protesting ICE, immigration raids and this country’s despicable immigration policies. As protesters chanted “We are here to show our rage/No more children in a cage!” their route to First Universalist Church in South Uptown was cheered by shop owners in Twins caps and hijabs.  

I walked my bike and took in the scenery. The restaurants, bars, people, places. My neighbors’ awesome “Make America Gay Again” rainbow flag. Big Latinx families walking down the street hand in hand, past Hakal Hakal Grocery, Los Andes Ecuadorian and Colombian Restaurant, It’s Greek To Me and Botanica San Judas, where the bloody crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary share storefronts with the punk rock of Extreme Noise Records and the cowboy duds of Schatzlein Saddle Shop.

I listened to the harmony of different languages rising up as one in protection of the poorest and most vulnerable among us, and in that moment I felt lucky to be living in this little big city, and in America — land of the free, home of the brave, and a bubbling, burbling melting pot that remains a beautiful work in progress, always in progress.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at jimwalsh086@gmail.com.