The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 22, 2010

Somalis: We didn't cause Santa flap

Spokespeople concerned about wave of anti-Somali comments on Internet

MANKATO — Head Start officials erred in ending Santa Claus visits to St. Peter Head Start classrooms and have unfairly made Somalis into scapegoats on the issue, say two Mankato Somalians who have lived in the community a combined 23 years.

“Why put a fire under Somalis?” Lul Ahmed said. “This is a lovely community where we live together. But we’re being seen as negative, and we don’t want that.”

Fanah Adam, who has children in the Mankato Head Start program, said respect for differing cultures and customs is a two-way street — a concept that was sullied by prohibiting a Santa appearance because some families in the class reportedly objected to it.

“Santa and the families (were) not the decision-makers; Head Start administrators are who sent Santa away,” he said.

Ahmed and Adam fear that the virulent anti-Somali reactions on website comment pages and forums to published reports of the Santa ouster could be breeding grounds for hate crimes.

Earlier this year Dennis Jackson of St. Peter, who has played Santa for St. Peter Head Start classes the past four years, was told by program officials that his appearance this year would be against some people’s wishes.

He said he was given no specifics.

Chris Marben, who coordinates regional Head Start programs through Mankato-based Minnesota Valley Action Council, said this:

“We have Somali families in the program. We’re respecting the wishes of the families.”

She did not say how many objected to Santa’s appearance, nor if Somali families specifically objected.

Head Start officials have made no comments on the matter since then, but Ahmed and Adam think they need to do so.

“They need to make an apology,” Ahmed said. “They need to correct this mess.”

Adam said every family no matter race or religion has a right to air concerns, but he feels it was inappropriate, given the known facts, for Head Start to single out one ethnic group as the reason for its action.

Adam and Ahmed said they’re in agreement with Jackson’s proposed solution — that any parents who didn’t want their children involved with Santa could have them sequestered for that portion of the school day.

Jackson/Santa typically made 30-minute appearances at each of Head Start’s two St. Peter classes, dispensing treats to children and posing with them for photos.

Marben, in explaining Head Start’s decision, also said this last week:  

“Southern Minnesota has become a much more culturally diverse society than it was a few decades ago. Part of our challenge in Head Start is providing an environment where young children from many different cultures can all feel comfortable.”

The National Head Start Association is a private, not-for-profit organization that operates school-readiness programs for low-income children and their families.

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