Supporters gather in solidarity with woman attacked for speaking a foreign language

By Ibrahim Hirsi, MinnPost


Asma Jama, the woman who was attacked recently for speaking Swahili, had a change of heart Sunday afternoon during a solidarity gathering in her support.

After the Oct. 30 attack at the Coon Rapids Applebee’s that left her with a deep gash in her lower lip and cuts across her face, Jama said she felt unwanted and unsafe in Minnesota, a place she’s called home for 15 years.

But when scores of Minnesotans — including Coon Rapids city officials and social-justice leaders from the Twin Cities — assembled Sunday at the Coon Rapids Center in her support, she said she was reminded that not all Minnesotans are like Jodie Burchard-Risch, the 43-year-old woman who allegedly smashed Jama’s face with a beer mug.

‘Speak English’

On the night of the attack, Jama was chatting in Swahili with her two cousins and four nieces in the restaurant, sitting near Burchard-Risch and her husband. “This is America,” Jama said Burchard-Risch told her and her family. “Speak English.”

Jama, who escaped from the Somali civil war in the early 1990s, came of age in Kenya, and speaks English, Swahili and Somali. She said she turned to the couple and asked, “Why should I speak in English? I’m speaking to my family and I can speak in any language I want.”

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Ibrahim Hirsi reports on immigrant communities, social issues, marginalized groups and people who work on making a difference in the lives of others. A graduate from the University of Minnesota, he interned for Newsday and has written for multiple publications in Minnesota.

Follow Ibrahim Hirsi on Twitter: @IHirsi.

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