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'Welcome to the Neighborhood' traces recent immigrant experiences

Clockwise from left: Sharmake Farah, Chaltu Berento, Sara Mohammed Nur, Zak, Amal Ali, Hamdi Mohamed, Shemse Nuru, Shirwa Mohamed, Ifrah, Abdi Farah, Fardosa Jama, Farrington Starnes

Clockwise from left: Sharmake Farah, Chaltu Berento, Sara Mohammed Nur, Zak, Amal Ali, Hamdi Mohamed, Shemse Nuru, Shirwa Mohamed, Ifrah, Abdi Farah, Fardosa Jama, Farrington Starnes

​For nearly a year, a group of young actors, writers, and creators have worked to bring the stories of recent East African immigrants to the stage. The fruit of their labors, Ku soo Dhawaada Xaafadeena (Welcome to Our Neighborhood), will be presented at the Cedar Cultural Center over the next two weekends.

It's part of a program that the currently homeless Bedlam Theatre has been developing for several years, according to director John Bueche. They are also working with another neighborhood theater with an interest in immigrant issues, Mixed Blood.

Part of the goal of the show is to connect the young company members with their elders. "A lot of them have lived most of their lives here, so it gave them a chance to learn more about their families' experiences in Africa," Bueche says. Many of the stories that were collected were told in Somali, so translations were needed, which also helped to bridge the generation gap.

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After collecting the stories, the different pieces were merged--with the help of playwright David Grant into a narrative. The play follows Nadifa and Abdi, two youths whose work in the community brings them together. Their budding romance is met with skepticism, and then is rocked when one of Abdi's close friends is arrested under suspicion of terrorism. Abdi is caught up in it after being accused of sheltering the fugitive. The friends must then enlist the community to help clear their names.

The show should help anyone who attends to "get into the reality of the East African immigrant life," Bueche says.

The whole process has not only connected the young performers--who are a mix of Somali, other African immigrants, and African-American youth--with the cultural and social heritage of Africa, but hopefully will spark further participation in the arts.
 
Ku soo Dhawaada Xaafadeena (Welcome to Our Neighborhood) will be presented free at 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in conjunction with East African community celebrations, and then at 7 p.m. July 28 through 31 for $10 to $15 (free for Cedar Riverside residents). Visit online or call 612.338.6131 to order tickets.