Holding Obama Accountable as Elections Draw Close

Minnesota's Southeast Asians on defeating the marriage amendment

Elections are days away; and a lot is at stake. The two constitutional amendments on the ballot this November are clear in their intent to disenfranchise and discriminate against segments of our population. Shades of Yellow (SOY) is a St. Paul-based GLBTQ advocacy organization that  has been campaigning for the past year to defeat the marriage amendment. In this show, Bruce Thao and Nhia Vang talk about SOY’s decision to take on marriage equality as a platform to advocate for other issues affecting the Hmong and Southeast Asian GLBTQ community. Click here to listen to the whole interview.


Check out these tiny (& sassy) Muslimas. Words cannot describe how beautiful these girls are!

This week I interview Uriel Rosales Tlantechi on the struggles of undocumented immigrant students in Minnesota. 

Uriel is the chair of the board of directors of Navigate an amazing resource for immigrant students pursuing higher education in Minnesota. 

Be sure to check out the Narratives of Undocumented Immigrants interactive exhibition at the University of Minnesota on Friday, from noon to 8pm. More details here

This week’s interview: how are Minnesota’s immigrant farmers, particularly those from the tropics, faring?

Tibetans in Minnesota react to reports of self immolation protests in Tibet

Ten self-immolations in the last eight months. What is going on in Tibet? Two Tibetans, living in exile in Minnesota, share their stories.  

Listen as Jigme Ugen, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, and Tenzin Khando, general secretary of the Tibetan Women’s Association of Minnesota, discuss Tibetan activism and movements towards standing in solidarity with Tibetan monks and nuns who face religious persecution. 

On Nov. 2, Tibetans around the US will rally in Washington, D.C., for a global day of action ahead of the G-20 summit of international leaders in Cannes, France.

This show first aired on October 22nd, 2011

Celebrating this year’s Female Nobel Peace Laureates

Its wonderful to see the Nobel Peace Prize committee acknowledge the work of women during conflict.

This year’s laureates were Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, a pro-democracy campaigner.

It is a victory in many ways: only one other African woman, the late Wangari Maathai have received this international recognition, and Karman is the first Arab and second Muslim woman to win a Nobel prize. But, most importantly, when discussing war and its consequences women are almost always portrayed as hapless victims, and these women tell a different complicated narrative on negotiating peace. 

The committee in announcing this year’s laureates said that they were recognizing the women for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Doris Parker, who runs the Minnesota-based organization Liberian Women’s Initiative, called into the studio to reflect on what this recognition means to her work and that of other women around the world. Listen and download the interview here.

Tomorrow, October 18th, PBS (check local listings for time) will re-broadcast Pray the Devil Back to Hell a documentary that shows how women waged peace at a tumultuous time in the country’s history. Leymah Gbowee is one of these women. Read this review I wrote on the film a few years ago. 


This show first aired on October 8th, 2011

Faustin Linyekula: catharsis of pain

Faustin Linyekula is an incredible artist and thinker. A contemporary dancer, Linyekula who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire), describes his performance as story telling where explores the possibilities of his body to tell stories; navigating between the past and present. His work is largely influenced by the political struggle of the Congolese. 

"It is not only about the beauty or the aesthetics of the body on stage but attempting to tell stories that are very dear to my art. Stories, not from exile, but from coming from my home country."

"My heritage is a pile of wounds and pain, but what do I do with it? It doesn’t do anyone any good to just talk about it."

Listen to my interview with Faustin as we talk history, dance, philosophy and spirituality. 

Also read Susan Budig’s review on Faustin Linyekula’s show in 2007 when he was an artist in residence at the Walker Arts Center.  

This show aired on September 24th, 2011. 


Arab American super heroine fights for justice; with olive oil

Kathryn Haddad’s Zafira the Olive Oil Warrior looks at what would happen if Arab and Muslim Americans were held in internment camps just as Japanese Americans were in the ’40s. In this haunting play, school teacher Vicki, played by Taous Khazem, is emboldened by her alter-ego, Zafira. I interview Haddad and Khazem on the making and performance of the play. 

Haddad says, “It’s ten years later, and what does the world look like in a time of ‘peace’ in America? Young people recruited for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The general public is willing to accept racial profiling and infiltration of private communications of its citizens now. This is ten years after the attack on the Twin Towers during a quiet time in our country. The impetus of the play is to wonder what would happen during a time that was not ‘quiet’—during a time of another attack. Could something like the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII happen again—this time to the Arab American and Muslim community?”

Zafira the Olive Oil Warrior
September 10, 2011–October 2, 2011
Avalon Theatre (In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre)
1500 E. Lake St. – Minneapolis

Pay-as-you-can on Thursday, September 22nd, 2011. 

Listen and download this week’s show here.

This show aired on September 17th, 2011

Civil liberties post 9-11

As the US looks back at September 11th, ten years later, it is important that we look at the political and social legacies left in the wake of that tragic event. We are particularly reminded that the lives of many Americans have changed. Immigration and civil rights lawyers Taneeza Islam and Munazza Humayan, both from the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), discuss cases and trends that demonstrate the increasing loss of civil liberties of Muslim Americans (as well as those perceived as being Muslim) post 9/11. While cases of hate crimes are not as prevalent in Minnesota as they are in other parts of the country, we still learn that it could be better.

Click here to download and listen to a captivating discussion with Taneeza and Munazza. 

This show aired on September 10th, 2011

Yohannes Tona: All things jazz and then some

This week I interview local musician, Ethiopian-born, Yohannes Tona. His compositions have influences from around the world (mostly jazz, Afro-funk, highlife and soul) and can be sampled from his first album Sand from the Desert Storm which we play on this week’s show. Yohannes has also just finished producing an album for another local Ethiopian soul singer Asayehegn “Iyu” Alemu whose music you also hear on the show.  

Listen and download interview here

PS. I was excited about doing a music show at the state fair because we’d have a live audience. Unfortunately, we were interrupted by a state fair parade that was too loud to allow for Yohannes and I to chat in between the songs. (that loud banging noise you hear, for a few moments, in the background is several matching bands). BUT you can still hear the music since that was played from the studio. So do listen in. That just means I will have to have Yohannes back in the studio soon. 

This show aired on August 27th at the State Fair, in St. Paul. 

Anonymous said: How can I contact you to ask about suggesting guests for Reflections of New Minnesotans?

Hey, my email is nekessa [at] gmail [dot] com . Cheers

I have been torn on what charities to support with the famine in East Africa. I am wary of supporting the aid culture, but I also understand that this is a crisis that needs the world’s urgent financial response. As it turns out, a few friends were also looking to identify effective ways to contribute to the drought/famine crisis. You can read more about the East Africa Relief project here, but for now listen as we discuss smart giving, poverty porn, the politics of international aid and climate change. 

Quotes from the show:

There is a serious sustainability question. People are helping, but how they help is an important conversation to have because there are certain aid models that really damage the communities in question and have long-term ramifications that again, create cyclical cycles of dependency that isn’t very solutions-oriented. - Ramla Bile

There’s been several reports in various media outlets that the Ethiopian government has been withholding aid from the Ogaden area of Ethiopia, which is an area that has been against the government. Human Rights Watch produced a report last year called “development without freedom, how aid underwrites repression in Ethiopia.” The Ethiopia government is using access to aid as a weapon to control people and crush dissent. – Aman Obsiye

As I look at these pictures, a lot of times the impression that people get is that they are passive victims and that they are not part of the solution and this is an ongoing thing when it comes to Africa. And it’s not the right approach one should take. – Sharmarke Jama

One of the biggest criticisms of aid agencies is that they have created this dependency where people are not doing things that would sustain them. Instead, you’re relying on aid and you’re not developing your infrastructure, you’re not developing your farms, you’re not developing your agricultural industry and that’s very important to address. – Me.

-Nekessa Opoti

This show aired on August 13th, 2011

Last year, May Lee-Yang was a hit at the Minnesota Fringe Festival with her play Confessions of a Lazy Hmong Woman. This year, with five shows at Intermedia Arts, she brings you 10 Reasons Why I’d Make a Bad Porn Star. Listen in as we talk developing Hmong theater in Minnesota, her Bush Fellowship, feminism, and sex as taboo.

Go see her at Intermedia Arts, you will be pleasantly surprised. 

This show aired on August 6th, 2011.

Axis Medical Center’s chief of staff, Dr. Abdirahman D. Mohamed, chats with me about the current famine in Somalia reflecting on the impact this humanitarian crisis is having on his patients here in Minnesota. Dr. Mohamed also addresses Somalia’s 20-yr old war, aid agencies, foreign governments and their failure to intervene in Somalia sooner.

Dr. Mohamed questions the claim that Al Shabaab overpowers international agencies and governments who have had no trouble having a presence in countries like Afghanistan and Iran which he argues are a lot more dangerous.

This show aired on July 30th, 2011.