ST. CLOUD — In an office space downtown St. Cloud artist Anisa Hagi-Mohamed spread a set of colorful rectangular cards across the table in front of her.
With her freshly hennaed fingers she picked up one of the cards reading: “Waxaan u iftiimayaa sida qorraxda!” Or in English: “I am shining like the sun!”
In the coming weeks the local teacher, writer and poet will be releasing the world’s first set of Somali affirmation cards. Designed to foster connection, uplift and serve as a starting point to talk about difficult topics like mental health, Hagi-Mohamed hopes these cards will make an impact.
The deck is called Kalsooni, which has several meanings in Somali.
“Kalsooni a lot of the time it’s used [to refer to] self esteem, good self esteem, confidence,” she said. “Another reason I called it Kalsooni is that it really honors the collective spirit of Somalis. We do things in groups, we do things in big numbers and so Kalsooni can be for myself and for you.”
Each card has a traditional Somali or American phrase in Somali and English printed on the front and back. The cards can be used in an introspective or interactive way, and are designed to be shared.
Hagi-Mohamed plans to put resources and activities to accompany the cards on her website, which she hopes will help teachers, parents and therapists use the cards in the future.
Centering Somali culture
The colors and patterns on the cards reflect the colors and patterns of traditional fabric called alindi, a textile synonymous with Somali culture, Hagi-Mohamed said.
Some of the cards also have characters on them she drew that reference traditional homes and objects people would use and see in Somalia.
Hagi-Mohamed said she thinks parents and elders in the community will take pride showing the younger generation these objects and telling stories about growing up in Somalia.
“I wanted an educational component to it. Maybe it’s my teacher side coming out, but also I feel like with [our] diaspora, we’re so disconnected from our culture sometimes. And there’s barriers there, there’s shame, there’s embarrassment, there’s maybe feeling like you don’t belong. Maybe you’re still trying to figure out your identity,” she said. “I included this to bring people in and say, ‘Hey, this is your culture, claim your culture, claim your language, it’s yours. It was always yours.'”
Breaking taboo, creating conversations around mental heatlh
Hagi-Mohamed said she first got the idea for the cards after making an effort to be more honest and open about her life on social media, not just sharing the positives.
When she started talking about anxiety and how to set boundaries with others, her posts “really took off” and she had people reach out to her wanting to learn more and incorporate that language into their own lives.
This summer, Hagi-Mohamed was nominated for and received a $11,000 grant to fund her affirmation cards project. Although she’d never made a deck of cards before she contracted local company Rengel Printing to bring her vision to life.
Hagi-Mohamed said her goal with the cards isn’t profit, but to create conversations around mental health in her community.
“We’re still dealing with that stigma of mental health. And that’s the primary reason that I created these cards … to help people share and unpack their experiences,” she said. “It’s to create an impact in my community, to talk about mental health a little bit more in spaces that it’s not talked about, like the mosque, like at schools, with nonprofit organizations. I want to just put this in the hands of people who are going to use it.”
Hagi-Mohamed said she was intentional about including cards with patterns Somali men traditionally wear because she wants to start conversations about wellness for Somali men, too, who often don’t have the space to talk about their mental health and are expected to be strong and fearless.
“‘You’re weak, don’t cry, be a man’ — we have that too in our culture,” she said. “You’re supposed to be this father, this big brother who’s fearless. And like, we’re human. We have emotions and that’s fine. And we’re allowed to feel the full spectrum of them regardless.”
Hagi-Mohamed said she comes from a family of writers, creatives and poets, and said her parents are really proud to see her continue to preserve their culture with art.
She said she hopes the cards will inspire the young and old alike.
“It’s to affirm, empower the community and it’s to give access to young people, because we’re bilingual, you know — we have the biculturality and we need to embrace it,” Hagi-Mohamed said. “A lot of our elders are like, ‘Speak Somali, don’t lose your language’ and the thing is, that shouldn’t be their approach. It should be embrace both cultures and languages, and empower yourself in both and heal yourself in both.”
You can find the affirmation cards on Hagi-Mohamed’s website mid-December: https://www.anisahagi.com/
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