For British Somalis especially, the weeks leading up to a big wedding rival the anticipation felt for the Met Gala. Once you have secured your embossed cream-colored invitation to an event, the planning and video chats with girlfriends begin, and it is game on.
You would think it was everyone in Leicester’s wedding day, the way mere guests go about dissecting the night’s details. Who will be doing our henna, and does she do nails, too? Does that girl you went to school with still do makeup? And let’s not forget the most important question: What are you wearing? This last question is one that sits at the forefront of our minds for weeks, but in typical Somali fashion, it is only ever addressed in the last 48 hours before the big night itself. Young or old, that question is almost as sacred to us as the wedding itself. We approach it with a mantra that our people have carried with them for generations: You must show up and show out. You must.
And when Leicesterians want to show up and show out — more specifically, when Leicesterians want to flex and are on a budget — we don’t go to River Island or Zara. We go to St. Matthews, the cornerstone of culture in our city. A relatively small neighborhood near the city’s center, it provides home and sanctuary to much of Leicester’s Black and Asian community, who make up an estimated 47 percent of the area’s population. With its diverse makeup, St. Matthews is at odds with much of the city, its streets filled with more masjids and barbershops than one can count. It is where most Muslim parents drive their kids to Madrasah in the evenings or where you go to get the freshest halwa for Eid day. Though an exceptionally working-class area of Leicester, it has a cultural currency that is undeniable. It is also where you come to find the drippiest traditional ’fits when you have a big wedding to attend, like I did last September.
We approach it with a mantra that our people have carried with them for generations: You must show up and show out. You must.
The cultural climate I grew up in was one where, at best, the Muslim experience was ignored and shunned by the mainstream. At worst, it was weaponized in a boogeyman narrative. Born a month before 9/11, I am a baby of the “war on terror” era and have never known a world in which I have not contended with people’s assumptions. It seems that instead of fading, the harmful stereotypes that have been stamped onto my people are more visible now …….