somalia in maine
In 2001, Somali refugees began arriving to the small town of Lewiston, Maine in droves. Many had been resettled in large U.S. cities after escaping the civil war in their own country. The violence, crime, and drugs they found there were painfully similar to the lawlessness they had left in Somalia. Word spread that Lewiston had cheap housing, good schools, and low crime rates— and they began a word-of-mouth self-relocation project to Maine.
Lewiston, at the time, was a dying mill town, and local residents reacted with fear that the new residents would overload the town's social services. In 2002, in a well-known incident, then Mayor Laurier Raymond wrote an open letter to the Somali community elders, requesting that they to stop encouraging their friends and families to follow them to Lewiston, as the cities resources were "maxed-out financially, physically and emotionally."
Raymond's letter exploded in the community and the media, ultimately spearheading community-wide efforts to increase cross cultural understanding and communication. In 2006, funded by grants from the Maine Humanites Council and the Maine Women's Fund, anthropologist Lacey Gale and I documented several families in the community of new Somali immigrants in order to share their stories and histories with the greater Maine community in an effort to enhance community integration.