The Northeast
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The Northeast

The Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine

July 17, 2015 — In 2012, there were about 1,000 Bantu immigrants in Lewiston, Maine.

The Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston/Auburn Maine (SBCMALA) serves the local Bantu community, focusing on housing, employment, literacy and education, health, and safety matters. It also runs an agriculture program for resident Bantus.

Before I left Rhode Island, I searched and found a listing online for the SBCMALA. It is located on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. My E-Mails went unanswered so I decided to make the trip anyway and hoped for the best.

As soon as I crossed the bridge into Lewiston, I quickly found Lisbon Street.
It was still early, so businesses were not yet open. I parked my car in front of this market and when I pulled out my camera, I noticed this gentleman who had been watching me, turn quickly away and dash off down the street.


These bags of grains were piled high in the front window of the store, and I spotted the one Goya brand bag of rice among the others.

As I walked up and down Lisbon Street I began to feel uneasy. I was being watched. I began to look for anyone with whom I could have a friendly conversation, but only noticed people ducking in and out of buildings and others glaring or peering out of windows and doors. No one seemed to want anything to do with me.


As I was about to get back into my car I heard some loud hoots and this group of teens beckoned to me to take their picture. They stopped, flashed me some signs and walked away chattering in Somali. After an hour wandering up and down Lisbon Street, I walked around the corner and sat on a park bench. There, I spotted these two young people (below) walking across the park and toward a church building down the street, where noticed a group of Somali families congregating for their morning prayer. At that point, out of respect for their prayer traditions, I decided I would not make any attempts to talk to anyone.

I found that getting access to the Somali community in Lewiston was quite challenging. I realize that, as a homogeneous Islamic culture, Somalis in this small Maine town are wary of outsiders. Understandably, their wariness intensified in the media-frenzied aftermath of the Lewiston mayor’s open letter asking the Somalis “to please pass the word” and stop settling in Lewiston. When that happened, just as the RI Coalition for Immigrants Rights group in the year 2000 felt a need to show solidarity when we saw racist overtones in the letter, the media began to arrive to Lewiston en masse to cover this story. I believe that incident broke any trust that Somalis may have had with Americans and made it difficult for people like me to cross this symbolic border wall to gain their trust.

Even though I did not speak with anyone, I feel I learned a lot about immigrant life on this trip to Lewiston, Maine.

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