The Northeast
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The Northeast

Lewiston, Maine • Somali Influx

July 17, 2015 — Today I crossed this bridge bordering Auburn and Lewiston, Maine around 9:30 a.m.
On the other side of the bridge, I had to slow down to let this local family cross the street.

Lewiston, Maine is not a traditional border town that leans against another country. So, why did I choose Lewiston as a destination on my borders trip? The photo above and the story that follows below tell it all:

Maine In Africa, Africa In Maine: Somali Influx
From the State of Maine • Department of the Secretary of State
October 2005

"Variety is the spice of life". This phrase may seem cliché at times, but it is completely true for people around the world. Diversity is necessary and enjoyable in all areas of human life, such as diet, activities, and perhaps most importantly, community make-up.

Maine is one of the lesser populated states, with more rural towns than booming cities. In some aspects, this is beneficial, as Maine has a lower crime and overcrowding rate than more densely populated states like California. However, smaller towns and Maine's location, which is often viewed as isolated, can have negative affects on citizens and their lives. While there are a few global immigrants that choose Maine as their new home, comparatively, the numbers are lower than in other United States locations. Unfortunately, the lower immigration numbers can lead to a lower level of community diversity. Diversity has been proven to be beneficial in a number of ways. Diversity in people can enlarge an area's cultural offerings. When different races, religions, and nationalities are put into the equation, they can bring along interesting and educational traditions, ideas, and ways of life that can benefit all inhabitants in an area. A "mixed bag" of opinions, suggestions, and methods can greatly increase a community's opportunities.

An excellent example of this type of cultural infiltration is the Somalian influx into Lewiston, Maine in recent years.

Somalia, officially known as the Somali Republic, is located on the horn of east Africa, sandwiched by Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, The Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean. Violence has been a constant issue in Somalia since the early nineties. The lack of a stable and trustworthy government has led Somalians to immigrate to other areas of the world. Somalians have usually immigrated in large waves, such as the thousands that have arrived in Lewiston. The reason behind these large-scale influxes has everything to do with location. Major Somalian immigration areas, such as Lewiston and Atlanta, Georgia, offer safety, welfare benefits, and schooling not found in Somalia.

The Somalian influx into Lewiston has had some positive and negative issues attached to it. One serious negative event occurred in 2002 when the Lewiston mayor Laurier T. Raymond wrote an open letter to the Somali community leaders in Lewiston, asking them to discourage any more Somali immigrants planning on coming to Lewiston. This letter angered many, and Raymond defended his letter by adding that 50% of Lewiston's welfare budget was going to Somalians. This frustrated letter spawned a series of demonstrations, both from Somalian supporters and opposers. It continues to remain controversial today.

However, one cannot argue with the positive benefits that the Somali migration has brought to Lewiston. An increase in scholarly interest in other cultures has been popular as Somali students attend college. The Somalian culture is being preserved, as in Somalia it is often overshadowed. Luckily, Mainers can be a part of that and learn from it.

Although Maine is a great place to live, it has never been considered a cultural melting pot until recently. Luckily, the Somali influx into Lewiston has given many people, both Mainers and Somalians, opportunities they would have never experienced otherwise. Maine citizens have been exposed to beneficial cultural aspects such as new traditions, beliefs, art, and values. Somalians, on the other hand, have benefited from an improved lifestyle, a better education, and the chance to preserve their cultural history. While it has caused a few problems, the Somali influx should be looked upon as a blessing for Maine people.

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