Abolishing New England: In Lewiston, Maine, They Had a Dream, Too…
Print Friendly and PDF

The blessings of diversity have descended upon the small city of Lewiston, Maine, a decaying mill town of some 35,000 folks, who were mainly white until a couple of years ago. Now, with the addition of nearly 2,000 Somalis, Lewiston has begun to catch up with what's been happening in the rest of the country—and Western Europe, and Australia, and New Zealand, for that matter. Like most of the people in those places, those in Lewiston don't much care for it.

The main citizen of Lewiston who didn't care for the invasion of his city by Somalis, who at once jumped onto to local welfare rolls and may be inciting ethnic violence, was the mayor, a gentleman named Laurier T. Raymond.

Mr. Raymond took such a dislike to the presence of Somalis that he wrote an open letter to their leaders asking them to discourage others from coming. That was the subject of a front-page story in the Washington Post this week. ["In Maine Town, Sudden Diversity And Controversy | Somali Influx Irks Mayor" By Michael Powell, October 13, 2002]

"Please pass the word," the mayor begged his new Somali constituents to tell their fellows. "We have been overwhelmed ... our city is maxed out financially, physically, and emotionally."

The Somalis, for their part, didn't much care for the mayor's letter, and they at once responded by denouncing him for his "bigotry." The Post, eager to ferret out what it called "xenophobia" in Lewiston, succeeded in finding some.

But even the Post had to acknowledge that the Somalis have been just a bit of a strain. "Welfare rolls and rents have gone up," it reported, "and school officials are scrambling to provide health checkups ... and language instruction, though the majority of Somali children speak excellent English." (Then why do they need language instruction?)

But why Lewiston, of all places? Because the Somalis deliberately selected it. Located mainly in Atlanta, Somali immigrants really didn't like the City Too Busy to Hate—because, among other reasons, local blacks harassed their children at school—and so they sent out search teams to look for a better place to settle. They found it in Lewiston, where welfare payments were even higher than in Atlanta. "The young men tell us, 'This is a dream place,'" said one Somali elder. "They see the unemployment rate is low. There is housing and close family values like Somalia."

Well, no, Lewiston's family values are not quite like those of Somalia, and the Somalis know it. That's why Somalis in Somalia now planning to enrich America even further by immigrating here are carrying out female circumcisions there before they leave. They know it wouldn't be tolerated here (or so they think; little do they know how rapidly Americans adjust to cultural diversity). The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that

"in recent months, dozens of Somali parents, preparing to move to the US, have been rushing to subject their daughters to this agonizing ritual, knowing it is illegal in America."

But aside from the minor point of the backward family values and intolerant laws they will encounter when they land on our teeming shores, the Somalis are probably correct that Lewiston and small towns like it in other states are about as close as American towns ever come to being "dream places." There's a reason for that.

Lewiston is a "dream place" not because nature or God or a "proposition" made it that way. It is that way because the people who live there made it that way—the white, Christian, middle-class and working people who worked for it, paid for it, built it, lived in it, and in not a few cases probably died for it. The Somalis, in their snotty letter to the mayor replying to his letter to them, informed him that "we are citizens and/or legal residents of this country" and "therefore we believe we have every right to live anywhere in this country." 

So they do (how many would you like moving to your town?), but they need to understand, as the people and mayor of Lewiston have already begun to understand, that by doing so the virtues that attracted them to Lewiston will probably not survive.

"Dream places," in this country or anywhere else, do not just happen. They are the products of a particular culture, people and heritage, and replacing the culture, people and heritage that created them with others will only eradicate them more quickly. The Somalis, having already assimilated a bit to the American way, are asking the U.S. Justice Department to send investigators to Lewiston to make sure they haven't been victims of discrimination on the part of the "xenophobes" and "bigots" who now run the city and who would like to see the dream Lewiston offers survive a little longer. Between the Somalis and the federal government, you probably shouldn't bet that it will.


October 17, 2002

Print Friendly and PDF