Sunday, October 13, 2002

Somali refugees overwhelm Lewiston, Maine:

Two years ago, not a single Somali lived in this stout little city in central Maine, a place of 35,000 people. Today the Somalis, slim and lithe, and black and Muslim, number perhaps 1,500 -- 300 arrived between Memorial Day and Labor Day alone. Their halal food store stands cheek to jowl with Frenchy's barbershop, and a mosque has taken its place amid the town's towering Catholic churches.

The immigration was due to the dissatisfaction Somali immigrants to other parts of the United States felt with their new homes and the negative impact they were having on their families. So...

They sent seven young men out to find a new homeland, spreading south, east, west and north. Known as "sahan," this is an ages-old nomadic practice used to find water for the cattle in Somalia's arid hinterlands.

"They found Lewiston," Ali said. "They check the crime statistics, they see the last policeman killed here was in 1882. They see the unemployment rate is low. There is housing and close family values like Somalia.

"The young men tell us: 'This is a dream place.' "

The first Somalis took the bus to Lewiston about February 2001, and in the next year about 1,000 followed.

I found this entire article quite interesting, but I have to admit, I was taken aback by one detail: When I was a girl, my grandmother lived in the Marcotte Home in Lewiston. We used to visit her during our vacations stays in Maine. In my memory, Lewiston was an enormous city - I was shocked to read here that its population is only 35,000!

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