Mayor needs to reframe his ideas on culture

Try as we might, we find it difficult to reconcile Lewiston’s two mayors.

There’s the one who told us in an interview Thursday he is not asking refugees from African turmoil to worship or dress differently, that he feels they have a strong work ethic and that their “children are very bright.”

Then there is the one who told a BBC interviewer that when it comes to refugees, “When you come here, you accept our culture and you leave your culture at the door.”

When asked Thursday, exactly what parts of Somali culture he would like people to leave behind, the mayor couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say.

He said he has a “very good rapport” with Somali leaders and they “treat him like part of the family” when he attends their functions.

He points with pride to the 26 Somali businesses in the city, and to the African immigrants who have purchased homes in his own neighborhood.

But then there is the Mayor Robert Macdonald who told WGME-TV recently that “these people who are yelling I’m insensitive to their culture, if (their culture) is so great, why are they not back in Somalia?”

(Actually, the people “yelling” about this have not been Somalis so much as sympathetic white people concerned that the mayor’s comments might inflame racial tension in Lewiston-Auburn.)

There is the Mayor Macdonald who said Thursday that “refugees and asylum seekers” only account for 19 percent of the city’s General Assistance spending, half of which is paid for by the state.

But then there is the Mayor Macdonald who told the BBC that the “immigrants who have come here have cost us a lot of money, and we’re continuing to fight with the federal government, you know, ‘You brought them in, you pay for them.’”

In fact, Lewiston has received both state and federal funding to help smooth the immigrants’ transition.

According to one report, “lawfully admitted noncitizen residents” here accounted for 7 percent of monthly TANF spending in Lewiston-Auburn and less than 4 percent of food stamps. Both involve federal money.

The report found that Lewiston has received $9 million from federal and private sources since 2001 aimed at helping the immigrant demographic.

Still, a case can be made that the federal government should rightfully do more, and several Lewiston mayors have pursued that claim.

The mayor’s culture comments to the BBC and WGME are unfortunate, and we hope he will reconsider the meaning of the word culture and how his remarks are interpreted by others.

American culture is like a tidal wave. We dominate the global market with our movies, television and music, and many other countries seek out the products of our culture.

Meanwhile, we have successfully integrated vastly different cultures into our own, regularly adopting the best of each into our language, customs, entertainment and cuisine.

Several weeks ago, local Greeks celebrated their culture at their church, which resulted in photos and stories in this newspaper.

Last week, we staged a political debate at the Franco-American Heritage Center, itself a living monument to the French Canadian immigrants who helped build this city.

Culture is what we celebrate. It’s what makes New Orleans and New England both tourist destinations.

We enjoy Indian, Greek, Italian, Thai, Chinese, French and Somali foods in our restaurants, and many of us wish we could speak a second or third language.

This is a proudly multicultural country, and no one should be asked to leave their culture at the door.

“We need Somalis here. In the future, they will be an economic engine that will help us succeed.”

That, too, was Mayor Macdonald, in our Thursday interview, and we couldn’t agree more with that Mayor Macdonald.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Betty Davies's picture

Old prejudices against French-Canadians--some history

Voyages: A Maine Franco-American Reader is an anthology of texts about the French and Canadian presence in Maine. It's discussed on a website (link below):

"the most important migration of French Canadians in Maine began in 1880... [Many went to "one of the most important cities in Maine – Lewiston, where 10,000 French-Canadians represented 42 percent of the population in 1900.

There was a "constitutional amendment from 1891 that restricted the right to vote in the Maine State elections to citizens who were “able to read the constitution in the English language.” Acknowledging that this amendment targeted the French-Canadian communities in Maine, Ms. Dirnfeld connects this issue (which passed with 60 percent of the votes in the 1891 state referendum) to the infamous Jim Crow laws being adopted in the South to prevent African-Americans taking part in political life...

"Klan rallies usually attacked the Catholics and also groups that didn’t speak English; the French-Canadians were both. Klansmen also tried to stop francophones from becoming candidates in local elections. The residue lasted a long time. As Dr. Doty writes, “Only in 1991 did Bates College, in the heart of French-speaking Lewiston, Maine, restore the right of its Franco-American clerical and maintenance staff to speak French in the workplace.”

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...

Betty Davies's picture

A history lesson

These days, it's a white mayor of Lewiston verbally attacking Somalis over being different. In the olden days, it was the Klan attacking French-Candian immigrants. Literally.

"Although the Ku Klux Klan is popularly associated with white supremacy, the revived Klan of the 1920s was also anti-Catholic. In the State of Maine, with a negligible African-American population but a burgeoning number of French-Canadian and Irish immigrants, the Klan revival of the 1920s was mainly a Protestant nativist movement directed against the Catholic minority. For a period in the mid-1920s, the Klan captured elements of the Maine Republican Party, even helping to elect a governor, Owen Brewster.

"Partly it revived much older Protestant/Irish-Catholic divisions, but it was also fueled by [anger at] a newer wave of Catholic French-Canadian immigrants who worked mainly in Maine’s textile mill cities, such as Lewiston...

"The King Kleagle (chief recruiter) of the Maine Klan was the charismatic F. Eugene Farnsworth [who, with others, would]... rail against what they perceived as growing Catholic political power in Maine. Besides existential targets like the Pope, the Jesuits, and the Knights of Columbus, they specifically attacked the growth of Maine’s Catholic school system."


FRANK EARLEY's picture

Is this guy from Boston???

I never paid much attention to The mayor, but this recent uproar caught my attention. I have worked with many Somali, workers. Most started out as temps, several moved up to full time employees due to their great work ethic. I recently watched an interview of him on the news. For some reason I thought he might be from Boston. I'm not sure of what it is, but whatever it is you can't hide it. I know, I'm from Boston. Even my daughter picks on my Boston accent. Thats after nearly thirty years of living here. I even lived in New Hampshire for several years before I came here. As a former Bostonian, I can say, he hasn't left his culture at the door. Nor his attitude.....



Culture is a lot like religion. When people belong to a certain religion they are sure all the other believers are wrong and their religion is misguided. People who speak English often think their culture is the real American one and all others are aberrations. Nothing can be further from the truth. What has been the American culture from the beginning is people of two or more cultures bringing the best of both together. The first settlers here were British and they came up with Thanksgiving. The melting pot occurs in our public schools. That is where children learn to meld their family culture with another. They learn about our constitution, to salute our flag, to speak English and acquire the skills needed to thrive economically and most of all that here we are all (male, female, brown, white, old, young, rich , poor) equal under the law. It is this last thing that certain Southern cultures refuse to accept and the reason they prefer private schools where you can teach superiority to others to public schools. The richness of American culture however is in these two culture people who have provided us with exceptional creativity, entrepreneurship, talent and energy. They belong here as much as anyone else and are also part of American culture.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

“..the reason they prefer

“..the reason they prefer private schools where you can teach superiority to others to public schools.”

The only reason Claire. How about that most of the public schools have been in a downward spiral for decades. Moreover, test scores support the fact that some private schools are in fact superior to public schools. Your bias for public schools is self-evident in my opinion.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Agreed. Public schools have

Agreed. Public schools have become a dumping ground for whack-job leftist teachers to preach their liberal agendas to our children through the process of indoctrination. "To teach superiority" my foot, although that could be justified, for most private schools are far superior to the average government school.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Mayor needs to reframe his ideas on culture

Boy. 12.09.27 21:21
Does he ever ?
cul·ture/?k?lCH?r/ Noun: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
" Why are they not back in Somalia? ” . ... on the B B C ? o m g •
LSJ®'s policy prohibits comments that are: • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
" Why aren't - y o u - back in Scotland , then ? " What a wingnut you got there LSJ ® readers and voters . Oh , we - do - understand . Close the door behind you after you come in . Enough is enough , Mayor . Great Falls ! One thing most ( 84.2% ) Mainers do not tolerate is intolerance . Tabanak Jaque !
More to follow . ..En'sh'allah & O'ja'la :D /s Steve

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"Tabanak Jaque!" Do you even

"Tabanak Jaque!"
Do you even have a clue as to what that means and the history behind it? I didn't think so. Just like your usage of the term "teabagger". In case you don't know; to a conservative, that's the "N" word that you so highly revere. You show a lot of dressing at times, but there is little behind it. Anything for a laugh; is that it?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Paul, Most writers on this


Most writers on this blog, who so quickly point the finger of intolerance, are in fact some of the most intolerant when it comes to people with a differing political point of view. I don’ t think most even notice their outright hypocrisy.

I’ll even go further and say, many scream racist as a tactic to quite an opposing opinion.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

They do not tolerate the

They do not tolerate the intolerance of others, but they fail to see that that makes THEM intolerant as well.

Jason Theriault's picture

No its not.

Teabagger is not the conservative N word. There is no conservative N word. The N word has no parallel.

If Conservatives were held in slavery for hundreds of years, and then freed but treated as second class citizens, subject to violence and murder for nothing more than advocating lower taxes, then yeah, maybe I would consider your point.

But not now.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Why, thank you so much, Jason

Why, thank you so much, Jason for your enlightening treatise of the "N" word. For the record, you were never asked to consider my point, You'd disagree with me if I gave you two tens and told you it was 20 bucks. You'd never get past the two tens; it's what you do.niggle petty semantics.

Jason Theriault's picture

Ok, thats funny

First off:
se·man·tics? ?[si-man-tiks] noun ( used with a singular verb )
1.Linguistics .
a.the study of meaning.
b.the study of linguistic development by classifying and examining changes in meaning and form.

Ok, now re-read YOUR FIRST REPLY.

Do you realize that YOUR ENTIRE ARGUMENT was about SEMANTICS?
Either the meaning of "Tabanak Jaque!"or how teabaggers don't like being called "teabaggers". Your whole argument was about SEMANTICS.

Then you accuse me of being petty for responding to your arguments with petty semantics.

Also, I never asked you to consider my point either. However, since I don't like discussing the topics of the day with myself, I expected it. If you don't want people to respond to your posts, you should save them in notepad to your desktop and not post them on the internet.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Now you've got the parrot all

Now you've got the parrot all pissed off at me. He thinks I may have offended you. BTW-did you get the two tens or was it a 20?

Jason Theriault's picture


Gonna talk alot more than an internet debate to get me riled.

And if you want to give me $20 bucks, I don't care if you do it in pennies. =)

RONALD RIML's picture

At least spell it correctly....


And In re: Teapartiers, et al: Our Allies are telling us not to be such 'Dummies'

Republican Party 'cranks and crazies' threaten US economy, says Australian minister

"Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan says "cranks and crazies" have taken over the US Republican Party and pose a threat to the "world's biggest economy".

In an unusually blunt criticism of a strategic ally's domestic politics, especially with the US presidential election just weeks away, Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan said "cranks and crazies" had taken over the Grand Old Party.

Mr Swan, named by banking magazine Euromoney as its finance minister of the year in 2011, labelled the Tea Party wing of the Republicans as "extreme" and a threat to the US economy.

"Let's be blunt and acknowledge the biggest threat to the world's biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over the Republican Party," he said in a speech to a conference in Sydney.

The Republican Party's position on the country's budget had led a year ago to the deadlock in negotiations, Mr Swan said, to prevent the looming "fiscal cliff" - nearly $600 billion in planned spending cuts and tax hikes that will bite early next year.

"Despite President Obama's goodwill and strong efforts, the national interest there was held hostage by the rise of the extreme Tea Party wing of the Republican Party," he said."

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You don't know any more about

You don't know any more about it than Dosh does. I spelled it the way he did, since it was a quote, or don't you pay attention to stuff like that?
Secondly, my teabagger reference had nothing to do with teapartiers. I'd have expected you, of all people, to know that. I knew Dosh didn't know what he was talking about, but Veritas? Yikes!!

RONALD RIML's picture

Don't make book on that......

I learned an another new world of cursing when I lived and worked in Lew-ees-ton..... 'Tabernak!' was heard quite often.

And I'm not even going to ask you where you learned you interpretation of 'Teabagger' at. TMI.......

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

We all have gay friends who

We all have gay friends who respect and like us..........don't we?

BTW-- the proper spelling is tabernacle; spelled the same in English and French, but pronounced as tabarnak in French. The spelling has evolved to tabarnak similarly to the evolution of "what's up" into "wassup" or "what up".


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