.LEWISTON — Mohammad Dini describes himself as a Mainer.
"This is the place I know," he said. "More than Somalia. More than Massachusetts. More than New York. Regardless of what somebody else says."
However, for the Somali-born executive director of the African Diaspora Institute, the bigger challenge is getting other Mainers to respect his and other Somalis' deepening roots.
"We might look dark, but we grew up in Maine," he said.
During an hourlong presentation at Thursday's Great Falls Forum, Dini referred again and again to "our state."
The word choice was deliberate. A generation has grown up here, he said.
"People refer to us as outsiders," he said. "We are educated here. We all work here."
Dini's Portland-based group made headlines earlier this month, calling for the resignation of Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald. Dini's group works to educate and inform individuals on subjects ranging from cultural differences to integration.
On Thursday, the Somali leader never talked about the request, one of several that followed the mayor's remarks about immigrants to the BBC in late September.
Rather, Dini talked about his own path to Maine and his aspirations.
Dini lived in Somalia and Kenya before moving with his family to the U.S. He was 13.
His family — including seven brothers and sisters — settled first in Roxbury, Mass. His mother worried for the children and the family moved to Portland.
His father was a math teacher who spoke Somali, Arabic and Swahili but little English. His mother was a nurse in Africa, but her difficulty with the language hurt her, too.
"Mom couldn't do a lot except take care of the eight kids she had and find a cleaning job somewhere in Portland," Dini said.
Dini attended public schools and is working on an international studies degree at the University of Southern Maine.
And he is working to be heard within Maine's political scene.
In 2010, he ran for a Portland seat in the Maine Legislature but he lost the primary election by 200 votes.
Now 29, he plans to work to grow respect for Somalis and other African immigrants.
"We got here somehow, some way, like all the other immigrants that came before us," he said. He compared the population to others, such as Irish, Franco and Jewish groups.
"It fits the same category," he said. "It's no different."
He said he would work to improve Maine as a Mainer.
"A lot of work needs to be done here, so why go somewhere else, right?" he said.