Somali leader calls Maine 'home'

.LEWISTON — Mohammad Dini describes himself as a Mainer.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Mohammed Dini, executive director of the African Diaspora Institute in Portland, speaks at the Great Falls Forum lecture series at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Mohammed Dini, executive director of the African Diaspora Institute in Portland, speaks at the Great Falls Forum lecture series at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday.

"This is the place I know," he said. "More than Somalia. More than Massachusetts. More than New York. Regardless of what somebody else says."

It's home.

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.

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Catherine Pressey's picture

So he says he has roots here.

I can understand how he may feel he has roots here, as home is where the heart is they say. However does he pledge allegiance to our flag? If one truly loved it here and calls this home and his roots and feeling say this is so. Then I do hope he is one of us and will stand up and put his hand on his chest and be proud to be here. None the less he speaks well and seems sincere.

Kim Waite's picture

I'm going to go out on a limb and say...

...he does pledge allegiance to the country he loves. By the way, our Forefathers never recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I'm sure they would have not liked the people of this country being forced to recite anything. They were all about freedom!

Catherine Pressey's picture

I'm sure they would

Our forefathers, sure would expect someone to respect our flag once one was established , I would not be so sure of yourself. And as far as he pledging allegiance to the country he loves that does not speak a fact you can love one country the one you were born in and still become one of we Americans and pledge the loyalty to this country. And remain sincere and loving to ones roots. And I mean birth place. Seems people like you seem to take issue with some of us that just are darn tired of the wa wa’s And the foreign invaders that say they like it here and then try to destroy our freedoms. And if it is true that our local Somali children have now made it impossible for our children to say the pledge to the flag, just because they are in the room. I will continue to take issue with that loss of our freedoms and loyalty that has got to be taught in our schools. I remain convinced that this young man is sincere and well spoken! I also hope he is loyal to we the people of the United states of American as we are one Nation under our God, call him anything you like. But we are one Nation not devisable, that is what some of us see happening , to divide we the people goes against all my grain. That is my opinion and yes we all have one.

Kim Waite's picture

The fact you're doubting him...

...shows your ignorance.

If he was white and from Ireland, you would be praising him right now and welcoming him to the state and country you love! You would be scared of our nation being "divided"!


Many of the Somalians in our state have come here because their loved ones were brutally murdered in wars they did not start. They're safe here and they see Maine now as their country they're loyal to. I'm sure they have days when they remember back to their life in Somalia. So what? Stop being a control freak!!!!!!

I hope this man yells the Pledge of Allegiance every opportunity he gets and embarrasses those who say it in a monotone voice. He understands the meaning of it, whereas, many Americans do not.

I don't say "under g-d" in the Pledge....EVER! Doesn't make me less than you by the way. In your eyes it does, however. If we all acted like you 24/7, our nation would be truly divided!

 's picture


Moving here at 13 years old does not give you roots here."somehow,someway"???

Kim Waite's picture

What a jerky thing to say, Steven

Seriously, he wasn't born here in Maine but he's lived here long enough to love Maine the way we all do. Maine is a part of him and if he feels his roots are here then SO WHAT! I'm glad he and his family are here. Maybe he can teach Mainers like yourself to be a little more understanding and compassionate!


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