LEWISTON — There was no printed agenda Monday afternoon when Mayor Bob Macdonald talked with eight Somali men in a meeting room next door to Lisbon Street's Blue Nile Cafe.
Cafe owner Abdi Matan said he invited them for lunch and a chance to talk, and the nine men did. Others included Abdi Aballa, Mohamed Qanyare, Abdulaziz Omar, Salah Samater, Pashir Mohamud, Said Mohamud and Hussein Ahmed.
Topics ranged from American culture, housing, jobs, education to being a soccer booster.
That's all that was meant to happen, Matan said, just people sharing conversation and a little food.
Macdonald's point throughout most of the discussion was that Lewiston's Somali population just needs to step up and take their place in the city.
"You've invited me to Somali celebrations before, and I've gone," Macdonald said. "If you showed up at Fourth of July, the 9-11 celebration, Veterans Day and Memorial Day — if you come to those, I think the transition gets so much easier."
Macdonald also tried to explain some of the comments he made in a BBC documentary last summer, urging new immigrants to "...leave your culture at the door" when they come to the U.S. The documentary debuted in September, leading to protests and angry meetings.
"I'm not saying how you pray or what you wear or your religion," Macdonald said. "I'm not saying stop talking your language. I don't care. All I'm saying is, lets assimilate. And I'd say the same thing to the Irish and the French, too."
Macdonald praised Somali students and their grades, noting that many headed off to good colleges upon graduation. He said he hoped those students would come back and leave their mark on Lewiston.
"We're trying to build a community here, something for the future, and I hope they can be part of it," he said.
He urged them to take part in Lewiston society, asking that Somali parents of high school soccer players volunteer to help work the concessions booth at games. The team relies on the money raised at that stand, he said.
"Without that booth, there is no team," he said. "That's a complaint I hear, that the Somali parents are not as involved in that as they should be."
For Lisbon Street business man Hussein Ahmed, it was a good opportunity to talk.
"It a took a year and a half of you being mayor for us to find today," Ahmed said. "Whether you initiated it or someone else, it's proper that we have taken this step."
Lewiston residents are already strongly intermingled, he said.
"What brings us together?" Ahmed said. "At the end of the day, it's for me to be prosperous, for you to be prosperous, for Lewiston to be the best place it can be and to be a community where individuals can come and live in and work in."