Lewiston celebrates immigrant community

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Fowsia Musse listens intently to Heather Lindkvist speak at the 10th commemoration of the Many and One Rally as Musse translates for Fatima Osman on Friday night at the Lewiston Public Library. Lindkvist, who has done ethnographic fieldwork with the Somali Muslim community, was speaking about her experience at the rally in 2003.

LEWISTON — Mahamed Mahamud stepped up to the lectern, gazed out at the 300 or so eyes staring up at him, and said what everyone else seemed to be thinking.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

ZamZam Mohamud, left, and Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau listens to Shobow Saban speak Friday about his experiences in Lewiston, during a 10th commemoration of the Many and One Rally at the Lewiston Public Library.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Mahamed Mahamud listens to Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau on Friday during a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Many and Rally in Lewiston. "This town is the best town," Mahamud said earlier in the evening. "They showed us how they respect and support us. They gave us whatever we needed. I will never forget this day. Never in my life will I forget."

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Heather Lindkvist address the more than 100 people at a 10th anniversary commemoration of the Many and One Rally, Friday night in Lewiston.

"It has been 10 whole years," he said, shaking his head in disbelief. "A full decade; can you believe it? It feels like it happened yesterday."

Enthusiastic nods and murmurs of agreement all around. Ten years have come and gone since a group called "Many and One" gathered in a show of force to counter a hate rally on the other side of Lewiston. Ten years, and so much has happened since.

Mahamud summed it up nicely, but that's not all he said. The former owner of the Three and One Cafe delivered a speech so passionate, the crowd of 150 broke out in applause several times before he was done.

Mahamud remembers the events of Jan. 11, 2003, with a gratitude that still moves him. It was on that day that members of the white supremacist group World Church of the Creator came to Maine to call for the ouster of Somalis from Lewiston.

The hate group was big, but the local response was bigger. Thousands turned out at Bates College's Merrill Gymnasium in counter-protest, an outpouring that is still regarded as a turning point for the immigrants in Lewiston.

And don't think Mahamud has forgotten.

"This town," he said, "is the best town. They showed us how they respect and support us. They gave us whatever we needed. I will never forget this day. Never in my life will I forget."

Applause thundered through the halls of the Lewiston Public Library, but Mahamud wasn't done. He had 10 years worth of thankfulness and he meant to share it.

"This is a town of positive people," he said. "Thank you very much, people of Lewiston. Thank you, people of Maine. This place gave me opportunity, freedom and peace. They gave me what I couldn't get in my own country. I feel like they are my family. Together, we make happiness. Together, we make whatever we want."

The applause was louder this time and the audience got to its feet. On the other side of the room, Mahamud's wife clutched her hands to her face and beamed. A few others swiped away tears.

The Many and One anniversary celebration was officially under way.

The theme became apparent early on: The most beautiful thing about the rally in 2003, they said, is that it was only the beginning.

"The rally was just a start," said the Rev. Mark Schlotterbeck, co-founder of the Many and One rally. "It was just a day in a string of days. It was enough to give a person hope."

Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau remembered the events that led up to the day in question. It didn't seem to be much at first glance. Portland had a population problem and Lewiston leaders were asked if they could take on a few immigrant families. 

"It was a fairly innocuous event," Nadeau said. "You never know that you're part of some historic event until much later on."

People from all over the world noticed, too. Before, during and after the rally in 2003, Lewiston was frequently in the media spotlight as leaders formulated a plan to welcome waves of immigrants. There was the hate rally and the Many and One response. There was former Mayor Larry Raymond's letter to the Somali community, asking its leaders to slow the migration. There was incident after incident as more immigrants arrived and the city suffered a period of adjustment.

"That's the beginning of the story," Nadeau said. "But it's not the best part. The best part is what happened after."

Lewiston became known, not as a city in turmoil, but as one that deftly handled the problems that came with the growing Somali population, Nadeau said. Other communities began turning to Lewiston for advice. Even the federal government sought out city leaders for guidance.

"We became an All-America community because of all the work we did during that period," Nadeau said. "Everybody raised their game, and by raising our game, we raised the hopes and desires of the community."

When the World Church of the Creator members climbed back in their vans and left town, nobody believed that the hard work was done, said Bates College lecturer Heather Lindkvist. There was more to do and groups like Many and One kept at it.

"The coalition was sustained beyond that one event," she said. And when issues of bigotry and intolerance rise up in the community, "we still come together and say we will not tolerate this."

For Nadeau, who has traveled around the country sharing his experiences with other city leaders, remembering all that transpired is important. Not just the rally and counter-rally, but the very day Lewiston agreed to accept groups of immigrant into the community.

"You can almost point to the very day that things began to change in Lewiston," he said. "It's an extraordinary thing."

mlaflamme@sunjournal.com

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Lewiston celebrates immigrant community

Mark , Saturday 4 pm - ish
Listening to Freddy Mercury 's " Heaven for Everyone ." has he bene dead for > 17 years already ?
Out here in the islands we traded indigo in outrigger canoes through out the entire pacific region from South America to Asia . We had one language called " Itang , " that principally chiefs and navigators spoke in order to conduct business in . It is mutually intelligible from Easter Island to the Republic of Belau ( near the Phillipines ) for those of us who speak it
More to the point - beautiful garments
We ( US ) are a nation of immigrants . Hybrid vigor . it's like metal . Your strongest metals are always alloys -- metal alloys that are combinations of other metals , not pure . Try to make a sword out of gold . It'll be heavy and soft & useless
Let's learn some Yiddish , Somali & Arabic today quickly :
' O ' ja ' la , ' means " God Wiliing , " as does ' En ' sh ' Allah , ' Allah being ' God ' to Muslims . It's a nice thing to say to Muslims , & a pleasant form of greeting , in fact , like , " How are you ? "
Use it freely with people from Eritrea and Somalia , pronounced ' O Ha La .'
Q : Shalom ? Peace . Yiddish Q: Salem ? Also Peace in Arabic .
We worship the same one God : Christian , Jews , and Muslims . To fight about it all in Jeru - Salem ( Place of Peace ) or Dar-es-Salem ( also , Place of Peace ) is wrong because God is always on all good peoples' side
You , too , Maine Pasamoquoddy , Penobscot and other tribal ƒolk . You are good and great http://hawaii-gov.net/ . Alo'ha from Pahoa h t h ? Steve

Steve  Dosh's picture

. . . . .o m g and only b t w

. . . . .o m g and only b t w - It's big tent we live under with room for all , including the black man ( African - Americans ) , the red man ( Indians ) the olive skinned man ( Indians & Pakistanis - Sri Lankans ) , the yellow man ( Asians ) , haolies ( white guys ) , brown folk ( Mexicans ) , Women , and L G B T too ,
Pretty much all the colors of the rainbow
To quote Monty Pyton , " Blessed are the cheesemakers . " Life of Brian . 1 9 7 8 ?
Laugh a little
It's like jogging
On the inside ;)

Richard Begin's picture

Many in One ? Yeah oh Yeah

This posting to to Kris Kucera Do you speak the language of the Abanaki and MicMaq?

Second just how many or what is the percentage of Native Americans who so speak those Languages?

You go on to use a Word of Germanic and Scandnavian origin that really has no place in a Modern day discussion.

You also wrote that because many do not speak those Languages is an outrage. You seem to be stuck on the Race issue.

Tell me something Kris after twelve years in Maine why have some of the Folks not assimilated into our Society and why do they not speak English clearly.

You and some others just cannot wait to Pin the racist Lable on those who disagree with your thinking.

Recall you tried doing that to me two weeks ago .It Failed simply because you are an Amateur.

The Ones who are 'Stoking the Fire of Racism' Are you Cris and the latest useful Idiot 'Rowan' White

Trught be told the Majority of the Taxpayers of lewiston have had it up to Here with your Phony Agenda

Here is an idea if things are so dismal in lewiston why don't You and Rowan Join Alec Baldwyn in relocating to Canada.

I'm sure that many in one would donate to your Relocation Fund.Please write about things in a Positive Nature.

Because your negativity is Contaigeous and downright Repulsive and offensive

Kudo's to Gary Savard and Jason as well

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Once again, Richard tells it

Once again, Richard tells it like it is. 0O:-)

GARY SAVARD's picture

Great turnout!. 150 people

Great turnout!. 150 people in a city of 36K+/-. It boggles the mind. I wonder how many attendees supply services, etc. that give them a vested interest beyond a basic desire for diversity. I'll bet if you factor those people out of the picture, you could find more people at a Mini-Mites hockey game. Why make a lame attempt to make something out of nothing. What we have in Lewiston is what we have.

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

Be selfish about it. The

Be selfish about it. The children are going to be adults soon. What will they think of how you treated them?

KRIS KUCERA's picture

400+ Years!

And yet the White Man hasn't learned Abenaki or Mikmaq? An outrage!

The Native Americans must chuckle with hearty schadenfreude at the xenophobes often on display here in this blog and elsewhere. (See: U.S. Constitution: Article 1, Section 2.)

Somalians are homo sapiens too. They're PEOPLE -- with feelings and hopes and dreams and, yes, flaws, just like the rest of us.

Bigots are the real animals. May they go extinct some day hence, which won't be soon enough.

Rowan White's picture

Well said. The blatant

Well said. The blatant racism in the L/A area in particular boggles the mind. (Sorry, folks. You can still be a racist even if you're not donning white hoods and burning crosses and lynching people.) I've encountered people who are shocked when I've said that the member of the Somali community are equal to any white person in our community. It's unfortunate that there are people around who are 50+ years behind the times.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

All it takes to be a racist

All it takes to be a racist in Lewiston is to disagree with a liberal on almost any topic, not necessarily race related. It's all they know; the race/bigot card.

DAVID SHELOSKE's picture

Translator !!

10 years + in this country and can't speak English....Don't we offer English classes to learn a second language ?? Who is celebrating the translators that get paid to speak for the people that after 10 years still haven't learned the English Language..
Just Saying...........

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Oh,oh, here we go. Another

Oh,oh, here we go. Another "racist".

 's picture

WHY

Are you WASTING print on this story???????????

Rowan White's picture

Because reading about

Because reading about equality and social justice is better than reading about racism. Period.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Great point...I expressed a

Great point...I expressed a similar opinion in a post last week and was taken to the woodshed for it. If there is no drama, let us create some. I find comfort in that only 150 Lewistonians thought this was a big enough deal to bother attending. What's next; making the anniversary of this event a city wide holiday?

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