Immigrants making a mark on Lower Lisbon

We are, we like to say, a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of cultures, nationalities and races.

It's what we, as Americans, do best — absorb and assimilate people from all the world's nations.

It's not, however, as if this has ever happened without friction. From African immigrants in Lewiston to Hispanics in Arizona, the process of bringing new people into the fold has never occurred without dissension.

If you "Wiki" the word " nativism," you'll quickly see what we mean.

When the first boat load of immigrants came to our shores, people on the second boat probably got a cold shoulder from the first group. It's human nature to feel threatened by or suspicious of anyone new or different.

The index to the Wiki entry shows the successive waves of nativism sentiment that occurred in the U.S.:

Anti-Catholic nativism in the 19th century

Anti-German nativism

— Anti-Italian nativism

Anti-Chinese nativism

Anti-immigration movements.

Amazingly, there is no mention of the people who most richly deserve to be angry about all this immigration — native Americans.

Of course, hostility toward newcomers isn't an American phenomenon.

Every country that has absorbed new people, willingly or unwillingly, has done so uneasily and sometimes accompanied by brutal violence.

The path of Somali immigrants, and other African groups in the Lewiston-Auburn area, seems to be following the usual pattern.

The new arrivals settle in the inner part of the city, usually where rental housing is the least expensive, and eventually begin building their own businesses there.

Several stories Sunday outlined the nascent transformation of Lower Lisbon Street in Lewiston as Somali businesses have begun to spring up.

This follows decades of decline along this city street, as outlined in a chart Sunday. In 1949, the city directory listed 97 buildings between 213 and 415 Lisbon Street.

That began to drop dramatically in the 1980s, particularly when the city of Lewiston changed its zoning rules to prohibit liquor-license holders within 500 feet of each other.

In 1980, there were still 71 businesses on the street, but by 2009, that had dwindled to just 24.

Today, however, there are 36 businesses in that area, reflecting a dozen new ones operated by immigrant Americans.

Hussein Ahmed is the proud owner of an older building  at 263 Lisbon St., where he has established Barwaqo Halal Market.

Ahmed, 37, left Somalia as a youth to escape war. He has lived in a refugee camp in Kenya, came to the U.S. in 2001, to Maine in 2002 and opened his store in a different location in 2004.

He is working on a degree from the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College.

"Lewiston is becoming home," he told the Sun Journal. "Trying to become successful means owning your own property."

A century ago, he could have been a Greek, Irish, Franco or Lithuanian working hard to establish his small stake in the American dream.

His experience is mirrored by that of others along Lower Lisbon Street who are operating restaurants and stores, who share the desire to raise and educate their children here and build better lives for themselves.

Some will succeed and, yes, some will fail. All will face the extra challenge of being a stranger in a new land.

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 's picture

It's called ADA (Americans

It's called ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), A 1990 federal law that forbids discrimination against persons who are disabled.


Please tell the whole story

Please tell the whole story not just your side !!!! please tell us without fibbing how many stores are opened with goverment funds. And really we are talking 12 stores according to your article Wow according to you its a lanslide there were over 70 in 1980 what you failed to point out with all your insane wisdom was that the council and development officials who still manage to mess things up due to incompetence was downtown beautifacation project while 100% of all bussiness counted on traffic the wisdom of our leaders was to limit traffic then almost overnight lisbon street was avoided like the plauge and immediately the bussinesses started to close. and thank god the development and the council figured it out before they put a STUPID CLOCK IN THE MIDDLE OF ASH AND LISBON INTERSECTION now that would have gone down in the books as "what stupid is stupid does!".

 's picture

Are they allowed to save

Are they allowed to save their loose change in a Piggy Bank?

 's picture

Glad I left

So glad I left Lewiston 16 years ago after having been born there and spending more than half of my life there. Not because of the immigrants, but because of the intolerant people like the ones posting here. My gosh, seems like every problem in the State is because of the Somali immigrants. There couldn't possibly be any other group in Maine getting the SAME benefits as they are. The fact that they are utilizing the store fronts on Lisbon St. is a great thing for Lewiston. They pay rent and more importantly having a licensed business they are bringing in revenue to the city and state even if 'the average American' isn't shopping there. Seems like many of the yahoos posting here would rather have empty, run down, vandalized store fronts like there used to be instead of those helping out the community. This Country is a Nation if immigrants. I am only 3rd generation from Croatia and Poland. My grand-parents came here legally to seek a better life from the ills they faced in their homeland. The Somali people are doing the same. When the Poles, Irish, German, etc. groups first came to the US they sought out their own people so they could 'fit it.' Over time they because more American than where they came from, but that didn't happen over night. The same thing will happen with the Somali immigrants and other groups over time.

 's picture

I really object, no mention

I really object, no mention of "the Irish need not apply" signs were everywhere during the exodus from the potato famine. Never mind "Irish Catholics", more Irish people were indentured than any other immigrant group. oh no. Franco Americans were abused worse than anyone in these communities that I know of. Remnants of this was and is still around, it was very prevalent until the late 70's early 80's. I think the Somali community is like any other immigrant group, they are suspicious, frightened and want to be left alone. I also think they are making great strides in assimilation. Actually far quicker than the afore mentioned immigrant groups. (which I am a part of)

 's picture

Irish is an ethnicity within

Irish is an ethnicity within the Celtic race. If you are in America as an Irish descendant, you are Irish more than you are American. The term American refers to neither ethnicity nor race but rather a people belonging to a set of political and cultural rules and mores (mostly borrowed from Europe). In many ways we are as artificial as the former USSR which was a social construct, not a people. To truly be "American" you would have to be a descendant of native blood (North American). Since I am not of any native American tribe but my family came from Ireland, then I am of Ireland. I live in the American culture but I am, in fact, an ethnic Irishman of the Celtic race.

 's picture

sounds rather infantile. get

sounds rather infantile. get over it. its america-been this way before we were ever born.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Can you hear the sound of

Can you hear the sound of crickets in the backgroung, Seek? There is no proof.

 's picture

im just waiting to see what

im just waiting to see what happens the first time a blind person tries to enter one of those store with his seeing eye dog? Somalies HATE dogs consider them unclean and cant even touch one by religion.

 's picture

if that is their religious

if that is their religious though then its their right. i would not take my dog in their store-its disrespectful.

 's picture

i have a service dog and like

i have a service dog and like i said-i would NOT bring my dog into their stores (someone with even allergies) because it is disrespectful.

 's picture

thanks for trying to school

thanks for trying to school me-but i am extremely well-versed on the state law and the u.s. government law on service dogs. my personal preference and personal belief is to be kind to another human being and respectful of them. i can put aside my needs for 5min. cuz in life its not all about me. it doesn't get a person far in life with that mentality. i have a friend who is muslim and the only thing they have ever said to me was that dogs should be outside... nothing about not being able owning a dog.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Building a mosque on ground

Building a mosque on ground zero is not disrespectful, though, huh?

 's picture

i have an issue with the

i have an issue with the thought of a world trade center being built upon ground zero-that is disrespectful. 2 blocks to 2 miles away-i can understand why there is talk of a mosque being built. its def a hot topic. i can certainly understand and appreciate the meaning of why some want it to be done. almost a 'we're past the stereo-types/hate/misunderstanding that all muslims are facing (being scrutinized for someone else's wrong... doing)-we come in peace and sympathize and empathize-we are for america and the american people. we have muslim-americans all across our country that are being denied a right to build a place of worship just because they are muslim. it is unjust at its finest. i just wish we can get past all this... all prejudices and stereotypes. no religion is better than another, no belief is better than another. all religions are quite parallel and similar to one another in more than a few ways. my hometown has many muslims/somalians and i HAVE to speak up when i hear of people bashing them. i can't stand it. no matter if its to my friend or my own mother-i will speak up. i know how it feels to be judged... unfortunately because of people who may share the same thought process and want to penalize ALL muslims because of A group which has NO affiliation directly to the events that happened... these muslims-people who bleed the same as you or i-are being denied the RIGHT to build mosques ALL across the united states. My friend has said it best:

"I asked Greg what he thought about the Mosque in NYC.... This is what he wrote... "Maybe we should remember the way that America was conquered was when the Spanish came to the culturally advanced Aztec civilization, they explained to the Native People that they were savages who had not been saved according to the Christian religion. Therefore, were not worthy of life unless they converted to Christianity which included giving up all of their gold and submitting to the Spaniards rule. This is another example of the abuse of religion to promote the agenda of a misguided group. The fallacy of the argument against building a mosque is the assumption that the people who attacked us on 9-11 are the same people who plan to build this mosque. Jim Jones took a group of christian devotees to Guyana and forced the entire group to commit mass suicide, killing more than 900 people. Would you let a christian church be built in your neighborhood after such an atrocity committed by someone of the same religion? One of the core tenants of American law, and English law, is the right of property and the right to purchase, own, and develop property as we see fit. If we abrogate this right for one group who will stop someone from taking this right from you? Countless Americans of all races, creeds and religions have fought and died for this right. To take it away from one group is to threaten all the rights in our society. If we forget or fail to defend the rights enshrined in our most basic law, the Constitution of our nation, we move down the road toward totalitarianism, the ability of one segment of society to usurp the rights of another. This is what the Nazis did to the Jews. Express your indignation all you like, this is another ...important right of Americans, but don't break the most fundamental law of our land."

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

That's right, Troll; they

That's right, Troll; they aren't building that mosque; period.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture



 's picture

They settled here because

They settled here because Georgia puts a real time-limit on welfare benefits. The were welcomed here under the assumption that they would be good Democrats.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It all started when Tara was

It all started when Tara was mayor and Catholic Charities got involved. Both parties were very involved in the process of getting Somalis to Lewiston. I always suspected there were Federal dollars for Lewiston that were attached to each individual Somali that came to Lewiston.

 's picture

Complain all you like . . .

but as I read these comments, I'm struck by the general tone of dismay and dislike for LA's Somali population. Like it or not folks, they are here to stay and like most immigrant families that came before them, they'll make their homes here, raise their families here and eventually (and hopefully) thrive here. Just keep in mind as you all minge and complain of their existence you should realize that LA's Somali population are not expected to change to your flippant whims and desires. Someday (and sooner than later) all of your complaints will fade away into distant echos, so nobody will remember how virulent many of you sound.

 's picture

You're not reading very well, Joseph.

Many folks exhibit a general tone of dismay and dislike for immigrants who won't make even a token attempt to assimilate into existing society. Somalis are just the latest example of a group that, in general, expects all the rest of us to bend over backwards to accommodate the trappings of the society they escaped from, but dragged with them when they came here to have a "better" life.

Someday (and sooner than later) all of your flippant advice will fade away into distant echos, so nobody will remember how condescending you sound.

 's picture

Sounds a little too harsh to me . . .

And don't your comments sound much like the ones used to describe every other immigrant group that came to the United Sates? In the 1850's, protestant Bostonians called Irish immigrants "the slime on our shores". Sounds pretty hateful doesn't it? Doesn't it seem LA's Somali population are enduring the same vitriolic diatribes as the Irish and French once had? I'm certain that most of you all don't know one Somali in town. If you did, than perhaps you'd think twice before you rant and rave as you have.

GARY SAVARD's picture

thinkingman, Camden National

thinkingman, Camden National has an ATM, to name one, which is the one I referred to in my earlier post. I see you are VERY familiar with the neighborhood and it's people.LOL, go down there sometime, then you can post from at least some brief experience.

 's picture

Are you kidding me with the

Are you kidding me with the customer service?! Walk into nearly any store in L/A and the customer service is seriously lacking! (Walmart, Kmart, BJ's, etc)

 's picture

i've actually bought

i've actually bought sambousa/samboosa(?) its like this fried triangle thing with meat and i believe onions and peppers. i first had some when i worked with some friends of mine (who i love dearly) who are actually somalian. they are sooooo good! so delicious! i've also went into some stores to buy some skirts. they are the best skirts i've ever spent money on... the fabrics are just gorgeous! everyone manages their store differently... no matter somalian or not-there are just some store managers/owners who are not so personable. does it ever occur to anyone that they just might have their guard up because of the discrimination they have had to endure while being here. no one is really standing with open arms-they can only complain, complain, complain... furthermore that is the beauty of living in america. we are a melting pot and no one HAS to conform to the u.s. way other than obeying the law. ignorance must be bliss-ak47? are you serious?

 's picture

like i said i.e. /\ /\ /\ /\

like i said i.e. /\ /\ /\ /\

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Should be called the "Little

Should be called the "Little Mogadishu Strip"

 's picture

And what about Google?

I'm sure you Google all sorts of things in order to gain a little enlightenment no? That said, Wiki is merely a source for information — its reliability may be unverifiable in some cases but that's what their "citations" are for. But without question sourcing the internet is a valuable and increasingly viable way to get the information we all seek. Now just tell me you haven't used Wikipedia yourself to bolster an argument or two?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I'll bet wiki is more

I'll bet wiki is more reliable than Faux News, too. And Jimmy Carter is not related to Alfred E. Neumann

 's picture


Well I think it's all just more then enough. Somali this, Somlai that...blah blah blah. Yeah, give it up. We've had them shoved down out throats, and the SJ is only going going to print the "Fluff" stories. Heaven forbid the SJ insults them. It's okay for the SJ to put us down, and for preaves to take away our freedom of speach, because if it's a comment that SHE doesn't agree's gone! As I am sure this one won't make it out there for long. Yes, America is the melting pot of many cultures, I am Franco-American, and we have seen many nationalities and cultures come to Lewiston, but there is a difference today, then there has been in yester-year. We used to work together none the less, but today, it's not a matter of working together, it's a matter of remaining in their own outer circle, and and an attempt at taking over. If we were to go to their country, or another country to live, we would be expected to live by their means, ways, and it should be here. But anyway, these are my thoughts and feelings, and before preaves makes them "poof" hopefully they will be seen. But it is also the last time I am going to comment on this subject, since because most of my feelings are fairly negative, my freedom of speech will once again be violated if I say the "wrong" thing.

 's picture

and that is just that. you

and that is just that. you don't know... no one knows. they just assume. :(

GARY SAVARD's picture

thinkingman, I can assure you

thinkingman, I can assure you that I know enough about Somali culture to realize that when they stack up in front of the neighborhood bank ATMs on the first of the month it's NOT because they all have direct PAYROLL deposits and employers who pay monthly. I had an office on Lisbon and Chestnut Streets for 22 years until mid-2009. I could go on, but I won't.

 's picture

The Somalian communuiuty

The Somalian communuiuty could help itself assimilate by not dressing in such a way as they do, esp. the women. Just the way they stand out refusing to accept the norms of this Nation's dress code make them look as if they do not accept us; it's "in your face" type of behavior. I don't mind their using their language among themselves, but when working in serving the public they have to make a greater effort to learn English. While we should accept them as newcomers, they also have to accept the ways of the country that THEY chose to come to. They cannot expect to make America into another Somalia as they chose to leave their home turf for better.

 's picture

Thanks from the Francos

It's nice you allow the Somalis to speak their own language. May I assume your liberal views also allow the Francos to speak French?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Yeah, rubber ones for you bed

Yeah, rubber ones for you bed wetters.

 's picture

toga toga

I 'd feel the same...even if it were 5000...white people suddenly moved in from another country

RONALD RIML's picture

This 'Nation' has a dress code???

I'll have to consult with Lady Gaga concerning that......

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It's called dressed up

It's called dressed up casual. Mandatory, is the flat billed ball cap, cocked 45 degrees to the left or right, depending on one's political persuasion.

 's picture

Tomorrow being the first of

Tomorrow being the first of the month, this area of Lisbon Street, along with area bank ATMs, will be very busy.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The Pirate and Widestance

The Pirate and Widestance haven't agreed on much lately, but there is common ground here, today.

Ron Hubbard's picture

The paper should change it's name

Sun Journal should be re-named to the Somali Journal....Why are they tryin to force these people and their lifestyle on us....No matter how many fluff stories you print the fact remains there are alot of people who are not goin to welcome these people with open arms...The Sun Journal blots facts about how many are working ,they only print fluff stories like this one...They didn't even mention the gang busts of last week( the true somali bloods)....Why is that???Portland Press Hearld covered it,News 13 covered it....If the Sun Journal did cover they made sure they hid it deep in the paper....I am sure this post will get its negative feedback but I am just as intileted to my veiw as anyone else.....


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