S. Morgan: Embrace our neighbors

Imagine that the United States is a war-torn country with violence and constant unrest. You hope and pray that a better opportunity comes along and that your family will find peace some time.

You hear stories of a country around the world where opportunity is abundant — freedom to speak, choose your own career path, walk down the streets without fear, and even become a citizen and vote. You think, what a wonderful place that must be.

Then it happens and you get to bring your family to this treasured land.

When you arrive you find the people aren't as welcoming as you hoped for. Why don't you speak our language? You are a different color and your customs are not used here. You hear "They moved here, why don't they learn to live like us?" You have trouble finding work and ask the town you are in for help. This causes local citizens (many struggling on their own) to think even less of you.

Sound familiar?

I have talked with a number of French Canadians who experienced some of this when their families came here years ago. The stores and restaurants had signs in the windows saying "French spoken here" because there was a need for it.

I'm sure people will say there were a lot of differences then, but the basic principles are still the same: "We are our brother's keeper."

Let's keep hatred and fear out of Lewiston-Auburn, and learn to embrace, not just tolerate, our neighbors.

Stephen Morgan, Lewiston

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Joe Morin's picture

So Tough...

...Let's clearly define the issue. First, we are talking about the Somalian community. Second, the folks did not emmigrate from Somalia, they were recieved in this country as refugees. The premise is that when relative peace returns to the country of origin that refugees will return home. I think we all know that peace will never return to Somalia and that the vast majority of the refugees are here to stay. Within the Somalian community there are two seperate people. You have the Bantu Somalian which were brought to Somalia from the African interior in the 1800's primarily as slaves. These people are more of what people in Maine would consider African. Then you have the Somalis that are in appearence and culture more Arabic. Within the Somalian community there still is a caste system that was brought with these people. The major clash is not refugees seeking well...refuge. The issue is that the culture of the refugees is in direct conflict with our western philosphies. Especially with the older of the community these beliefs and way of life will probably never go. Assimilation is, in my opinion, atleast one generation away. The family structure, as defined to me by a past Somali coworker, is as follows. The family is dominated by the Man except for domestic concerns. This is a major issue for many, since we long have covered the issue of women's sufferage. The family is intentionaly large because all the son's of a family when of adult age all pay a tribute to their father. In this individuals case monthly. He had 6 brothers in various countries who all sent money home. This allows many of the adult males to retire early and involve themselves with community issues. Is this the standard?? I don't know but it was in this family. For a people under refugee status who obviously need subsidies during transition, this is dirrectly in conflict with our view of only having kids you can financially support. Whether white, black, brown, christian, muslim... a family that is on social services continuing to have additional children that they can not financially support is frowned upon. Most of these refugees hail from other parts of the country and came to Maine because of good education, low crime, strong social services and ample public housing. The financial burden is significant to the country, state and especially the school system. The culture is in direct conflict with our local community for obvious social, religious and economic reasons. Fact is that they are a part of our community like it or not. Another fact is that all the things one thinks they can say bad about the Somalian community we can probably say about about the folks that have been here for generations. We benefit ourselves by trying to help these peoples integrate. Those are some of the differences that we can see... Here's a better question for everyone. As strange as the culture is to some and regardless how you feel about it. Will we help these people learn what it is to be American or even Maine-ahs'? Or will we ostrisize them and doom them to be forever "the people from away"?

Steve  Dosh's picture

S. Morgan: Embrace our neighbors

†hanks Steve , 11.12.11 4:44 pm
It's all too easy to say , " Close the door behind you when you come in , " isn't it ?
Hannukah falls on the 21 st this year . Jesus was a Jew and all Western religions worship the same one God , call him Yaweh or Allah . ( O'ja'la - God willing , in Somalian , a handy expression to learn and know :) Yes , we do live in a polyglot ( many languages including ƒrench , Spanish , Greek ? ) society and always have in these very U S of A . Religious freedom is what just about everyone comes here for and it's gauranteed . None here presumes to know anything about God other than God is good and God is love . Love love . Hate intolerance
You have a - b e a u t i f u l - Kora temple dedicated to these ideals right they'ya in Lewiston ME, the last stop on the old Greyhound bus lines from Atlanta, GA
Don't be afraid to get involved in your community http://www.korashriners.org/
Melé Kalikimaka from Hawai'i • 
The Steve Dosh ohana

David  Cote's picture

Good letter

I commend you Mr. Morgan for writing a thought provoking essay about the plight of immigrants who have made the Lewiston / Auburn area their homes. I especially agree with your last paragraph. While it may seem area residents who have lived here for years are being asked to carry an unwanted burden by embracing our newest residents that simply is not the case. What is being asked of them is to help the immigrants settle in and take root in the community, to aid in establishing them in business and social circles. We should not expect them to learn our language and customs on command, nor should we feel slighted and insulted if it takes time for them to do so. Above all, they should not be forced to change their customs if those customs are practiced within the laws of this state. I also drew comparisons between the immigrants of today and our French-Canadian immigrants of the past and though the economic landscape is vastly different today compared to days gone by the spirit of a new beginning is not. Like the past immigrants, those of today look to earn their keep. They are not, what I've heard some people allude to as "sponges". A number of immigrants have opened businesses on lower Lisbon St. How many of us have taken the time to visit these establishments? And how many of these new businesses have changed the landscape of downtown from empty, depressed storefronts to a bustling area of commerce, an area largely ignored by many as an eyesore in the past? Fact is, we should want them to succeed and we should help them in any way we can to do so, as opposed to taking a trip to Walmart so we can support a business purely aimed at monopolizing their market with the help of slave labor in overseas factories. Our new residents are trying. They are making an honest effort to succeed here through ingenuity and hard work. Kind of hard to see that though when many of us choose to ignore them, isn't it?

Jessie Fields's picture

People like you give me hope

People like you give me hope for the future. :-)

 's picture

There's an interesting ...

... conversation going on about another letter published about the same time as this one. It's about certain taxi drivers in Portland who find it a monumental inconvenience to have to show up in person once a year to renew their hack licenses. One version of the complaint is it cuts into their time for return visits to their home country. What level of nostalgia makes one take an annual trip to a war-torn country with violence and constant unrest? If you're visiting relatives, save your money and bring them here, where we'll have to embrace them - or else!

Morgan's letter is offensive because it assumes that any criticism of current immigration (word very loosely used) practices must be rooted in hatred and fear. My criticism is prompted by a desire for justice all around. Justice for new arrivals, justice for current inmates.

Notice I did not say "fairness". That word has been so overused recently that it is completely drained of meaning.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Rewriting history

Last week I read a comment about how peaceful and crime free Lewiston was 40 years ago disregarding the lower Lisbon street bars, clubs and honky tonks that gave Lewiston its reputation as vice capital of Maine that we are still trying to live down. Some forgot about being "Jolly at the Holly". This week I am reading the the Canadian migration to Maine was orderly and everyone had jobs. First of all they were recruited because there was a strike going on at the mills at the time. They were cheap labor and were exploited just as today's immigrants and they were used and abused just as today's immigrants are. They came here at the rate of about 1,000 a week is what I have read. Once they realized their exploitation they joined unions, became entrpreneurs and got educated and life got better. I also read there was no welfare. Yet I know of two huge orphanages, the poor farm and local churches who were extremely active in collecting money for the poor and made it plain that you would go to hell if you did not tithe.

AL PELLETIER's picture

French Canadians?

Mr.Morgan, When my grandfather and his family came down from Canada this is how they did it. My grandfather came down first and stayed with relatives until he secured gainful employment working in a lumber mill then found a house for the his wife and eight children. Being Catholic the kids all went to Catholic school. My grandfather quickly mastered English so he could find better employment which he did at Bath Iron Works. My dad and uncles went on to serve our country in WWII.
By the way "French spoken here" was commonly used to attract French speaking patrons.
What I'm getting at is that their migration here was done in an orderly way that didn't put a burden on the surrounding community. They knew there would be no free ride waiting for them when they got here and made the move accordingly.

 's picture

Embrace

First off no one hates without cause. How many more could you open your house to, to feed, clothe, give the best of medical attention to before you ran out of money before you ran out of month? There are terrible things going on all over the world but we can't bring them all here and support them at the expense of our own and we are doing that. No other country in the world would do this either. Their country will never be any better as long as the good people leave and the barbarics remain. They put the commercials on tv about the starvation there and children dying in the arms of a Mother who is about to have another one that she can't feed either. We opened our arms to these people who not only don't want to obey the laws but multiply like rabbits and guess what? They are Americans and entitled to everything we worked all our life for. I don't hate these people I hate the system that allows this to happen.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Thank you for a great letter

That there aren't the jobs the French Canadians found makes it all the more important that we greet our new neighbors with love rather than prejudice.

There was a song in the musical South Pacific about being taught bigotry and hatred. That is only partially true - in my opinion many people actually need someone to look down on to enhance their own poor self image.

I grew up ethnic many decades ago in a very WASP community. Those were not good years for me, but they taught me to be more than tolerant. Tolerance is condescending. I try for something better.

The only answer to the hatred that is resurgent is the overriding philosophy of the man who's birth we will soon celebrate. The next time you feel the old prejudices rise to the surface or try to justify parsimony with "righteous" justification, read the Beatitudes.

Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Morgan.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Thanks †ony , 11.12.12 5 pm

Thanks †ony , 11.12.12 5 pm hst •
What we say here in the North Pacific ( 20' north of the equator :) is , " In order to receive alo'ha one must give alo'ha ." You can quote us on that ? Melé Kalikimaka . /s, Dr. Dosh and ohana Pahoa HI 96778 usa

ERNEST LABBE's picture

While what you say is true

when the French Canadians came to lewiston/Auburn there were jobs waiting for them. Tons of jobs that why they were recruted to move to the area.The mills even provided housing for them. My grandparents (I'm 100% French Canadian) were in the mills working 60 hour weeks at the age of 14. Thats how much of a need for employees there was at the time. Unfortunatly as time progresses situations change. First the mills started moving to the south in the 1950s. Then the shoe factory jobs started going south in the 1960s. Today there are very few of the jobs available to people with little or no training. There is no factory housing. In short the immigrants of today do not have the opertunities to improve their life as the French Canadians did a hundred or so years ago.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Excellent point, Ernest

Which leads me to ask, wouldn't it be a good idea for municipalities to examine what kind of area employment is available before opening up the flood gates to a bunch of people who will not be able to find gainful employment? By not doing so we are becoming a welfare poor state, and very quickly I might add.

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