You’ve probably seen them walking down the street. They’re different, you think. They don’t look like you. Many don’t talk like you.
But are they really different? Or are we just reacting to what we think we know? The rumors we’ve heard? The biases we’ve grown up with?
Perhaps they’re the same as you and me. Maybe they want the same things we do. An education. A home. A safe place to live. But how would we know if we never take a moment to wonder?
So, now I ask, how is the Somali migration affecting Lewiston?
In truth, it may be too soon to know if the Somali migration is overall a good or bad thing. It can be argued both ways.
According to a number of documents about Somali immigration, crime rates, and Lewiston, it’s not yet known what the impact the Somali community is having on the city.
A common statement about Somalis is that they’re getting more General Assistance than others in Lewiston. According to Phil Nadeau, Lewiston deputy city administrator, it is estimated that Somalis receive about nine to 15 percent of the total General Assistance budget in the city.
It can be argued that the Somalis make up only about 10 to 15 percent of the population in the city. That would mean they are receiving about an equal portion of what the rest of the population is receiving in General Assistance.
Therefore, they are not getting any more General Assistance than other Lewiston residents.
Another common rumor heard about Somali people is that they’re responsible for a rise in crime. That is not true.
According to officer Craig Johnson of the Lewiston Police Department, out of 5,000 Somalis, only 10 to 15 percent are causing crime.
In a study done by the Lewiston Police Department, the reported crime rate has gone down between 2004 and 2011.
Yet, Somalis have complicated the way police deal with crime in Lewiston.
Detective Sgt, Joe Bradeen spoke about how, particularly with young offenders, the cultural differences are making it hard for punishment to take place when there is crime. In Somalia, elders deal with crime, whereas in Lewiston, the police do.
When Somalis come to Lewiston, many bring their children. It has been debated that Somalis don’t want to learn English or fit in.
In a Sun Journal article called “Struggle and Process: 10 years of Somalis in Lewiston,” written by Andrew Cullen in December 2011, Lewiston resident and Somali Hussain Ahmad made the following statement about his child: “I want him to fit in as much as possible.”
It may be that the Lewiston residents don’t want Somalis to fit in.
In 2002, a Lewiston woman Karen Horton wrote a letter to the Sun Journal in which she explained, ” I have finally decided why the influx of Somalis bothers me so much. To me, Maine is full of friendly people who have lived here forever. The Somalis are going to change the Maine I know and love …”
However, that isn’t the case for all Lewiston residents. In February 2003, a neo-Nazi group came to Lewiston to rally against the Somali people. According to Bradeen, only 29 people showed up to support the group, while almost 4,000 showed up at an opposing rally that same day. That makes it difficult to determine how Lewiston, as a whole feels, about the Somali migration.
What impact are the Somalis having on Lewiston?
In truth, the positive and negative effects are balancing each other out. If the balance breaks, we will know.
What do we do until then? We watch, wait and learn.
We need to challenge what we hear. We need to ask questions. I challenge you go out and talk to some Somalis. Try to look at the world through their eyes.
Until then, just remember the words written on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Rachel Kuklinski is a student at Bruce M. Whittier Middle School in Poland.