Whittier Middle School student, Zach Ray: Somalis brought a new culture to Lewiston

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Are the New Mainers helping or hurting the city of Lewiston?

Lewiston has had a large influx of Somalis coming into the city and the community wants to know — is that a positive or negative thing?

Somalis are helping the community of Lewiston. They are using old, abandoned buildings and opening stores and living in them. They have started a civil rights movement in the state of Maine. Plus, the city’s crime rate has declined since they arrived.

Many people think that Somalis don’t work. It might be because the Sun Journal published an article in 2012 stating about 443 Somalis applied for general assistance in 2001. That doesn’t mean all of them received it. For people who come here and can’t speak or write the language, I’d say that is pretty good.

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That was really their first year here and they couldn’t apply for any jobs until they learned the language, so it’s not that bad.

The Sun Journal article also added that, in 2002, 50 percent of Somalis did find jobs. Going from near zero percent all the way up to 50 percent is a huge jump.

Others believe that Somalis get free cars.

Qamar Bashir, a case manger for Catholic Charities, explained how she, and all the Somali refugees she knows, have never received a free car. She remembers having to walk across Lewiston just to go to work in the morning. She also recalls walking in the cold of winter.

One of the major reasons some people in Lewiston believed the immigrants were receiving free cars was because no one thought that they worked. According to the information in the Sun Journal article, you can tell that they are trying very hard to make a living with the little some of them have.

Lewiston has been a successful town for three reasons: cheap housing, good schools and a low crime rate.

Some Lewiston community members claim that Somalis have made Lewiston an unsafe place to live and that the crime rate has increased since their arrival.

Sgt. Joe Bradeen, a detective with the Lewiston Police Department, explained that the crime rates for Somalis were in proportion to the rest of the population: 20 percent Lewiston’s population is Somali and 20 percent of the crimes committed in Lewiston are committed by Somalis.

This is an appropriate statistic and it shows that the Somalis aren’t the ones causing all the crime. Also, many of the Somali crimes are actually from the same kids committing crimes multiple times, according to police.

Incorrect things are frequently said about the Somali community because people don’t know the facts and frequently believe what other people say.

The Somali migration to Lewiston started a civil rights movement.

The Many and One Coalition march on Jan. 11, 2003, that took place in Lewiston was known nationally, and there were more than 4,000 people there to support the Somali community. The people of Lewiston were there to support one another no matter the race or religion.

Somalis have brought a new culture and language to the state of Maine. A part of their religion is to pray five times a day.

According to the United States Census, in 2001, more than 90 percent of the population of Lewiston was non-Hispanic white.

When the Irish came the United States, citizens really did not want them here. Now the Irish are everyday people and not pushed away or made fun of or hated.

Everyone is subject to change so, like immigrants that have come here in the past, it is going to take a bit more time for people to get accustomed to them.

The small town of Lewiston is changing, culturally, economically and emotionally, in a positive way. Lewiston now has a new culture: The Somali culture mixed with the culture of long-term residents.

If you hear something bad about the Somalis that you know is not true, give the person who said it some real information.

Zach Ray is a student at Bruce M. Whittier Middle School in Poland.

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