Lewiston, Maine is located about halfway between the city of Augusta and the city of Portland and is bordered by the Androscoggin River. The location next to the river made this a great place for textile mills to be, and the city was thriving because of that. In the 1950s, Lewiston’s mills started closing, which led to the population which limited population growth, and then by the 1990s it was in a steady decline. Lewiston was economically in a rough spot and many businesses had closed down or left, leaving the city almost a shell of what it once had been.
At the same time in the 1990s, Somalia had been thrown into a civil war and many people feared for their safety. As people began fleeing their home, the United States government made an effort to relocate many families. A large portion of the Somali refugees were placed in or around Atlanta, Georgia and other large cities in the United States. The refugees were struggling to adjust to the large cities with high crime rates and expensive housing. A few refugee families that were trying to settle in Portland found much more affordable housing in Lewiston because of the declining population. As refugees settled there, they shared the opportunity in Lewiston with friends and family, creating a sort of ripple effect across the city.
Prior to the first Somali refugees, Lewiston’s population was almost completely white, Maine being the whitest state in the country. From 2000-2011, however, there was a 19.6% increase of foreign-born residents across the state, and a huge part of that influx was into the Lewiston/Auburn area. As of 2017, there had been over 7,500 immigrants to Lewiston since 2001. It started with a few Somali families, but today there are immigrants from all over Africa, such as Kenya, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere.
When the first wave of immigrants came to Lewiston, there was a lot of fear and confusion from the other residents. Rumors were spreading about the newcomers receiving an unfair proportion of the government aid to be had. The man who was Mayor in 2002 wrote an open letter to the community that said he believed that it would be best if they discouraged more Somali family members and friends from settling in Lewiston because after taking in all the initial immigrants the city was overwhelmed. There were two responses to this letter. The first was a white-supremacy group that tried to plan a rally and had about 300 attendees. The second response was more than 4,000 people strong; it was a rally led by Many and One. The refugees and Lewiston citizens alike came together to show that they did support the Somalis’ right to be there too.
This community has had ups and downs concerning the migrant population, but Lewiston is better for all of the new Mainers that now reside there. The immigrants have helped boost the economy by opening grocery stores and restaurants in previously abandoned storefronts. There is a unique diversity in Lewiston, and all of the cities new residents live in harmony with one another, but there is still more to be done to become a more seamless and supportive community.
River & factories, Lewiston, Me. 1910. Library of Congress PPOC. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pan.6a05744.
Jalali, Reza. “400 Years of New Mainers”. Maine Memory Network. www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/2623/page/4227/display?use_mmn=1
Kastanis, Angeliki. “Maine Community Has Refugees and Resentment.” U.S. News & World Report, 19 Apr. 2017, www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2017-04-19/how-a-maine-community-changed-by-refugees-came-to-embrace-donald-trump.
Raymond, Laurier. “A Letter to the Somali Community.” 1 Oct. 2002, www.martavmartinez.com/resources/A-Letter-to-the-Somali-Community.pdf