A Maine Mill Town and the 5,000 Refugees Who Call It Home

Soccer is big-time in the former mill town of Lewiston, Maine. Last month the high school boys team took the state championship, capping a 17-0 season. A few details: the day was warm, the stands were packed, and the team included seven players who’d lived together in a Somali refugee camp before coming to the U.S.

Since 2007, I’ve been writing about Lewiston and the 5,000 Somali refugees who have made it their home. In Lewiston, the news is mostly good. The magazine and newspaper pieces I’ve done are stories of adaptation and progress because that’s what I see happening here.

Message to political leaders across the nation who don’t want Syrian refugees in their states: If Lewiston can do it, then so can other U.S. cities and towns.

In Lewiston, there are Somali city leaders and police force recruits. One in four schoolchildren is of African descent, and Somali kids are heading off to college in ever-rising numbers. Stores that had been shuttered have reopened under Somali ownership. Somalis work in health care, financial services and industry. They sell vegetables at farmers markets, and the triple-deckers that fan out from downtown Kennedy Park once again are filled with families. What’s happening in this city of 36,000 people is isbedal, the Somali word for transformation.

“We are making it here,” says Fatuma Hussein, who moved with her family to Lewiston in 2001 and serves as executive director of United Somali Women of Maine. “We’ve come a long way in fifteen years. People see Lewiston as their home.”

Two weeks after the soccer championship, a party was held at the local Ramada Inn to mark the victory. Hussein was there. “It was so diverse,” she says. “I looked at the crowd and thought, ‘This is who we are.’ The whites and the blacks, the young, old, women, children, men – all of us were there to celebrate our boys.”

Last spring I spent time at a Lewiston youth center that primarily serves Somali kids. At the center, girls raced down the hallway, their hijabs flying, to get first dibs on supplies in the art room. Teenagers sandwiched into a music studio sang Beyonce and Stevie Wonder to the accompaniment of a self-taught pianist, while outdoors bystanders cheered and a dog barked as goals accrued in a pick-up soccer game.

– by | Cynthia Anderson

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What’s happened with the Somali refugees is likely what would happen with the Syrians and other refugees, especially those relocated to smaller, former industrial cities with population drain — places in need of revitalization.

Source: Isbedal: A Maine Mill Town and the 5,000 Refugees Who Call It Home | Cynthia Anderson

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