Somali and Bantu migration to Maine
Bantus are a minority ethnic group in Somalia, a country largely inhabited by Somalis. They are the descendants of people from various Bantu ethnic groups originating from what are modern-day Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique who were brought to Somalia as slaves in the 19th century. Bantus are ethnically, physically, and culturally distinct from Somalis, and have remained marginalized since their arrival in Somalia.
During the Somali Civil War, which first began with the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991, many Bantus were evicted from their lands by various armed factions of Somali clans. Being visible minorities and possessing little in the way of firearms, the Bantus were particularly vulnerable to violence and looting by gun-toting militiamen. Fearing war and famine, tens of thousands of Bantus fled to refugee camps in neighboring Kenya.
In the year 2000, the United States classified the Bantu as a priority and began preparations to resettle an estimated 12,000 Bantu refugees in select cities throughout the U.S.. Most of the early arrivals in the United States settled in Clarkston, Georgia, a city adjacent to Atlanta. However, they were mostly assigned to low rent, poverty-stricken inner city areas, so many began to look to resettle elsewhere in the US, including Maine.
In October 2002, then-Mayor Laurier T. Raymond wrote an open letter addressed to leaders of the Somali community, predicting a negative impact on the city's social services and requesting that they discourage further relocation to Lewiston. The letter angered some persons and prompted some community leaders and residents to speak out against the mayor, drawing national attention. Demonstrations were held in Lewiston, both by those who supported the immigrants' presence and those who opposed it.
In January 2003, a small white supremacist group demonstrated in Lewiston in support of the mayor, prompting a simultaneous counter-demonstration of about 4,000 people at Bates College and the organization of the "Many and One Coalition". Only 32 attended the rally by the white supremacist group. The mayor was out of state on the day of the rallies, while governor John Baldacci and other officials attended.
In 2006, a severed frozen pig's head was thrown into a Lewiston mosque while the faithful were praying. This was considered very offensive by the town's Muslim community, as swine is proscribed in Islam. The culprit admitted to the act and claimed it to be a joke. He later committed suicide.
Somalis have opened up community centers to cater to their community. In 2001, the non-profit organization United Somali Women of Maine (USWM) was founded in Lewiston, seeking to promote the empowerment of Somali women and girls across the state.
The rise of working age immigrants coupled with government funded programs to re-establish a thriving economy in Lewiston are the two biggest reasons for the economic renaissance experiences in Lewiston-Auburn in the past decade. In 2006, KPMG International released a study identifying the best places to do business around the world and ranked Lewiston as the best in New England.  In January 2009, Newsweek associated a drop in crime rate, soaring income per capita and increased business activity in Lewiston with recent immigration to the town by Somalis.
In August 2010, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported that Somali entrepreneurs had helped reinvigorate downtown Lewiston by opening dozens of shops in previously closed storefronts. Amicable relations were also reported by the local merchants of French-Canadian descent and the Somali storekeepers.
In 2010, several Somali immigrants, now citizens of the United States and residents of Portland, filed to run for the Maine Legislature. Mohammed Dini ran in District 119 in a Democratic Party primary; Badr Sharif ran in the Republican Party primary for District 116, both of which are located in the city of Portland. Both candidates were defeated in primary challenges.
In June 2011, the Lewiston Sun Journal noted the growing number of Somali recent immigrants earning high school degrees, with more enrolling in local community colleges. The university students consist of both adult undergraduate and continuing education pupils, as well as high school graduates.
There are about 1,000 Bantu immigrants in Lewiston as of 2012.
The Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston/Auburn Maine (SBCMALA) serves the local Bantu community, focusing on housing, employment, literacy and education, health, and safety matters.
In June 2011, the Lewiston Sun Journal also reported a growing number of Bantu recent immigrants earning high school diplomas, with more enrolling in local community colleges. The university students consist of both adult undergraduate and continuing education pupils, as well as high school graduates.
- Perceived Barriers to Somali Immigrant Employment in Lewiston - A Supplement to Maine’s Department of Labor Report
- The New Yankees, Mother Jones, March/April 2004
- L. Randol Barker et al., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine, 7 edition, (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins: 2006), p.633
- Refugees Vol. 3, No. 128, 2002 UNHCR Publication Refugees about the Somali Bantu
- Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston/Auburn Maine
- The Great Somali Welfare Hunt
- SunJournal.com - Man kills self outside Marden's
- Letter from Maine: New in Town
- African migrants who call America's whitest state home, BBC News 2012-09-11, accessed 2012-09-12.
- United Somali Women of Maine website
- Somali stores bring people back to Lisbon Street Lewiston Sun-Journal, August 30, 2010
- Somali immigrants eye Portland legislative seats Portland Forecaster, April 20, 2010
- For Somali grad, Lewiston feels like home - Lewiston Sun Journal
- More Somali students graduate, find success - Lewiston Sun Journal
- Somali Bantu Foundation of Kansas, accessed 2012-09-12
- From refugee camp to cap and gown - Lewiston Sun Journal