History of the Somalis and Bantus in Maine
Somalis and Bantus are two ethnic groups residing in Maine, which emigrated from Somalia. As of 2013, there were around 10,000 ethnic Somalis in Lewiston and Portland, and an estimated 1,000 Bantus in Lewiston in 2012.
In October 2002, Lewiston 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 people 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 also 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.
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 June 2011, the Lewiston Sun Journal also 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.
In 2011, there were an estimated 5,000 Somali immigrants in Lewiston. Around 5,000 Somalis also resided in Portland. According to the Immigrant Resource Center, there were approximately 7,500 immigrants from East Africa in Androscoggin County where Lewiston is located, including individuals from Somalia.
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 Somali Community Resource Center also provides English and citizenship classes among other services to Portland's resident Somalis, as does the Somali Cultural & Development Association.
As of 2014, the most common non-English language spoken by students of the Lewiston Public Schools is Somali. Speakers make up around 90% of the district's pupils that do not speak English as a native language.
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, and Badr Sharif ran in the Republican Party primary for District 116; both candidates were defeated in primary challenges. Additionally, Portland's Somali community led a campaign to permit non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.
Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump, the federal government released Executive Order 13780, a three-month travel restriction against citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia. Somalis and other immigrants in Lewiston as well as local residents worried that the temporary decision had put a strain on communal living.
In 2017, a record three Somalia-born candidates, all newcomers to politics, unsuccessfully ran for the school committee in Lewiston.
Bantus are a minority ethnic group in Somalia, a country largely inhabited by ethnic 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 the central government 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 militiamen. 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 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 June 2011, the Lewiston Sun Journal 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.
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. It also runs an agriculture program for resident Bantus.
- Somali American
- Somali diaspora
- Horn Africans in the United States
- Bantu peoples
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