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“Welcoming Maine” seeks to integrate new and native Mainers

By Sarah Davis

Welcoming Maine

Forty-eight diverse stakeholders gathered on August 30 for an event titled, “Future at Stake: Addressing Youth Integration in L/A.” The evening was groundbreaking because of the diversity of its high-profile participants, who intermingled during a film screening, a facilitated dialogue and a traditional Somali meal.

This event was the second dinner in a series organized by Welcoming Maine, a community group that works to improve social integration between new and native Mainers through interactive events.

Invited guests included representatives from Lewiston and Auburn’s police, fire and school departments, Juvenile Community Corrections, Lewiston Housing Authority, Central Maine Medical Center, Saint Mary’s Health System, Catholic Charities Refugee & Immigration Services, New Beginnings, College 4 ME Androscoggin, Tree Street Youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Somali Women of Maine, Somali community elders and new Mainer youth. Event organizers were pleased by the high turn out.

The evening began with a showing of the film “Not in Our Town: Light in the Darkness,” which tells the story of Marcelo Lucero’s racially based murder in Patchogue, N.Y. The themes of rising ethnic tensions and hate-crime prevention resonated strongly with many of the attendees, who work to address similar situations in their daily lives.

“It wasn’t until dinner was served that the real action began,” said one of the Welcoming Maine organizers. At intermixed dinner tables, guests shared their reactions to the film. Many people said they felt most impacted by “the invitation to start conversations with people who are different from me.” For some, this marked a rare moment of cross-cultural interaction.

Guests reported that the event changed their thinking about the challenges newcomers experience when coming and living here. It sparked an understanding of how people in our community play an important role in the integration process. Guests were particularly intrigued by the personal stories of three Somali women who shared their experiences as young newcomers and later as mothers.

Hibo Omer told the story of her six-year-old daughter who was shoved on the playground. “I hate you,” said the young offender, referring to her ethnic difference. As a mother, Hibo was shocked that such a small child could already be spouting racial animosity.

A key line from the film reminded guests: “Apples don’t fall from pear trees.” Parents and community leaders have a responsibility to cultivate positive values in our young people.

Qamar Bashir explained that the animosity goes both ways. Violence in Lewiston-Auburn is not only directed toward Somalis but among many different groups. It is the responsibility of all community members to address tension and hostility.

Fowsia Musse spoke of the internal identity challenges she faces as a new Mainer. “When you’re in your home country, you know the customs, you know the people, you know the language,” she said. “You’re a whole person. Coming to a new country makes you feel fragmented, and you have to face yourself to figure out who you really are.”

Fowsia expressed how important it is to move beyond the fear of approaching a person from another culture and interact across the cultural gap.

Service providers were profoundly impacted by the opportunity to hear these real-life stories. “There is so much work to do,” said one guest. Another guest emphasized how important it is for every community to consider these issues: “It’s never too early or too much.”

Participants appreciated the sense of community collaboration and camaraderie generated by the Welcoming Maine Dinner. Said one guest, “This event reinforced my drive to deal with community issues.” A representative from a service agency said the most important thing he learned was “how other organizations are willing to be part of this movement.” Another guest emphasized, “We need to stand together in order to achieve a strong community.”

In coming months, Welcoming Maine plans to hold additional community gatherings as they strive toward their slogan: “Building bridges, uniting neighbors.”

Welcoming Maine was founded in March 2011 as a committee of the New Mainers Community Collaborative. They are part of a growing collaboration called Welcoming America, uniting 20-plus statewide initiatives in the goal of two-way integration between new and native-born Americans.

In addition to events, Welcoming Maine members point to Lewiston’s Welcoming Proclamation as a key achievement. Issued by former mayor Larry Gilbert in December 2011, it states: “The City of Lewiston is committed to continue building a neighborly and welcoming atmosphere within this community where all are welcomed, accepted and appreciated.”

Since then, the proclamation has been endorsed by over 60 noteworthy representatives, including city officials, business owners and religious leaders.

For more information or to support the Welcoming Maine initiative, contact Sarah Davis at sarah.mcgill.davis@gmail.com or visit welcomingamerica.org.

 

 

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2 Responses to ““Welcoming Maine” seeks to integrate new and native Mainers”

  • Taxpaying fool:

    Yeehaw! A big party for all who strive to continue our wonderful welfare state! All those involved have a financial stake in keeping more “new” mainers coming here for the generous and never ending welfare state! Mr. Gilbert and his welfare perpetuating friends have turned Lewiston into a “service center”, serving anyone who shows up at city hall and claims to be a citizen of Lewiston with generous welfare benefits! All at the expense of the lowly taxpayer! Who , according to them is an uneducated, unenlightened, hateful person. According to mr. Gilbert and his cronies, the taxpayer must be educated about how wonderful it is for him to pay for welfare recipents home, food, car repairs, cell phone, education, daycare, healthcare and any other things the welfare perpetuating machine deems necessary! He and his cronies may think its wonderful, but i disagree! My money is my money and im tired of giving more and more of it for.the common good! I hate to be selfish, but if i cant pay my own bills then how can i help others? Maybe the people currently on welfare could help themselves? What a novel idea! That way i wouldnt feel so angry about all these “new”mainers having everything handed to them while the rest of us struggle to survive. On top of that, many “new”mainers are muslims, they are about as unamerican as you can get! They refuse to adhere to basic laws, claiming religious freedom or ignorance. Islam is a violent religion and has no place in the values of America! To kill someone for disagreeing with the prophet Mohammed or saying something with a disparaging tone about islam or Mohammed is protected in this country! Yet we are asked to respect a religon that espouses exactly that! Sorry, not happening! All islam evil!

  • mainelocal:

    Whoa, dude. There are over 1 BILLION Muslims in the world. Yes, there is extremism and fundamentalism out there. But if this was a “violent religion”, I think things would look pretty different.

    If some Christians went on a rampage in the name of their religion, do you think you’d blame the whole religion?

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