Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine
Strangers in Our Midst
This chapter analyzes anti-immigrant/refugee sentiment during Lewiston’s first decade of Somali immigration in the form of ten insidious rumor-supported myths circulated in public and private commentary. The myths reflect predominant American concerns about immigrants, concerns that trouble the idea of charity and hospitality toward refugees with hostility to cultural difference and the economic costs of supporting refugees. The myths claim that Somali refugees got a free ride to come to the United States, where they are given free apartments and cars while they drain welfare coffers, engage in crime, and refuse to work, learn English, become citizens, or adapt to American culture. The myths may reflect a fear that Somalis are the renewing force that will displace those rendered disempowered and abandoned by Lewiston’s economic decline and may be a way to ensure that refugee/immigrants remain outside the community defined by moral responsibility.