Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine
The Somali Bantu community in Lewiston is wrestling with internal debates about new cultural values and practices made accessible by the move to America. For people who prioritize community life and social networks over individualism, self-sufficiency means community independence rather than individual economic autonomy, and integration does not mean abandoning their values. Their first decade in Lewiston brought massive challenges as Somali Bantu refugees tried to prioritize mutual social responsibility and foster inclusive democratic practice in Lewiston’s civic society, while adjusting to living in extreme poverty and as black people in a white society. Somali Bantu refugees created their own community organizations to manage internal community matters and relationships between community members and other city residents, who often regarded them as objects but not architects of policy. Gender roles, parenting, and authority structures were being renegotiated under the influence of American values, popular culture, and the pressures of racism.