We Have Responded Valiantly
This chapter presents the version of Lewiston’s story told by city officials who highlight the financial burden on the city of accommodating unexpected impoverished refugees in the context of a retreating welfare state. Officials had to develop programs for refugees that conformed to federal legal requirements for accommodating diversity in the absence of outside financial support and previous experience with managing refugees and cultural difference. Creating an English Language Learner program, translation services, and job training programs while responding to xenophobic outbursts such as an antirefugee neo-Nazi rally challenged city officials and social services providers to model tolerance and accommodation while trying to minimize the impact of impoverished refugees on city coffers.
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.
Helpers in the Neoliberal Borderlands
The “communitarian” version of Lewiston’s story pushes back against xenophobia by insisting on an expansive definition of community while also betraying disappointment about poor institutional support for indigent immigrants and gatekeeping efforts to contain refugee agency and engagement in city life. Chapter 6 profiles social workers, teachers, caseworkers, and community advocates who work in the neoliberal border zones where refugee immigrants who need assistance ask for help. Those profiled here see the future of the refugees as the future of Lewiston and advocate communitarianism rather than tolerance. They express frustration at the narrow, tolerance-based approach to building programs for refugees taken by institutional leaders, marked by an unwillingness to look to models from other cities that had more experience with diversity, refugees, or both. They are engaged in affective labor that attempts to buffer the blows of racism, xenophobia, and neoliberal demands for refugee economic independence, self-sufficiency, autonomy, and self-help.