Press/Robert F. Bukaty – Community advocate Nimo Yonis leads a protest
chant against the mayor of Lewiston, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.
Critics of the mayor delivered petitions asking for his …more
Somali immigrants and their supporters in this former mill city in central Maine say Mayor Robert Macdonald should apologize and step down for what they call repeated anti-immigrant remarks, including telling a British Broadcasting Corp. interviewer that immigrants should “accept our culture and leave your culture at the door.”
A group of about 50 protesters rallied outside City Hall on Thursday before delivering 1,400 petitions to Macdonald’s office, asking for his resignation.
mayor’s remarks sounded like he was telling immigrants to abandon their
religion, their language and their identities, said Nimo Yonis, 26, one
of an about 6,000 Somali refugees who live in Lewiston and the
neighboring city of Auburn. The mayor’s words were painful, hurtful and
“represent hate,” she said.
“Basically, he’s telling us to forget
who we were,” Yonis said. “Just leaving your culture at the door is
leaving what you believe, what you stand for and who you are at the
Macdonald has attempted to clarify his comments, saying
immigrants should try to assimilate into American culture. He has said
his comments were taken out of context, and has claimed he never said
anything derogatory about Somalis.
Macdonald was not in his office Thursday and didn’t immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press.
His words have rekindled memories of a decade ago when then-Mayor Larry Raymond
wrote a letter in 2002 asking Somali leaders to discourage friends and
family from relocating to Lewiston, saying the city’s resources were
The first Somali immigrants arrived in Lewiston in
early 2001, moving 40 miles north of Portland because of plentiful,
cheap housing. By the time Raymond wrote his letter, nearly 1,000
Somalis had moved to the Lewiston area.
The outrage over his
letter attracted international attention and spurred a 4,000-person
rally at Bates College, urging Mainers to embrace the influx of
immigrants. During the rally, a small number of white supremacists who
called for the expulsion of the Somalis gathered elsewhere in the city.
With the current mayor, critics say Macdonald has made repeated inflammatory remarks about the Somali population.
wrote in a local weekly newspaper that “submissive Somali women turn
into obnoxious customers at the grocery store cash register.” He also
wrote that he was tired of news stories about Somalis being treated
poorly; most complaints, he wrote, came from “boo-hoo white do-gooders
and their carpetbagger friends.”
He later told a reporter that immigrants shouldn’t “insert your culture, which obviously isn’t working, into ours, which does.”
Cayer, president of the Lewiston City Council, read a statement
Thursday on behalf of the whole council saying the mayor’s comments were
his alone and not representative of the council or the city as a whole.
letter written by Raymond in 2002 and Macdonald’s words last month are
“two totally different scenarios and two different moments in time,” he
“But clearly there was division in the community at that
time, and there’s still evidence of a division now,” he said. “But
overall I think the community will grow from this.”
Related, previously at Atlas: Muslim Youths Wilding in Maine
LEWISTON — In the early evening on the first day of summer, a large
group of Somali boys approached a woman on the corner of Ash and Pierce
streets. According to police reports, they intimidated the woman and
slapped her in the back of the head before scattering into the downtown.
Five days later, shortly after midnight, a man was accosted by a
group of Somali boys outside the Big Apple on Main Street. Police
reports say several members of the group punched the man and took money
from him. They then fled in a car.
Later that night, a woman in her late 60s was beaten by a group of
Somali boys and relieved of cash while walking in Kennedy Park.
Five nights later, another man was jumped by a group of similar
description. He resisted the gang and was beaten badly. He required
Throughout the summer, similar reports have come into the Police
Department. Witnesses and investigators say swarms of Somali boys, some
as young as 8, others in their late teens, overwhelm solitary victims
through sheer numbers.