Engaging Communities - Engaging Maine’s Somali Communities
Take four professors, six Somali students, lots of talk, and a new immigrant population in Maine and what do you get? The intriguing answer has turned out to be the Somali Narrative Project. The majority of Somalis came to Maine after initially being settled in large urban centers in the U.S. such as Atlanta and Columbus. Despite some difficulties in adjustment and a mixed response from residents, the Somali population in Lewiston/Auburn continues to grow. Lewiston has been called a “Mill Town,” “City of Immigrants,” and the “Most Franco American City in the U.S.” Rapid migration resulted in the highest concentration of Somalis in the U.S.–3000 plus in a population of 36,000 in this mostly homogenous (white and Christian) city.
Started in 2004, the Project documents the lives and words of Lewiston’s Somali immigrants. Professors Kim Huisman, Mazie Hough, Carol Toner and Kristin Langellier have worked with Somali undergraduates to interview immigrants and to produce a reader’s theater script that tells the stories of Somali history, culture, and immigration. Kim Huisman notes that, “the major focus of the reader’s theater is to foster understanding amongst Maine’s diverse citizens. Our next step is to develop a script that includes both Franco and Somali voices in the interest of promoting dialogue between these two groups.” Mazie Hough adds that, “SNP is driven by a commitment to research and scholarship, teaching, and community service–and it has been exciting to experience how each aspect supports and enriches the other.” Having performed so far in eight places (from Maine to Halifax to Minneapolis to Cincinatti) with the support of the Maine Humanities Council, the Project explores globalization’s impact on Maine and the University of Maine’s contribution to understanding cultural continuity and change.