When Fatuma Hussein first moved to Lewiston in the early 2000s, a small but loud group of people were not welcoming to her and her fellow Somali immigrants.

The Somali community’s cars were vandalized. Cab drivers wouldn’t stop for them. Somali children were made fun of. Men dropped their pants when women walked down the street.

And when the mayor of the city wrote a letter to the Somali community telling them not to come to Lewiston anymore, members of the Klu Klux Klan came to his defense.

“They thought we were taking over their city, we were drug dealers, we were crazy people, we were terrorists,” Hussein said during a forum held Wednesday night at the University of Maine at Augusta.

“It was very tough as a woman, as an immigrant, as a person who had run and run and run. We are told America provides safety for you — more important, that America provides hope for you — so you come here and there’s lots of division.”

The purpose of the Wednesday night forum was to send a signal that Maine is a welcoming place to people of all backgrounds, according to its host, Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.


It came a week after residents of the Sand Hill neighborhood in Augusta, and others in Gardiner, Freeport and Topsham, awoke to find fliers in their driveways purporting to be from the KKK, a secretive society organized in the South after the Civil War to assert white supremacy.

The forum drew more than 100 audience members, and several speakers mentioned the need to counter the discrimination that’s still advocated by the KKK loudly and unequivocally.

“We want to make sure people do feel welcome,” Maloney said at the beginning of the discussion. “We want to make sure we’re saying as a community that we oppose the KKK fliers that went up. We don’t want silence to be read as acceptance. We want to make sure there is a strong voice that’s saying this is not acceptable.”

Hussein is the founder and executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine. She described how she tried to counter the prejudices of white people who discriminated against her, and she said Lewiston is now a more colorful, vibrant city because of the influx of immigrants.

“I think education, patience, working together, tolerance, it’s very, very important,” she said. “We cannot afford to have a silent majority.”

Other speakers at the Wednesday night forum included Maine Attorney General Janet Mills; Ahmed Al-Abbas, an Iraqi immigrant who owns Mainely Groceries in Augusta and Hallowell; and UMA social science professors James Cook and Lorien Lake-Corral.


Several other state officials and local leaders were present at the forum, which included presentations by each speaker and a long period for audience members to make comments and ask questions.

The event’s tone was inclusive, and a number of speakers spoke of the racism, anti-Semitism and other types of prejudice they’ve experienced or encountered. One woman spoke of the casual discrimination against the mentally ill that she has noticed.

A number of speakers also linked the discrimination that seems to have flared in recent months in response to the rhetoric of President Donald Trump, who has advocated a ban on immigrants from some Muslim-majority countries.

Augusta Mayor David Rollins reiterated the need to make the state capital a welcoming place and dismissed the idea that people from different backgrounds don’t belong here.

“We pride ourselves on who we are as Mainers,” Rollins said. Then, referring to the fliers that were found here, he continued, “This is not who we are. We’re decent people and we’re civil people. You need to stand up for yourselves and you need to stand up for people who aren’t like you.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642


Twitter: @ceichacker

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