Phil Nadeau 

LEWISTON — Phil Nadeau, who retired as assistant city manager in 2017 after 18 years, said he’s been asked by friends and colleagues over the years, half-joking, when to expect his book.

From his home in Florida this week, he said he finally decided last year to give it a go. He’s hoping to have the book ready in time for the 20th anniversary of Lewiston’s first Somali families arriving in the city.

Nadeau spent so much time combing through area history, and including detailed narratives on Lewiston’s history and relationship with immigration, that it led to a book of about 500 pages. It’s still being edited.

Chronologically, the book ends in 2003, meaning Nadeau is planning on a second installment.

The book, titled “The Unlikeliness of it All – Part 1, An Insider’s Perspective: A Small Maine Town’s History of Immigration, Resilience, Transformation, Collaboration, and its Global Singularity,” pulls from a combination of Nadeau’s research and his own experiences working on immigrant relations in Lewiston.

A large part of the book, he said, is devoted to events in the city starting in January 2001, when the first Somali families arrived, to the fallout from then-Mayor Larry Raymond’s now-infamous letter to Somali leaders, asking them to slow the pace of resettlements.

Nadeau said census data at the time reflected that Lewiston’s population was 96% white and Maine was the “whitest state” in the country.

“Today, approximately 27% of Lewiston’s student population are immigrants who speak over 30 different languages, predominantly Somali, and the 2017 city immigrant population estimate is approximately 7,000 people,” he said.

Maine is still the whitest state in the country.

Nadeau, a Lewiston native, became assistant city administrator in 1999 after working as town manager in Richmond. Following the first refugee resettlements, Nadeau became a sought-after voice on immigrant relations, often speaking at conferences nationwide. He has since had research writing published, including on refugee workforce issues.

He said when Lewiston was first involved in discussions on relocating Somali families, no one expected it to become what it did. At the time, there was no refugee resettlement infrastructure in Lewiston.

Nadeau conducted 30 interviews for the book, and ended up citing some 1,500 sources. One interview was the person who transported the very first family to Lewiston.

The book also weaves through some hyperlocal history, and how it played into decisions around the millennium. Nadeau said he wanted to show how Lewiston got to the place it was when the first Somali immigrants arrived.

“I thought, in order to really write about it, you really need some context about the city,” he said. “Without doing a somewhat deeper dive into the city, things get missed along the way.”

He also believes the book contains “a lot of new information” about the period, the relationship between Lewiston and Auburn, the need to transform the economy in the city, and the actions of former city officials.

It details the state’s first refugee resettlement program in 1975, which placed Vietnamese refugees following the war.

Nadeau said the book opens with a section on the famous 1965 Muhammad Ali fight, and the iconic photograph by Neil Leifer, which Nadeau said “put Lewiston on the map.”

“The book really started with that,” he said.

He found that a natural ending was the “Many and One” rally in 2003, which countered an earlier rally organized by an out-of-state hate group, the World Church of the Creator, which called for the ouster of Somalis in Lewiston.

He said the rally was “a significant turning point for the city in terms of community action and community activism.”

A news release on the book says it will “will explain how a small town in Maine has and will continue to be a part of the public discussion about social justice and race in this country.”

When discussing his retirement with the Sun Journal in 2017, Nadeau said he didn’t yet have any plans, but that a book could be in the works. Asked at the time about the arrival of the first Somali families, he said, “That changed everything. It affected our place in the world.”

According to the news release, the book is tentatively scheduled for release in late February or mid-March.


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