It’s pretty certain that no matter what gets written or said about Lewiston nationally, it’s not going to please the locals. The folks here tend to be pretty tough to please.
The latest round of displeasure stems from Newsweek writer Jesse Ellison’s article in the Jan. 26 edition raised a lot of eyebrows. Unlike past stories – that either made the city look like a bunch of racist twits or a gang of pathetic losers – this one tried to paint the community in a pretty positive light. The gist of the story is that Lewiston was a dying town that had given up hope, until a group of secondary migrants came to town and saved it. Now, everything is wonderful.
But everyone I spoke to last week objected to the story. The folks that posted to Newsweek’s page had one point of view; Lewiston’s Somalis were a drain and not a part of the community, they said. There is an element in Lewiston that thinks that. They are not the majority, but they are numerous.
Most people objected to the basic premise. Lewiston was not a dying mill town when the Somalis showed up. It had already started to come around by 2001. The Somalis were a part of that and most folks welcomed them but they’re not the totality of what happened.
Frankly, I don’t think most believe anything really positive has happened in Lewiston-Auburn before or after the Somalis arrived. We are not a example of things working out right. Things are as messed up now as they ever were. That’s not the fault of the Somalis, either. But they are a part of the community, for better or worse.
From my point of view, I understand how the story happened. The writer tried to write a nice piece on the changes that have come to a small community after a group of refugees settled here. From Newsweek’s point of view, it was a small story – more of an afterthought, really – and there was not time or space to go into the long, confusing and frustrating history around it.
One other thing stands out, however. The Newsweek writer didn’t quote a single Somali in the piece. Whether she interviewed any, I don’t know. Our Somali neighbors are shy around news people. That includes our local reporters but especially extends to those from national magazines. And frankly, can you blame them?