After Racist Attacks, Former Refugee Makes History as First Somali-American Elected to City Council in Lewiston, Maine
(Common Dreams) After a campaign marred by racist attacks, the victory Tuesday of a Somali-American woman who won a city council seat in Lewiston, Maine garnered national attention for the winner.
Safiya Khalid, who came to the U.S. in 2006 as a refugee, became the first Somali-American to be elected to city council in Lewiston, a city with a long history of racism against its immigrant community.
Khalid told supporters and the press on Wednesday that her victory was the result of a commitment to connecting with voters—even as online trolls were harassing her with comments saying, as the Washington Post reported, "that Muslims had no place in American government and she should go back to where she came from."
"Community organizers beat internet trolls," Khalid told supporters after results came in Tuesday night.
The 23-year-old is also the youngest person to ever be elected to the city council. She told reporters that she was inspired to run for office after seeing the city grow more racially and ethnically diverse while the government remained homogenous.
From what I know of Lewiston, it is probably a little bit unfair to write of it as having "a long history of racism against its immigrant community." The spouse of somebody I know who once worked as a teacher in that community once explained to me a little bit of the town's history. As she explained it, a non-profit agency targeted Lewiston as a community that could receive immigrants. The town has a long history as a working class community, so there was a lot of relatively cheap property available for habitation. This put a strain on the community's welfare assistance capabilities as well as its school system.
The teacher that I know actually worked there briefly because he like the idea of reaching out to teach in such a low-income area. He may very well have been one of Saifya's instructors. If not her personally, then a lot of her Somalian friends and associaites. A lot of such people of conscience are probably quite happy to see Safiya succeed in the political arena, even as they feel frustration at what they regard as an unfair share of the burden of low-income refugees that Lewiston was forced to accept.
I should add that as a result of complaints along the lines I have described, that the city of Portland has accepted some of the burden. In the long run, I think this will all be to the good for Maine. This is a state that suffers a chronic shortage of entry level workers. Most young people are not willing to accept such low wage jobs because they have the opportunity to either attend one of the local ivy league colleges or because they go out of state for a college education or and/or higher paid jobs. Refuges who learn basic language skills can thus fill a real need in that state. A point that is often repeated in the local news media.
When I lived in Maine, I also took advantage of some of the many church related services to volunteer my own efforts to help such refugees adjust to their new circumstances. It was quite gratifying to find so many in Maine who were willing to give of their time and effort to organize such charitable assistance. Mainers are very proud of their identity as second or third generation plus residents of the state. Yet, for the most part, I found them to be very open hearted to the many immigrants who showed up in their state. That was probably a factor in Safiya's electoral success.