A Nuanced Narrative: SOMALIS IN MAINE
Below is a note from, Kimberly A. Huisman, one of the co-editors of the new book Somalis in Maine.
Somalis are among those refugees who have witnessed many horrors and suffered great losses. Despite their relatively small numbers as refugees and immigrants, Somalis have attracted media attention nearly everywhere the global diaspora has taken them. Many of these media stories about Somalia are replete with images of starving women and children, the violence of the civil war, the lawlessness of piracy off the Somali coast, and alleged links to al-Qaeda. The media reports about Somali immigrants to North America have centered on social problems involving race, religion, and economic tensions in cities, schools, and work settings. Lewiston, Maine, for example, was a site of national and international media attention in 2002 when the mayor of Lewiston published a letter in the local newspaper asking Somalis to please stop moving to Maine. These powerful and monolithic portrayals of Somalis—as either victims or social problems—have left little room in our public imagination for more nuanced narratives about the lives and experiences of Somali immigrants.
Somalis in Maine addresses this gap. This book is an anthology of academic essays, personal accounts, empirical research findings, and photographs, all of which include the voices of ordinary people talking against the backdrop of their extraordinary experiences. Sociologist Peter Berger purports that the wisdom of sociology lies in its power to show us that “things are not what they seem.” Thus, one of the tasks of the sociologist is to conduct empirical research that debunks social myths and reveals the layers of meaning behind the facades of everyday life. Somalis in Maine brings together perspectives from several disciplines—sociology, history, women’s studies, communication, performance studies, and Maine studies—and offers a kaleidoscope of voices and views on Somalis in Maine. The book offers a counter-narrative to the prevailing images of Somalis and highlights how the lived experiences of Somalis in Maine are often ‘not what they seem.’”
Somalis in Maine is an invitation both to listen to some of that history and to refocus the montage of negative images by entering into cultural currents that carry new voices and views of Somalis in Maine. The book will appeal to students with a general interest in sociology as well as to more advanced students who are interested in more specialized topics such as identity formation, patterns and processes of immigration, the sociology of work, and the intersectionality of social inequalities.