Fifty years ago I lived in Lewiston, Maine and attended Bates College. Lewiston was the largest French Canadian community in the United States with very few minorities. As in many mill towns across America, the mills closed and the workers left to seek jobs in other locations. The exodus of the French Canadian workers launched opportunities for affordable housing and reasonably priced farmland. In 2001, Somali immigrants took advantage of the situation and started to move into Lewiston/Auburn. Now there are over 7,000 immigrants and their families from Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya living in the Lewiston/Auburn area.
I became interested in photographing the African refugees in Lewiston and Auburn about six months ago. I read a well documented book Making Refuge, Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston Maine by Catherine Besteman and then emailed the author. I also called the Director of Community Partnerships at Bates College but both women discouraged me. Their feeling was “the refugees have been documented enough and want to be left alone. If you come to photograph them be sure to have permission before taking any images.” I felt I needed to communicate with the immigrant community leaders. I talked on the phone and made appointments with directors of the Maine Immigration and Refugee Services, the Somali Bantu Community Association, the Djibouti Community Center for Voluntary Service and the Trinity Jubilee Center (homeless shelter and soup kitchen). After meeting me, all four directors were helpful and assisted me with introductions. I hoped to take photographs of the racially integrated Lewiston and Auburn High School soccer teams. I emailed and spoke with the coaches and athletic directors from both schools. They all granted me permission to be on the field during a game, however I was not allowed to photograph in the school buildings. I had hoped to take images in a refugee’s home but was not able to arrange a home visit. I had permission to take all the images in this blog and on my website.