TOM AND HUCK MEET MOHAMMED
SMALL TOWN AMERICA BEING TRANSFORMED INTO SOMALI TUULAS
Newly arrived Somali immigrants have transformed small towns and cities throughout the United States into tuulas (Somali villages).
The process is underway in such places as Lewiston, Maine; Shelbyville, Tennessee, St. Cloud, Minnesota, Clarkston,Georgia, and Jamestown, North Dakota.
The Jamestown Sun reports that 400 Somalis have applied for public housing in the past four months.
The Somali immigrants in Garden City, Kansas and nearby small towns have created the Somali Community Center of Southwest Kansas in order to tap into public welfare programs. Within this section of the heartland, white Christians have become the minority.
In East San Diego, the newly arrived Somalis have created a Little Mogadishu. The streets are lined with Somali stores, shops, and mosques. In the midst of this ethnic enclave stands the Iftin Charter School, where K-8 students are introduced to Arabic. 99% of the student population is Somali; Arabs constitute the remaining 1%.
The American Somalis now display the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the country. They also remain the least educated. According to Andrew Liepman, the deputy director of intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center, Somali-Americans face “greater insularity compared to other, more integrated Muslim immigrant communities, [which] has aggravated the challenge of assimilation for their children.”
This problem is crystallized by the present situation is Lewiston, Maine, where African Muslims, many from the Bantu tribe, began arriving in 2001 at the rate of 100 a month.
Mohammed Maye, the president of the African Community and Refugee Center in Clarkston, Georgia posted a map of Lewiston on the wall of his office. “Go to Maine,” he advised the Somali immigrants. Abdullahi Abdullahi, the president of the Somali Community Development Organization in Clarkston, upheld this advice by telling his fellow countrymen that, unlike Georgia, Maine has terribly cold winters, but “the welfare system is better.”
Lewiston, indeed, was better. The small town in Maine with a population of 30,000 provided welfare to anyone in need, with the state picking up half the tab. Recipients, including the Muslim refugees, were allowed a generous five years of assistance before their benefits became terminated, and extensions for several additional years on the public dole were not difficult to obtain. Single parents could stay on welfare and go to college.
Public housing was also available, although, with the influx of Somalis, the housing projects became packed to capacity. Many of the new project dwellers were single Somali mothers with large broods of children. Those who are unable to obtain public housing were handed Section 8 vouchers, which the federal government provided to subsidize their rent in private apartments. The northern city with its frigid climate became welfare heaven for the arrivals from the vast desert areas of northern Africa.
The newcomers have shown scant interest in securing employment. When Renee Bernier, the president of the Lewiston city council, offered to hire 30 Somalis at the rate of $8 to $10 an hour to hold warning signs at construction sites, few displayed interest. The handful, who did apply, said that they were only willing to work between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Somali population of Lewiston now exceeds 4,000.