Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"The Letter: An American Town and the Somali Invasion": it parallels a dilemma today over sudden immigration of kids

The 2005 film “The Letter: An American Town and the ‘Somali Invasion’”, directed by Ziad H. Hamzeh, documents the history of the immigration of Somali and Bantu refugees into the city of Lewiston, Maine in the early 2000’s.  “The Letter” itself refers to an open letter by Mayor Larry Raymond in 2002 telling new Somali residents that the town did not have the resources to provide for them. The Mayor did not run for reelection after the controversy.
But there were angry demonstrations in the town, and some hate and neo-Nazi groups present.  There was a basic moral quandary: do you take care of your own first before you take care of people who are “not” your own?  This becomes a profound personal, moral, and spiritual question, but not one that is easily addressed in public policy.

Hamzeh’s documentary starts with a recap of the 1993 debacle “Rescue Hope” when the Clinton administration intervened in Somalia.  That became the subject of the 2001 Ridley Scott film “Black Hawk Down” from Columbia, with Josh Hartnett as the kindly Sgt. Eversmann.  There is also a small film "Love Letter from Somalia", back in 1983, directed by Frederick Mitterand (nephew of French president) which gives a memoir of a gay man living in Somalia before a communist ruler Barre was thrown out in 1991, leading to a world of warlords. 

But to get back to this film at hand: How were the immigrants provided for?  Did the governments (federal or state) subsidize apartments? Did people take them in?

This question sounds important given the recent influx of children into the US from Central America, combined with the fact that mainstream churches have youth-adult membership missions in countries like Belize, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.  (See “The Mission in Belize”, Nov. 4, 2012 on my Drama blog).  It’s also relevant to the possibility of gay men and lesbians from hostile countries seeking asylum in the US. 

The official film trailer is here (curiously, embedding was disabled;  I provided a different short on the issue above). .The DVD is available from Netflix (74 minutes) but there is no video on demand.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where I lived from 1997-2003, has considerable Somali and Hmong presence. 
Wikipedia attribution link for skyline of Lewiston (first picture). 
My only visit to that town was in May 1995.  

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