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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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The Letter

LDir. Ziad H. Hamzeh

Lewiston, Maine isn’t the kind of town normally associated with racial strife. But perhaps it should be. In a rapidly globalizing society, it is small towns like Lewiston, Austin, Minn. or Janesville, Wisc. that often become the sites of conflict.

Lewiston got its time in the spotlight when several hundred Somalis moved there a few years ago to escape the brutality of life in the big-city slums they had wound up in after leaving Somalia. “The Letter” describes the conflict that arose after Lewiston’s mayor wrote an open letter to the Somali community, asking them to tell their friends not to come to Maine. Predictably, this casual demagoguery emboldened the local racists, prompting several incidents of violence and a rally by the Neo-Nazi group World Church of the Creator.

“The Letter” uses interviews with Somali residents, social services workers, the current and former mayors and one of the Neo-Nazis to explore Lewiston’s radical shift from sleepy old mill town to racial hot spot. There is also footage of everyday life in Lewiston and the rally and counter-rallies spawned by the mayor’s letter.

While “The Letter” is adept at placing much of the blame for the tensions on the mayor’s opportunism, it fails to critique the liberal response. As in many situations where Klansmen or Neo-Nazis show up to flex their muscles, the liberal establishment accuses the racists of simply being outside agitators who are not welcome. This misguided appeal to an apparently benign nativism misses the fact that white working-class people across the country have fallen prey to the propaganda of the far right. In fact, it is often the same politicians who use racist code words to attack immigration, affirmative action and desegregation who will later play innocent when faced with the jackbooted, Sieg Heiling consequences of their actions. It is the same group of politicians who’ve been instrumental in sending good, union manufacturing jobs overseas that brays the loudest about helping white workers. Unfortunately, many people around the country are unable to see through the ruse.

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