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Besteman Reconnects with Refugees

Penn Press author and Colby College professor Catherine Besteman discussed her involvement with Maine’s growing African immigrant community in a recent New Yorker article by William Finnegan.

A year ago, when Besteman, author of Unraveling Somalia: Race, Class, and the Legacy of Slavery, participated in a panel discussion on Lewiston, Maine’s refugee population, she reconnected with people who she hadn’t seen since she’d worked in a Somali Bantu village called Banta in the late 80s.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

"They didn’t recognize me, because they didn’t know I was blond. I always kept my hair tied up there. And I didn’t recognize them, because they were just little kids who followed me everywhere, and now they’re grown men. But as soon as I said that I’d lived in Banta they said, ‘Catherine! We’re looking for Catherine!’"

Stunned, she gave her introductory speech. Then each of the men told his story. They were harrowing narratives of cruelty, loss, and escape; two men talked about seeing their fathers murdered. Afterward, Besteman and the Bantu wept together. They made plans for a meeting of the entire Lewiston Bantus community.

Besteman and her husband, photographer Jorge Acero, went on to create an audio visual presentation for the community that allowed the refugees to see and hear (for the first time in many cases) the elders they had to leave behind.

A summary of the December 11 article and a photo slide show of life in Lewiston are available at www.newyorker.com.