Us vs Them

Liberal American reacts to Somali residents in small town

This example is from The Burgess Boys, a 2013 novel by Elizabeth Strout.

Set in 1994, as the crisis in Somalia brought a new group of Muslim immigrants to the United States, conflicts between newer and more established Americans seem somewhat tame compared to our current global refugee crisis, and our country's conflicted response. Still, this story about what might have happened in a small town in northern Maine during the time when Somali immigrants were first getting settled there resonates sharply today. Strout shows a white middle-class family with their own many failings as they carry out their lives surrounded by the diversity of New York City and the strangeness of finding people who look and act differently in their small New England hometown. From utter stupidity and blind ignorance to cautious suspicion and bleeding heart liberalism, characters in the novel show some of the ways in which we whose ancestors managed to get here decades or centuries ago often react to newcomers. A main character, Bob Burgess, an unassuming, generous and helpful man tempered by an early family tragedy, is aware of his own discomfort at seeing Somalis in his home town:

"The building was empty now, its windows boarded up. He drove past where the bus station had been, where there had been coffee shops and magazine stores and bakeries. And suddenly a black man appeared, walking beneath the street lamp. He was tall and graceful, his shirt loose-fitting, although perhaps there was a vest over it, bob couldn't tell. Wrapped around his shoulders was a scarf of black and white with tassels. “Hey cool,” Bob said softly. “Another one.” And yet, Bob who had lived in New York, who'd had a brief career there defending criminals of various colors and religions, Bob, who believed in the magnificence of the Constitution and the rights of the people, all people, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Bob Burgess, after the tall man with the tasseled scarf turned down a side street of Shirley Falls -- Bob thought, ever so fleetingly -- but he thought it: Just as long as there aren't too many of them."

pages 52-53