In 2007, a team from the Omicron Class of Leadership Maine worked on a project that sought to examine the experiences of diverse communities living in Maine . The group conducted many interviews from across the state to gain a variety of perspectives. As a result of these inquiries and interviews, the team was able to collect personal stories from people living in Maine, and some of the racial biases and hardships they experienced. Below are just six of these stories from people living in Maine and trying to embrace their own culture while adapting to mainstream culture.
The Faces of Maine is intended to be a discussion tool for groups of people who want to better understand the lives of all people living in Maine. Below the photos and stories you will find a link to a guide for facilitating a conversation with others in your family, your organization, or your civic group. We encourage you to use these stories to help explore possible biases and stumbling points that some may not even know exist.
Click any one of the pictures below to read their story
Hello my name is Awralla, I am 25 years old, I have four children and a wonderful husband. We moved to Lewiston, Maine in 1999, from Somalia, to find a better life for our family. I’m fluent in both the languages of Somali and English. It has been a challenge to keep my children speaking Somali; they mostly speak English. A friend called me one day and my daughter answered the phone, in English, and my friend spoke to her in Somali. My daughter never said a word, she put down the phone and yelled to me that someone was speaking Somali. Often times I feel sad that my children do not speak our native language. Recently, my son was in a fight at school and I was called in to come get him. I arrived at school to have the principal tell me that my son was suspended for three days. The other boy in the fight was white and was still sitting in his office waiting for his parents. I asked if he would be suspended as well and the principal assured me that he would be. I found out later that week that the other boy was allowed to go back to class and was not suspended. The racial climate in Lewiston is one that on the surface seems alright, but when an incident happens where it involves someone of color, the tension seems to surface rather quickly. My name is Awralla…and I am a face of Maine.
Bon jour, je m’appelle, Yvonne. My name is Yvonne and I come from Waterville. When I was young we spoke French at home with mama and papa, but if I spoke French at school I was teased by other kids. When I had my own children, I didn’t want them to have that experience, so that all speak good English. We thought we were making life better for them. But now that my kids are grown, they wish they could speak French. My grandson, Markus, goes to L’Ecole Francaise du Maine, in Freeport. Many students have Franco-American parents who lost their French language. My son wanted his son to learn more about our heritage and background. I am so happy that I can speak French with Markus; I only regret that I did not make sure my own children knew their French. We Franco-Americans have a saying: “Qui perd sa langue, perd sa foi” – Who loses her language, loses her faith. When the first French-Canadians came to live in Maine, we were discriminated against because we spoke French, we were Catholic and we had our own ways of doing things. I remember papa telling stories about those times. Did you know that in the 1920’s Maine had more members in the Ku Klux Klan than any state in the country? The goal of the Klan was to wipe out the French-Canadian Catholics and the Native Americans in Maine. But we’re still here. And now, there is a renewed interest in telling our stories and recovering our language and culture. I would like to share something from the book Wednesday’s Child, by Rhea Cote Robbins. It really tells how I feel about my past and my hope for the future. I make bold the colors in my house. I get dizzy admiring the roofs in Quebec. The colors on the houses leave me breathless. I have been shamed to white, but I vow to return to the palette of true colors. I dream the visions of young women in French. The cookbook of life rendered for what it is. That which sustains the generations to come. Pride, not shame in the female cook pot. Modern day tapestry of living, unparalleled in its boasts. “On parle francais, ici” the commercial advertisements read. Understood, at last. My name is Yvonne…et je suis le visage du Maine.
My name is Sylvia. I am a Native American living in Calais, Maine. I feel the medical staff at the local hospital and physician offices have profiled Native Americans as drug seekers. I had to have orthopedic surgery to repair my knee, that I injured playing in a charity softball game. My recovery has been long and painful. In describing my pain to my doctor, he immediately said he would not give me narcotics for my pain and that he would need me to submit to a urine test before he prescribed any treatment. All I wanted was a plan to get better, not to be accused of seeking drugs. During my visit, my doctor also asked me what percent Indian I was. Why do people ask me that? We don’t ask other races what percent they are. I responded to my doctor by asking him what percent white he was. Several years ago when I was at a high school football game I saw a student from the opposing team, whose mascot was the Redskins, portray a warring Indian, prancing about, doing war-whoops…mocking sacred symbols and sacred dances. I asked my mother why our culture was being shown so much disrespect. She had tears in her eyes and both of us decided to leave together. These mascots and their performances, logos or names, are disrespectful and offensive to Native Americans and others who are offended by stereotyping. Can you imagine a team named the Whiteskins, the Blackskins or the Yellowskins? It would never be allowed. After many meetings with the School Board, one of my proudest accomplishments was when we were successful in changing the mascot of that team from the Redskins to the Red Storm. My name is Sylvia…and I am a face of Maine.
My name is Steven, I am 27 years old and I live in Portland, Maine. My family moved her from New York when I was 7. I applied for a manufacturing job in South Portland several years ago, in which I was the only black person among 12 candidates that applied for the job. I was told by the company that I didn’t do well on the test and I didn’t have manufacturing experience. Instead, they hired 5 white candidates; one of them also had difficulty with the math test and four others didn’t have any manufacturing experience. I learned later that of all the employees at their company, none are black. This is not the only thing that makes me know that racism exists here in Maine. My younger brother was riding the late bus home after school, when three older bullies started harassing him at the back of the bus. They start by telling some offensive racial jokes but then lead to a barrage of racial slurs. One bully dropped reference to the Ku Klux Klan and Kunta Kinte, referring to the slave depicted in the television mini-series “Roots.” As the scene progressed, one of the older boys spat on my brother and hit him in the head. This is not an incident that happened 40 years ago in the South; this happened right here in Maine just two years ago. My name is Steven…and I am a face of Maine.
My name is Pedro, I live in Bangor, Maine with my wife Jill. We are expecting our second child in three months. I moved here from Puerto Rico when I was 18, to attend the University of Maine in Orono. Folks in Maine are pretty enlightened and tolerant, but they have few experiences dealing with people of color, so they rely on stereotypes. I think they are much more inclined to think the worst. My wife struggles with how I’m treated differently and how people look at us when we are together. We were shopping recently and a woman was staring at us; when we looked back at her she shook her head in disgust and walked away. Five years ago, I had a job where racial discrimination was a routine occurrence. My supervisor constantly questioned me about phone bills, accusing me of making personal long-distance calls. I was also accused twice of stealing money from the company safe. My supervisor told me, “You people are used to doing stuff like this.” When I asked him what do you mean “you people?” he said, “you know what I mean.” When I went to my supervisor’s boss about the harassment, I was told that the company was not going to address my concerns because the company was going out of business. I filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and they agreed that I had been treated unfairly because of my race. Now what? My name is Pedro…and I am a face of Maine.
Hello, my name is Gloria; I live in Biddeford, Maine with my husband of 48 years. We moved from Japan to Maine in 1970 for my husband’s job. Shortly after arriving in Maine, I landed a job with a local company where I worked for the next 22 years. I had an excellent work record and had been named top nationwide manager three times. But my evaluations dropped to unsatisfactory soon after I had the company investigate my supervisor, who called me a derogatory name. The company ordered my boss to apologize, but allowed him to continue supervising me. Four months later that same supervisor recommended that I be fired. My company was focused on sexual harassment training, but did little on diversity training. Employers seem to be reluctant to suspend or fire a worker who makes racial slurs, yet that same employee would likely lose his job if he made sexual comments to a female co-worker. It is amazing the number of times that people will speak very loudly and slowly to me, assuming I cannot speak the language. I usually just smile and respond in a slow, loud voice. Some people will just be rude and talk about you while you are still in the room; they assume you don’t understand English. It’s frustrating to me because my first job was teaching English in my home country. It is hurtful that some people are so disrespectful to anyone that looks different from them. My name is Gloria…and I am a face of Maine.