The Maine Historical Society’s latest exhibit, which opens Friday, weaves together the shared experiences of new Mainers over four centuries.
It’s a bold statement that rings true when measured against history.
“There are no new immigration stories,” said Tilly Laskey, outreach curator at the Maine Historical Society.
Irish immigrants were barred from many jobs in the 1800s. Japanese families were placed in internment camps out West during World War II. Somali immigrants were told to stop moving to Lewiston by the city’s mayor in 2002.
While some immigrants have encountered greater challenges or successes than others, their stories reflect the shared experience of leaving familiar territory and venturing into the unknown in the hope of building a better life.
The society’s latest exhibit, “400 Years of New Mainers,” which opens Thursday, captures that common struggle at a time when immigration and the larger issue of human migration are fueling intense political rhetoric and international strife.
On the campaign trail, presidential candidates are debating whether to build a wall on the Mexican border and a host of other immigration issues. In Congress, some politicians have moved to tighten immigration laws to prevent terrorists from entering the United States.
In Europe and the Middle East, countries are jostling to respond to an outpouring of more than 4 million Syrian war refugees since 2011. And in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage has tried to prevent asylum seekers from getting General Assistance and has said that Syrian refugees aren’t welcome here.
“We are confronted with stories of immigration every day, whether globally, nationally or here in Maine,” Laskey said. “There’s almost a 400-year history of immigration in Maine, going back to the first Mainers, who were the Wabanaki Indians.”
By KELLEY BOUCHARD for Portland Press Herald
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