Not in Maine. Please, not in Maine.
Walkabout Mainers are, if anything, great cheerleaders for the underdog. We root for the one who comes from behind, who defies all odds to achieve, to survive, to triumph.
There may be many reasons why this is so, but I think the biggest reason is that we know firsthand what it is like to struggle and fight for what we have. We encounter negativity, even derision, because of our roots, our economic status or where we live.
“I’m not driving all the way up there for five hours with nothing but trees to see. You can come down here.”
“French Acadian? You don’t even speak the right French.”
“You’ve got to get out of that backward place to make something of yourself.”
“Do you people even have schools up there?”
Years ago our small media club hosted some out-of-state visitors from a large city. I collected them from the airport, bound for our meeting, and one of them asked me — no kidding — if we had any form of higher education “up here.” We drove past what is now Northern Maine Community College, which I pointed out with pride. To say those uber-urban visitors were far from impressed would be an understatement.
But we are Maine. We are tolerant of everyone because we have been there. We are welcoming and understanding.
Or are we? I heard something the other day that made my heart hurt.
Surely not in Maine.
I was talking to someone who lives downstate and who happens to be “from away.” They are leaving the state soon — not because they dislike it here, and not because of a lack of career opportunities. They love their home, their work and their coworkers. They sadly made this decision because a few people made them feel unwelcome in this state due to their ethnic background. They became disheartened for their children in this state.
Please, not in Maine.
I didn’t ask what those experiences were. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that Maine failed them. This makes me indescribably sad.
I know I’m not alone in believing Maine is “the way life should be.” Collectively, we are the underdog. We fight for acknowledgement on the national stage. We know poor. We are generations strong. We are refugees. We are loyal. We are workers for a better life.
From the slower pace and rugged outdoors to the diverse cultures we represent, we have a huge capacity to welcome all who come here.
At a time marked by hateful political division and societal intolerance, we need to remember we are humans first.
That means treating people we encounter like the fellow humans they are.
And when prejudice flares in front of us, it means remembering that we are better than that. It means squaring our shoulders and declaring unequivocally, “No. Not in Maine.”
Paula Brewer is assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times, St. John Valley Times, Penobscot Times/Weekly and Piscataquis Observer, plus websites TheCounty.ME, FiddleheadFocus.com, thepenobscottimes.com and observerme.com. She can be reached at 207-764-4471 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.