Gaining perspective

The MHS Library has brought several presentations to the school community during the last month, all designed to provide information and opportunities for dialogue on the topic of Maine immigrants.  

The library is currently hosting an exhibit of 26 photographs of recent immigrants to Maine.  The photos, taken by photographer Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest, are from the book New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors by Pat Nyhan.  Students have the opportunity to receive a “gallery walk” where they can view the portraits and learn the story behind each new resident. Funding for the program was provided by the Maine Humanities Council, the Mid-Maine Global Forum, and the Oak Grove School Foundation. 

Gallery Walk

People’s reactions to this topic change almost immediately after viewing the portraits and hearing the stories of each person in the exhibit,” said MHS librarian Sylvia Jadczak.  “They can put a face on the effects of recent world conditions after hearing how a real person is affected by drought, civil war, and life in refugee camps.”  

Specific classes have also provided learning opportunities to coincide with the exhibit.  Some groups have been reading the stories connected with the portraits in Nyhan’s book.  The short biographies of each immigrant tell why they came here and the contributions they have made since their arrival.  Other students have been reading stories from  A Season for Building Houses:  A Telling House Anthology.  These stories were written by immigrant teens and tell the tale of their immigrant and refugee experiences.

To further bring the issue to life for our students,  a panel discussion entitled, This is ME, Too: From Everywhere to New Mainer was held in the PAC on March 6th.  The speakers at this event were Abdi Iftin from Somalia, Nawar Al Obaidi from Iraq,  and Makara Meng from Cambodia. They spoke about their experiences coming to Maine, the misconceptions they were met with,  and stories about their home countries that we don’t hear on the news.  

“The Refugee Panel was an eye-opening experience,” said freshman Sarah Lowell,  “because not only did it teach us the hardships that refugees endure, but we learned the stereotypes that many Americans grow up thinking are true.” Freshman Amelia Gallagher added,  “I had no clue what they actually went through to be able to come here to America.” 

On March 20th, Maria Padian, author of the book Out of Nowhere, was in residence in the library all day to speak to English classes and other interested students.  Her book, published in 2009, is a fictionalized account of the tensions that occurred in Lewiston among the long-established residents of the city and newcomers from Somalia.

Author talk

Ms. Padian talked about her writing process and the research that went into her novel. She also talked about Lewiston’s long history of immigrants who were not readily welcomed– such as the Irish and French,  Catholic mill workers who were targeted by the KKK in the early 1900s — and the Somalian refugees who have most recently sought a new life in that city.  She painted a vivid picture of life in the refugee camps and the prolonged journey of relocation and redefinition that follows. 

 Librarian Sylvia Jadczak said the talks and the gallery walk allow people to “make a connection between individuals and the fallout from events in recent history including the Vietnam War, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the Iranian Revolution.”  Student response has been very positive, she added.  “Many times, students applauded at the end of the gallery walk.”


written by M.Favreau and Sylvia Jadczak


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