As a central focus for 2022, the Pejepscot Historical Center in Brunswick is looking to explore the stories, challenges and opportunities that drove over 300 years of immigration to Maine’s southern Midcoast region.

The theme of immigration to the Midcoast will be told by the historical center through a gallery exhibition, Zoom and in-person talks, an elementary school program, walking tours and other special events throughout the year.

According to Pejepscot Historical Center Executive Director Larissa Vigue Picard, immigration was chosen because of its obvious historical importance as well as its modern-day prevalence in the local region.

Programming will be wide-ranging, primarily covering the 1700s to present day, Picard said, although the center will also touch on European colonization of Maine’s Indigenous populations by the English and the French.

“This is a huge point that we are going to make throughout the year, that immigration and colonization are not the same thing,” said Picard. “Colonization really complicates the notion of immigration.”

Programming will look at the racism and other hardships that various immigrant groups faced upon arrival to Maine, Picard said, as well as what ultimately drew people to the region. The immigration waves of Ulster Scots in the 1700s as well as French-Canadians towards the end of the 1800s and early 1900s will also be covered.

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Picard said that the historical center plans to investigate the blind-spots within its collection, and is looking to source family stories, photographs and genealogy from the community to help tell the stories of lesser documented groups.

“You can talk about immigration as a people and a large group, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people, but you can also talk about immigration and the family level or the person level, and it’s a very individual story,” said Picard.

Today’s migrants

The historical center will also look at immigration up to the present day, which in the Midcoast region has recently included asylum seekers from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to Mid Coast New Mainers vice-chairperson Carol Kalajainen.

Mid Coast New Mainers was officially formed in 2017, and the organization connects new immigrants with community resources primarily in Brunswick and Bath.

Kalajainen estimated that Mid Coast New Mainers has worked with around 35 to 40 families. General challenges that some asylum seekers face, Kalajainen said, include having the gear for winter, carrying the trauma of having left home suddenly and navigating a new language and culture, among others.

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“It’s also important to recognize the strengths that they bring: resilience, a desire to give back to the community that has helped them, a willingness to work hard, their youthful ages in a state whose population is older and a longing to live and raise their families in peace and safety,” said Kalajainen.

Among them is Odette Zouri, 43, of Bath, who came to the United States from Burkina Faso with her two children in 2016. Zouri said she came to the U.S. for a better life and came to the Midcoast to find a safer place to raise her children.

Zouri, who recently purchased a house and is now in nursing school, said that one initial challenge upon coming to Maine was adapting to a new language, although groups like Mid Coast New Mainers helped her get a footing in the region that she now calls home.

“I also want to congratulate all of the immigrants giving back to the immigrant community. That’s really a good thing,” said Zouri. “We cannot ask for the host community to give everything to us, we also have to be able to give back to the community who accepted and welcomed us.”

The Pejepscot Historical Center’s first presentation by the Maine Historical Society is scheduled for Jan. 20, and the gallery exhibit will open on Memorial Day weekend.

For more information, visit pejepscothistorical.org.


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