“We’re all united, we all come from one line, we’re all human, but have never been treated equally,” stated Juan Jose Castillo, addressing a room full of 20 state legislators and 20 Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC) members at the State House in Augusta. Between speakers from other immigrant communities in Maine, Alain Nahimana, MIRC’s Coordinator, shared a moving statement of unity across documentation or status.
On February 24th, 2015, Milbridge Latino community members traveled to Augusta for a legislative breakfast organized by the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. The event was an opportunity for legislators to meet with representatives of immigrant communities from around Maine and hear from them about the issues that matter most. All community members shared their stories and perspectives with an audience, and talked with legislators and immigrant rights advocates and activists from around the state. The group met with their Representative Bob Alley, and made a plan to continue conversation upon his return downeast. Senator David Burns momentarily left his session to come greet the group.
The breakfast event prefaced Tuesday’s public hearing on Governor Paul LePage’s budget proposals to change General Assistance, the temporary welfare program administered by towns and partly funded by the state. Dozens of immigrant community representatives from around the state spoke against the LePage’s administration intent to stop providing General Assistance, food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to legal non-citizens residing in Maine. The breakfast also took place between the World Affairs Council’s Celebrating Immigration series of five community dialogues on economic opportunity and immigration.
Edith Flores, Client Services Coordinator at Mano en Mano, reflected on the testimonies and stories shared by community members, “I am proud of my people—the Latino community—for sharing part of their life story with legislators and speaking in public. Nuestra Voz, our voices, are important. It makes a difference when we speak up.” And seldom are eye and ears on the immigrant communities in Washington County. Mano en Mano’s advocacy program seeks out opportunities for community members to share their stories, perspectives, and requests with influential decision makers in the State of Maine. “Muy emocionada para poder conocer nuestro representante (It was really exciting to meet our representative),” remarked Maria Santos after the trip.
At the first World Affairs Council’s Celebrating Immigrant community dialogue, Former Maine Attorney General James Tierney shared, “Maine at every level needs to be open to those from somewhere else, regardless of whether their faces are black, brown, or yellow, and regardless of whether they arrive speaking English or practice a religion that is not ours. If Maine wants to survive – not grow, but survive – we have to go get more people.” Darrell Paine echoed this: “[Immigrants] make money and spend it, and put it into the community. They bring amazing contributions to the community. They are generous and welcoming. Not only do they contribute to the economy, financially speaking, they bring their culture and lifestyle to us as well.”
Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand is one of 33 member organizations of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. Learn more about Mano en Mano's Advocacy Program here.