March 2022 Issue
By Morgan Rielly and Reza Jalali
$19.95, softcover, nonfiction/essays
“No one chooses to be a refugee,” wrote Reza Jalali in an October article for the Portland Press Herald. “Nobody wakes up one morning and decides to leave everything familiar behind, including their loved ones, to live in limbo for years, without valid papers, hoping a country would offer to resettle them.”
But for Jalali, and so many more like him, there was no choice. When the 1979 Islamic Revolution prevented his return to Iran from India, Jalali applied for admission to the United States as a refugee and was sent to Portland for resettlement.
His story is not unique. According to the United Nations, 82.4 million people were displaced in 2020 worldwide, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations. The twenty immigrants profiled in Jalali’s new book, Dear Maine: The Trials and Triumphs of Maine’s 21st Century Immigrants, are just a few of those who have resettled in the state over the past decade.
Now the executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, Jalali teamed up with Morgan Rielly, the state representative for House District 34, who worked alongside Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan during his time at Bowdoin College. Their collaboration serves as an example of the book’s intention—to introduce Mainers to their new neighbors.
“My hope for anyone who picks up a copy of Dear Maine is that they will gain a new appreciation for both the sacrifices immigrants have made and the different journeys they have taken to get here,” said Rielly. Although he was born and raised in Westbrook, Rielly strives to be an ally to the state’s immigrant community both in the legislature and in his personal life. By telling their stories, Rielly and Jalali hope to support and advocate for new Mainers.
As Rielly noted, each person profiled in Dear Maine has had a different journey to the pine tree state. While some escaped war and persecution in their home countries, others came to America to further their education. Now, they are all contributing to Maine’s community, economy, and overall development.
Deqa Dhalac, who fled Somalia as the country entered a civil war thirty-one years ago, recently became the mayor of South Portland. She is the eleventh woman and the very first Somali American to hold this position in the United States. Hers is just one of the many sensational stories in Dear Maine. And these stories are only a small portion of the achievements that the country’s most recent immigrants have made in the last few years.
Across cities in the U.S. and in Maine, refugees, asylum seekers, migrant workers and immigrants are building, repairing, healing, teaching, growing food, creating art and so on,” Jalali wrote. “They are adding to the richness of the symphony we call America.”
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