In this column, I have always been open and honest about my experiences and feelings as a woman of color living in Maine, both positive and negative. Lately, I admit, I’m feeling pretty lonely here, as I ponder nearly 30 years of living in Chicago, where I was born and raised. True, it is often a segregated city in terms of where people of various races and classes live, but it is a diverse place.
At the same time, despite loneliness, I admit that in a little over five years of living in Maine, I have gone from going days in my town without seeing another face of color to regularly seeing some — and that’s in York County. Therefore, it was with great interest that I read a national story about the country’s changing demographics, which noted that for the first time, minority races form the majority in one-third of the most populous US counties.
In a piece by the New York Times, mention was made that many folks of color are also not just living in the larger cities but moving towards more suburban areas, which made me think of news story I heard about a town in New Hampshire where the Latino population has increased enough that there is a need for signs in both English and Spanish. Closer to home, a new Mexican-style restaurant in Westbrook was reviewed recently and in the accompanying picture, I noticed the servers were of obvious Latino descent with Latino surnames.
The question is, what does this change on the national level mean for our fair state, or even for me personally? In a recent conversation with a good friend, I admitted that lately I have been dreaming more and more of going back to Chicago. Frankly, my time here has been filled with many different kinds of stress and professionally, I am becoming stagnant. Despite the supposed need for college grads in this state, I have yet to land emotionally rewarding work that pays me enough for my education or enough to really even make a good living.
Yet my friend brought up the point that if all the people of color were to leave, what would that do for the state? Part of me selfishly wanted to say, “Why should I care?” Yet that stubborn part of me says that for the changes we see in diversity elsewhere to happen here, someone has to be willing to tough it out. And I have to remind myself that race isn’t the major the barrier to improving my work situation but rather the state’s messed-up economy and policies (I’ll leave that rant to other writers who do far better than I on that issue).
Therein lies the crux of the issue. Few of us (myself included) want to see the interesting jigsaw of rural and urban that makes Maine what it is become another Boston or worse yet, some Los Angeles-style urban sprawl. But the fact is, we need more people overall and more diversity in our economic development to build a strong foundation for the future. The fact that non-whites are becoming a greater force in our US population and are more attracted to places like Maine bodes well for that.
We need people who like what Maine has to offer and who want to make it a better place without turning it on its head. And I think that as minorities move here, and we (hopefully) welcome them, that will happen. What we’re seeing outside the state, and what I hope we’ll see more of here, is just what our country supposedly stands for: Bringing together people of all stripes and combining our diversity with unity of purpose to make something truly magnificent.
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Shay Stewart-Bouley: firstname.lastname@example.org