Huffington Post: Immigration in the Whitest State in America

Immigration in the Whitest State in America

Yael Luttwak , Contributor

With immigration featuring prominently in Donald Trump’s presidency, an anxious America awaits the Administration’s next steps. Having already introduced a travel ban, promised a wall between the United States and Mexico, and emboldened immigration and enforcement officials throughout the country, President Trump has made it clear that only those born in America are truly welcome. But can he unmake America—a tapestry of races, religions, languages and ethnicities?

We need to show that diversity works. With one million immigrants making their home in the United States each year, it’s urgent that those who believe deeply in America and the notion of diversity as a core American value, find ways to push back against the rising tide of discrimination against “the other.” The challenge for all of us now is to look, state-by-state, at how our communities are responding to immigration, and find the good news stories that epitomize the value of immigration and the bridges that have been built between immigrant and non-immigrant communities.

A good place to start is Maine—one of the whitest states in America. Since 2015, I along with our documentary filmmaking team, have been following a group of female students—some new immigrants— some not, in South Portland as they navigate life in a public school. I co-directed, along with Abigail Tannebaum Sharon, the new documentary, “Maine Girls” which just premiered at the 2017 Camden International Film Festival and is now on the festival circuit and picked up for distribution by Kanopy - follows immigrant girls from the Congo, Jamaica, Somalia and Vietnam.

What’s inspiring about these girls is that, even in this anti-immigration environment, teenagers will be teenagers. Through hip hop, culture, and common experiences in a Maine public school, the American and immigrant girls develop trust—with the help of a school curriculum built around tolerance and acceptance who end up enriching life in South Portland. We’ve received requests to show the film in schools across the nation as a model for how to build positive relationships in contentious times.

Many of us have watched the exodus of people from their countries of origin—from Syria to Yemen, from the Congo to Afghanistan. We have watched Europe struggle to integrate Muslims from war-torn parts of the Middle East. We’ve seen children wash up on the shores of Greece. We have been passive bystanders in a migration maelstrom. Now it’s our turn to step up to the plate and model good behavior in creating welcoming, beckoning communities able to cope well with the challenges that immigration brings. Now is the time. The world is watching.

Alex Przybelski