PORTLAND – Speaking candidly over several pints of Guinness at an Irish pub founded by 5th generation immigrants at a table with 4th generation Swedish-American and 12th generation English -American friends, 38-year-old 3rd generation French Canadian-American Portland resident Thomas Ouillette described in great detail his disgust for “the influx of foreigners” to Maine, “especially in Portland” that he’s witnessed since he took up residency in this city by way of Lewiston 6 years ago.
“Back when I first moved here, you’d see maybe a few of these foreign people as you walked down the street or working at a check cashing place, but now they’re just all over the place.” Ouillette described the plight of his family, who haven’t received any of the benefits or handouts purportedly given to refugees fleeing their home countries, torn from friends, family, and any connection to the life they had previously known in order to evade genocide and human trafficking. “These people just have it too good.”
Ouillette, who considers himself fully American, grew up in a household with a grandmother who spoke primarily French in the home. But, he clarified, his parents learned to speak English and abandoned their mother tongue when they became fully American and went to public schools funded almost exclusively by other people’s tax dollars. The Portland resident explained how he feared refugees would bring strange new customs to the city he loves and calls home as he fiddled idly with his Japanese-made smart phone and the collar of his Bangladesh-made polo shirt. “It just won’t be the same, you know?”
Ouillette also admitted to fears of discrimination against himself and his white friends should the city become “overrun” with foreigners. He recounted an instance wherein college buddies of his had a “rager” just two weeks prior and police showed on a public disturbance call at 2am, meanwhile his neighbors “can blab all day in Arabic or whatever outside my front stoop, and I’m just what, supposed to put up with that?” He also admitted suspicion to the appearance of Latino and Asian -American corner stores in his neighborhood, questioning the legitimacy of their small business loans. “Everything is just handed to them.” When asked whether he or his drinking companions had ever applied for a small business loan themselves, the table fell awkwardly silent for several seconds.
“It’s getting harder to find jobs here, too,” his mid-30’s Swedish-American pal added. This man, who elected not to be identified by name, complained of his difficulty in finding gainful employment in the tech industry and audio/visual field. “Six months of putting in résumés, and nothing!” he concluded with a fist pound on the table top. When asked whether this could be due to the recent influx of white, wealthy Brooklyn residents to the city of Portland with an educational background and skill set similar to his own, the man shook his head. “Oh no, we need people with money to move here. How else can we afford to take care of these takers?” The man admitted to having to rely on unemployment benefits and moving back in with his parents for the last six months just to make ends meet.
English-American 34-year-old Jeff Mason, seated next to Ouillette, prefaced his concerns with “not to sound racist, but -” and went on to describe his discomfort with the potential of more Muslim neighbors. Mason, whose religious zealot ancestors arrived in the New England area a mere 400 years ago and directly contributed to the dwindling population of the native Penobscot inhabitants after a single generation, worries more Muslims in his neighborhood could spell trouble for him and his somewhat-religious-but-not-exactly-Christian friends. “I feel for the Syrian refugees, don’t get me wrong, but how do we know which ones are terrorists? I agree with letting Christian ones in, but not necessarily the Muslim ones.” He did add that he worked with a “nice Muslim guy” that he thought was alright, but that there’s no way to be sure if the “good ones” would be among those fleeing from persecution and murder at the hands of fundamentalist extremists.
The three concluded the conversation by debating whether to get Tapas or pan-Asian fusion cuisine after paying their bar tab.