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The Mayor’s Corner: Mayor Michael Brennan, Portland, ME

Published: December 20, 2013

Portland, Life’s good here.
By Michael Brennan, Mayor of Portland, Maine

More than a century ago, at just fourteen years of age, my grandmother left Ireland in search of opportunity and security. She landed in the Port of Portland and found a new home, one where she would fall in love, marry and raise four children. Now, of course, her path wasn’t an easy one. With just a sixth grade education, she struggled, but thanks in part to the welcoming hand my grandmother received from the community, she was able to build a fulfilling life for herself in Portland – one that would eventually lead to her grandson becoming Mayor. I am proud to say that the same welcoming hand my grandmother held years ago continues to be extended today, reaching out to the immigrants of the twenty-first century.

As Mayor, I am honored to welcome the men, women and families who have traveled far and wide to make a home for themselves here. I understand the attraction. Portland is a safe city with an unparalleled quality of life. While our winters can be an adjustment for many (as I write this more than a foot of snow has accumulated on the steps of City Hall -- just one the day before the start of spring), our acres of parks and open spaces, thriving downtown and employment opportunities, playgrounds and neighborhood schools have helped ease the transition to a new home and country.

For more than a decade, Portland has experienced significant growth within its refugee and immigrant population, people who have contributed in countless ways to the fabric of diversity and culture that now helps define our city. This role within the community has become integral, which is why when speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in January, I made a pledge to stop using the terms immigrant and refugee to define Portland’s newer residents. I have found that these terms make an unnecessary distinction between our residents, because in actuality, we are all searching for the same things whether our journey started in Iraq, Sudan or Portland’s West End. We want security and opportunity for ourselves and our family.

Since taking office, I have been committed to expanding the pathways to success for all residents. From offering winter workshops and life skills classes to housing and employment assistance, the city has developed a number of programs designed to ensure a safe and successful transition to Portland. We have tailored loan programs for entrepreneurs who want to realize their dream of starting a business, and you can see the results around the city. Halal markets, Eritrean restaurants, and translation services are just a few of the unique ways the city’s economic base has expanded.

It’s clear that these programs have helped countless lives, but there is still more work to be done. We need to expand access to permanent housing and employment opportunities that pay a livable wage. We need a health care system that is responsive to the unique needs of all our residents. We need more educational opportunities, whether it is rapid retraining, language acquisition or access to post-secondary education. It’s a pretty lengthy list, but an achievable one if we stick with tradition and keep extending that welcoming hand.