Daily Archives: November 24, 2009

What’s in a name, anyway?

I had always heard that the name of the state of Maine came from a French province called Maine. But that may not be the case, according to an entry on the Maine State Library website.

 Librarians noted several “interesting” bits of information in connection to the state’s name. I know librarians. Some of my best friends are librarians. (Well, maybe not best friends.) And what librarians find interesting could cause a meth addict to snooze. (I’m just kidding.)

Anyway, here’s the link to the website for those interested in those “interesting” bits of information about Maine’s name.

Portland schools, students benefit from multilingual program

I have always regretted not learning a second language. That has been especially true in the past decade or so as it became much clearer to me that knowing Spanish or another language besides English would have greatly enhanced my life and journalism career.

It is particularly ironic then that I had plenty of opportunity to learn French. I was born into a French-Acadian family where French was spoken at family gatherings far more often than English. A family story tells that the first words I spoke as a child were French. And I took several years of high school French, of which I retained little more than how to ask for the time – “Quelle heure est-il?”

Of course, I did not retain time references so I would not know if a French language speaker was giving me the time of day or giving me the business. Or both.

But as I grew older and school drew closer, English was the language spoken in the household. Unless, of course, my parents wanted to say something to each other that they did not want my sister or me comprehending.

Sadly for me, learning a second or third language at the time I was growing up was not nearly as high a priority as it must be now. Being bilingual or multilingual is essential today in order to compete on an international playing field, visit foreign lands or to converse with those who come to our shores for whatever reason – to build a better life for themselves and their families, escape persecution or whatever. The reasons are wide and varied, but they resemble the reasons this nation’s forefathers had for coming here.

There are far too many of us who conveniently forget that we are a nation of immigrants, immigrants who brought with them their language, culture, foods, songs and more. And it has made this nation – this mosaic tapestry made up of people and cultures from around the globe – what it is.

Yes, having some control of the border and what and who comes into the country is essential. But building a wall on our borders is not the answer. Separating parents from their children because of immigration issues is not the answer. There has to be a way to embrace varied people speaking varied languages and bringing with them varied and rich cultures.

The Portland (Maine) school district, the largest in the state with well more than 7,100 students, seems to embrace the children of refugee and immigrant families. According to a Portland Press Herald story today, the district has enrolled 1,864 multilingual students so far this year, up from 1,795 last year. About 1,600 of those students enrolled this year are learning to speak English, up from 1,474 last year. Some of the increase comes as Catholic Charities Maine has amped up its efforts to find homes in Maine for refugees.

These students and their families come from some of the toughest places on Earth right now, places I am guessing no Mainer would want to raise their children – Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other places. Yes, things are tough here economically – sluggish or no growth, sluggish or no recovery, 16 million Americans unemployed. It is tough just now, there is no doubt about it.

But it is far, far more difficult to raise a child in Sudan or Somalia or Afghanistan to adulthood than it is in Portland or Lewiston or Bangor. It is far, far more difficult to feed a family, remain free of disease, thrive and live a long life in Iraq, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo than it is in Saco, Augusta or Presque Isle. [I was in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, very briefly in 1994 during tribal upheaval in neighboring Rwanda and a mass movement of refugees across the border. That experience and another a month or so later visiting Haiti, the only Fourth World nation in the Western Hemisphere, leads me to believe that we must continue humanitarian aid to such nations when at all possible. And we must offer a safe haven for people who cannot survive in those nations. – KM]

It is vital to immerse the students in English language skills, find ways to keep their parents connected and involved with their children’s education, and include the students and their families as part of the mosaic that is this nation. While the Press Herald seemed to be lacking the voices of some of the stakeholders and critics, it seems the Portland school district is doing what it can to education and include these refugees and immigrants.

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Pass me the drumstick, please

It has been years – maybe 20 or more – since I have been back to Maine during the holidays. The 8 degrees below zero temperatures that year may have – just may have – played a part in why I have not returned since during the winter months.

But I also recall that while the weather outside was very cold, the holidays in Maine were pretty warm and toasty. Our family for years went to Fort Kent for at least part of the holidays. It was where my grandmother lived with my Uncle Clayton and his sons, Rick and Mark. I have some recollection of wearing a New York Giants football helmet and being run over by my older cousins. That shows me for wearing a Giants helmet and not a New England Patriots helmet. Although I believe I was wearing the only helmet available at the time, so it was not all bad.

I also have a recollection of sitting at the kitchen table of that home and my grandmother making ployes, the French-Acadian buckwheat pancakes, and loving them. A 1-pound brick of rich butter that sat on the table – not in the “icebox” – was soft and used to cover the ployes, which were rolled and eaten with pleasure.

Later, after my grandmother died, I seem to recall spending holidays at my Uncle Richard and Aunt Gloria’s home in Fort Kent and then in Eagle Lake, Maine. The place in Eagle Lake had started out as a vacation home with the idea that it later would be a more permanent residence, which is the way things turned out. It was on the eastern shore of the lake – beyond the town of Eagle Lake, beyond the picnicking area on the hill above the road, beyond the housing complex overlooking the lake and a lookout turnout, beyond old farm houses and new homes. There, across the road from the home perched on a steep hillside, was a dirt road that crossed the railroad tracks and went down to the lake to a collection of vacation and permanent homes on a point.

Aunt Gloria, my mother’s older sister, always greeted us with a kiss and a tight hug. By this time, her sons were getting older and spending more time away; having my sister and me there gave her an excuse to spoil a couple of young children.

In the summer months, only the brave ventured into the lake to swim. I recall that Eagle Lake was very cold, even compared to other Northern Maine lakes. My sister and I instead would skip rocks on the water, play with their pet dog, Penny, or simply run around the point.

The winter was different, of course. Eagle Lake is a rather long lake and there is plenty of open space for a very, very cold wind to pick up force and a cutting edge. My sister and I would hunker down in front of the television – it was a color TV, I seem to recall, and was such a step up from our black-and-white Zenith – especially during the holidays with a large Christmas tree in front of the large windows facing the ice-covered lake.

My Aunt Gloria always made sure we had plenty to eat and seconds were the rule; no one was allowed to leave the table unless they had eaten enough to require belt loosening. And that usually was before the main course was served.

Then there came the mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, ham and, of course, a turkey. I always asked for the turkey leg. Not sure why, just did. I suppose I liked the smokier flavor of the dark meat. And the turkey leg is sort of like meat-on-a-stick. With a turkey leg there is little concern for a plate; simply grab hold of the leg and dig in. With sliced turkey and other holiday foods, there is a need for plates and utensils. What growing boy or girl wants to be weighted down by plates and utensils? An amateur turkey-mealer, perhaps, but not me.

Even later, when we stayed closer to home for the holidays, most knew not to get between me and the drumstick. It just was not a good idea for anyone to do that. Now, I still enjoy the occasional turkey drumstick, although I also enjoy white meat as well.

I won’t be having turkey – leg or white meat – this year for Thanksgiving. I am living a bit far to drop in to visit my Mom or Aunt Gloria for a homemade turkey dinner. Instead, I will be digging into a couple of Cornish game hens. The drumsticks are a bit small, but will be plenty big enough to remind me of those Thanksgiving meals of my childhood.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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