Sometimes I wonder if other states spend as much time and effort as we do debating who does and does not deserve to claim to be a Floridian/Californian/Texan//Hoosier. (Well, maybe the Hoosiers do.) For such a wonderful state with generally kind and welcoming folks in it, we do seem to do a good job of making people feel like they don’t belong if they don’t conform to our individual definitions of what “a Mainer” is.

Part of the problem is that we don’t have a solid working definition for whether or not someone can be properly described as a Mainer. What if you were born and raised here, but then you leave? What if a person wasn’t born here, but moved here when they were a toddler? What if you spend half the year in Florida? Does it matter which half of the year? In that case, should we decide Mainerhood by what state you are domiciled in?

I think Mainers get real nitpicky with who gets to bear the title because we feel like being “a Mainer” is something you really have to earn. We live through long, hard winters, and endless sloggy mud seasons. We drive on crummy roads and have no nightlife to speak of. I think if you have made the conscious choice to invest your time and energy and life in Maine, and to put up with the winters, you’re a Mainer. You don’t have to have lived here for five generations to have a legitimate opinion on where our state is going (although it’s certainly nice to have that longtime local wisdom, don’t get me wrong).

In 2019, Maine was one of the only four states with more deaths than births. Not good. These are the sort of raw demographics that point to only one conclusion: Maine needs more people to move here. We need more people From Away. Especially, but certainly not limited to, young people. (I admit to having an ulterior motive here: I’m single and, when we get the coronavirus problem squared away, ready to mingle.) We’re going to need more immigrants, too, including refugees looking to resettle. I get a lot of people saying “but they cost money and need services” whenever I mention being pro-immigration; and yes, sometimes welcoming new communities means an up-front investment. But when you invest money, you get what is referred to as a “return on investment” in the form of interest or dividends; and investing in new Americans is one of the most solid ROIs out there. A study conducted in 2016 found that 51 percent of American startup companies valued at over $1 billion were founded by immigrants. Wouldn’t; it be nice to have some of those in Maine?

Maine is a purple state, which I actually love, but we also have a bit of a nasty streak in our local politics where more conservative folks tend to dismiss the liberal ones as not being “real Mainers,” especially if they are from (heaven forbid) Portland. (Which happens to be the state’s economic engine, but who’s counting?)

One of the reasons I was thinking about this was because a few days ago, out of curiosity, I tweeted “Are any of my followers Maine business owners who have been having trouble with the PPP Loan program?” A Twitter account belonging to staffers on Susan Collins’ re-election campaign accused me of “reaching out to partisan attack orgs funded by what Politico called ‘a massive dark money group’ for talking points.” And that really cheesed me off because that’s not what I was doing, and in any case, I can come up with plenty of talking points of my own. That’s kind of the whole point of being a writer.

So, of course, I started wondering why someone would say something so stupid. And I think it’s because they want to dismiss my opinion; to make it seem like I don’t count as a “real Mainer” because some shadowy out-of-state group is paying me off. But my opinions come out of my own head, and my opinion about what I think Maine’s policies should be is just as valid as any other Maine resident’s – no more and no less. (I’m just asked to share my opinion because I write real good.)

Being a young woman, I’m very used to the feeling of not being “enough” – not smart enough, not talented enough, not pretty enough, not queer enough, not tall enough. (OK, there might be some actual truth to that last one.) But one thing I know for sure is that I’m Mainer enough. Sure, I spent four years in college in western Massachusetts. And yeah, I don’t hunt or fish or drive a truck. I was born and raised here, but that shouldn’t hold as much weight as it does.

What matters is that I go to bed every night here, and I pay my taxes here, and I’ve hitched my future to the state of Maine, for better or for worse. I think that’s a pretty solid definition.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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