Native to What?

So, once again, we come to the Silly Season—no, not the annual return of the summer people driving like soused nonagenarians down the wrong side of Commercial Street, but political primary season. I notice that, this time around, a lot of local races feature folks whose chief stated asset is that they’re native to the state, and while that certainly bespeaks the dedication to stay through our winters, I’m not sure I want to elect my public servants based on where Mother and Father happened to be when the baby came.

Speaking as the spouse of someone with thirty-some years experience as an educator in public and private schools who interviewed for twenty-eight different jobs in local school districts over two years before she found a school that would love her, I can testify that the NBH (Not Born Here) branch of NIH (Not Invented Here) is alive and well. Which is a double shame in a state where the employable population diminishes with every new million-dollar condo on Munjoy Hill.

I just read a beautiful book called One Goal by Amy Bass, an account of Lewiston High School’s soccer team, composed of Somalis, other African immigrants, and the native children of that challenged central Maine city. The team’s state championship in 2015 played an enormous role in pulling divisions in the city, if not exactly close enough to heal, close enough to touch. It’s an inspiring read and worth the time, even if you don’t care a whit about what the rest of the known world calls football. (The book is so good, I even forgive the author for attending Bates instead of Colby.)

If there’s a lesson in that story, it’s how the long-time coach of the Lewiston team, a native of the city, Mike McGraw, was forced to change his mind, his style of coaching, and his attitudes toward the players and their families when the first influx of Somali kids at his high school turned out to be first-rate soccer players.

Don’t need to belabor that point, do I? In the context of our political climate? Didn’t think so.



What the story reminds me, though, is how fortunate we are in this state to have a literary community, broad and deep as it is, that welcomes its own set of immigrants.

June 14 is the date for the annual Maine Literary Awards gathering, hosted by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and I will wager that if you tolled the birthplaces of everyone in Space Gallery on Thursday night, there will be as many other-than-natives as natives. But what I also know is that, beyond maybe a twinge of individual joy or individual disappointment, pretty much everyone in that room will be celebrating the fact that the Maine literary community is together, thriving, and supporting one another, regardless of genre, subject, or birthplace.

This is our tribe, yes, but if you write, you read, you publish, you’re a native, no matter where you were when you entered the world.

Come celebrate with us—we’d love to have you.

About Richard Cass

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Jazz Mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston . . . and buys it. Solo Act was a Finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction in 2017 and In Solo Time won the award in 2018. The third book in the series, Burton's Solo, came out in 2018 and Last Call at the Esposito in 2019. Sweetie Bogan's Sorrow was published in 2020, to thunderous pandemic acclaim. The sixth book in the series, Mickey's Mayhem, will come out in 2021. Dick lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth.
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6 Responses to Native to What?

  1. hpl04943 says:

    Great reminder for folks who forget in the long sense, darn near all of us are from ‘away’. I’m on the campaign trail several days a week, listening to voters in rural Maine and have yet to be asked where I was born. Health care, jobs, the effin’ cold weather slowing corn planting and concerns about education ate big here, not whether the cat had her kittens in the oven.

  2. Amber Foxx says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation and a great post.

  3. bethc2015 says:

    I am going to recommend that book for our book discussion group. Thank you.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Wonderful, thoughtful post. I am ordering the book now.

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