Consult your family tree and sooner or later, whether you go back one generation or dozens, you’ll discover your ancestors were immigrants. On my dad’s side I only need to go back three generations to Finland, while on my mom’s it takes a few more generations and a Mayflower voyage to uncover the immigrant relatives. Even those drops of Wampanoag blood circulating in my veins carry with it an immigrant journey over the Bering Strait thousands of years ago.

So I felt right at home when I showed up at last Friday’s CeleSoiree benefit, hosted by the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in the rustic Portland Company complex. As in years past, the party featured loads of eats from local restaurants, impressive fine art in the silent auction and live music performances. This year it raised a whooping $40,000 for the organization.

Former ILAP board member Jennifer Dimond, who was at the event with her mom, has been to every CeleSoiree party since the event began in 2005.

That first year there were only 150 people at the party, she said. This year the number swelled to 600.

“The party is different and pretty cheap” compared to other fundraisers, Dimond said. Advance tickets cost just $30.

“It’s very kid-friendly, but it’s not a kids event.”

While most of the kiddos hung out near the bands, attendees navigating the packed crowd with drinks in their hands kept a look out for knee-high balls of energy tearing around the skirted cocktail tables.

“This is a wonderful event,” said John Kaminski of Freeport. “Not just as a party, but for what it stands for. For me it’s meaningful because my grandparents come from Poland and they didn’t have a community to support them like this.”

Former Gov. Angus King was at the party with his wife, Mary Herman, who is good friends with ILAP Executive Director Beth Stickney. Herman has attended the event before, while this was King’s first time at the party. He praised the cause and the size of the crowd.

I also had a chance to chat with Mohammed Dini, an aspiring politician. Dini was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and later immigrated to Maine with his family. He speaks Somali, Arabic, Swahili and English and is running for Rep. Herb Adams’ seat, which Adams will vacate this year due to term limits. Dini said he didn’t have to go through the long path to citizenship other immigrants have endured, because he automatically became an American when his parents became citizens.

I’m sure partygoers Stefan and Tanya Rainov wish the path to citizenship could be as simple for them. The husband and wife moved to Maine four years ago from Bulgaria and they’re still a long way from scoring American citizenship.

When I asked when they thought they’d become Americans, all they could do was shrug.

Pious Ali, who hails from Ghana and heads the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance, works with the teenagers who are often on the front lines as their families work to find a balance between their native cultures and what they encounter here in Maine. The kids frequently do community service projects together and a number of them volunteered at the party.

“The idea is to bring kids from different faiths, races, backgrounds and cultures together to talk about similarities,” Ali said.

Dr. Ivan Cardona, who serves on the ILAP board, acknowledged how the subject of immigration can raise the blood pressure of some members of our immigrant nation.

“Immigration is a charged issue,” Cardona said. “But what people don’t realize is that immigrants who become new Mainers contribute to the economy of Maine. They shop. They set up businesses. They add to the culture of Maine. They give an added texture to Maine society.”

And all these new Mainers contribute something else too — the perfect excuse to throw a fabulous party.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]