March 12, 2010



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Photo by Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest: Hooria Majeed, Portland resident, immigrant from Afghanistan, artist husband was killed by the Taliban before she fled with her three sons and came here in 2002, profiled in �New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors.� (She is the lead of my story).

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Photo by Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest: Jose Castaneda, Portland resident, immigrant from El Salvador, works in fish-processing plant, started one of several Latino soccer teams in the area, profiled in �New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors.� (His photo will accompany the info nugget, which will direct people to read an excerpt from the book online).

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

Hooria Majeed's world was shattered one day when she opened the back door of her home in Kabul, Afghanistan.

She discovered the body of her husband, Abdul Karim, shot in the chest and dumped on the doorstep by the Taliban shortly after they seized control of her country in 1996.

Her husband was an accomplished artist who refused to stop creating the paintings and sculptures that were his passion and his livelihood. She was a nurse who could no longer leave the house to shop for food, never mind go to work, without covering herself from head to toe in a burqa and fearing for her safety with every step.

In one horrible instant, she and her three young sons were alone in a city where they were now considered infidels. She screamed with terror at the sight of her dead husband. She pummeled her arms and legs black and blue in her grief.

''I had no husband, no brother to look out for me,'' Majeed recalled recently in her apartment in Portland's East End. Her son, Sediq, was her interpreter.

''I could be beaten just for being outside alone,'' she said. ''It was a big problem.''

Majeed is one of 25 people featured in ''New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors,'' a new book that will be released Feb. 27 at a reception at the University of Southern Maine. She and her boys arrived here in 2002 after spending several years living as refugees in Pakistan.

The book contains profiles and photographs of individuals and couples who came to Maine in the last few decades.

They hail from every hemisphere and represent the changing face of a state whose population has been largely white for a long time. They are men and women, professionals and laborers, artists and athletes, each carrying compelling stories of their pasts and making significant contributions in their new home.

''Maine's immigrant population is small, but it's one of the most diverse in the nation,'' said Pat Nyhan, author of the 25 profiles. ''We wanted to discover who these immigrants are, to get to know them as people and learn how they came to live here.''

Nyhan, who lives in South Portland, is a former staff writer at the Maine Sunday Telegram and the former Portland Evening Express and the Maine Times. She has written two other books: ''Zigzag: A Working Woman's Life in Changing Times'' and ''Let the Good Times Roll: A Guide to Cajun & Zydeco Music.''

The black-and-white photos that accompany each profile were taken by Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest, a former business executive who moved to Maine from the Netherlands in 1970. He lives in Pownal and has published three books of photography: ''San Miguel de Allende''; ''Portland, Maine, in Black and White,'' and ''Flesh and Stone.''

The author and photographer have been friends since the 1970s. They decided to collaborate on the book a year ago, spurred by a mutual interest in Maine's increasingly diverse immigrant community.

Nyhan was already close to the subject. For the last three years, she has taught English classes for immigrants at Portland Adult Education and Barber Foods, a meat-processing plant that employs many newcomers.

In the early 1970s, she served in the Peace Corps, teaching English at a boys' high school in Kabul, where she also volunteered at an English-language newspaper. More recently, she was a researcher for Human Rights Watch from 2000 to 2002, when she wrote about African issues and visited Kenya.

To help develop the book and contact immigrants, Nyhan and van Voorst van Beest reached out to Reza Jalali, an Iranian immigrant who has lived in Maine for more than two decades. Jalali, who lives in Falmouth, manages the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Southern Maine. He also teaches at USM and lectures nationally on Islam, the Middle East and refugee issues.

''This project fulfilled my dream of putting a human face on the immigrant community,'' said Jalali, who wrote the book's foreword. ''Often we label people as refugees or immigrants, but they are individuals with very different experiences. This was an attempt to give them a voice.''

He said he also hopes the book demonstrates the vitality that immigrants bring to Maine and dispels the myth that they are a drain on community resources.

The three collaborators took a decidedly global approach to the project.

''We were extremely careful to select subjects who provided an accurate reflection of who has been coming to Maine in the last 30 years,'' Nyhan said. ''We wanted to show a full variety of countries, occupations, religions and experiences.''

Some people profiled in the book are well known outside the immigrant community. Grace Valenzuela, from the Philippines, oversees multilingual programs in Portland public schools. Oscar Mokeme, a Nigerian immigrant, is the founder and director of the Museum of African Culture in Portland.

The book includes business leaders, such as Makara Meng, a native of Cambodia, who operates a grocery store in Portland's Munjoy Hill neighborhood, and Gerard Kiladjian, who was born in Syria and is general manager of the Portland Harbor Hotel in the Old Port.

There are professionals, such as Khadija Guled, a native of Somalia, who is a case manager at Community Counseling Center in Portland, and Dr. Rifat Zaidi, from Pakistan, who is an orthopedic surgeon at Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta.

And there are laborers, such as Winston Williams, a Jamaican immigrant, who has overseen the migrant workers at White Oak Farms in Warren for nearly 20 years, and Emrush Zeqiri, from Kosovo, who is a machinist at an auto parts manufacturer in Portland.

All of them have dramatic stories of struggle and accomplishment. Many left behind countries and people they loved to escape war, poverty, persecution and, in some cases, certain death.

Among them is Hooria Majeed. Since coming to Portland six years ago, Majeed has seen her three sons graduate from Portland High School and start working in the community or go on to college.

A skilled chef, she recently was laid off from a job at a local ethnic restaurant, so she has resumed studying English and taking citizenship courses. She also has a private catering business, specializing in Afghan, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine.

She would like to work in health care again, but language is a barrier. At 43, she struggles to learn new facts and a new language, especially when so much of her energy is devoted to forgetting the horrors of her past and how much she has lost.

One of about 50 Afghans in Maine, she often feels isolated.

''I feel safe and happy to be here,'' said Majeed, serving sweet tea, plump pine nuts and tiny figs to her guest. ''But I miss my family and the community I had before the war.''

She hopes that by telling her story in ''New Mainers,'' people here will better understand where she comes from and why she left.

''It's good to share,'' she said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Cover of �New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors,� featuring a Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest photo of Khadija Guled, a Somali immigrant and social worker who is one of 29 people featured in the new book, to be released Feb. 27 at a reception at the University of Southern Maine.

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Pat Nyhan, of South Portland, wrote the profiles in �New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors.�

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Photo by Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest: Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest, of Pownal, took the photos in �New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors.�

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Photo by Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest: Reza Jalali, of Falmouth, an Iranian immigrant and refugee advocate who collaborated on �New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors� and wrote the book�s forward.


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