March 25, 2013

Immigrants find havens – in Portland suburbs

In Westbrook, the trend is especially evident, changing the fabric of the former mill town.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Ahmed, 14, Sandra, 17, and Mohammed Banijameel, 12, sit in their Westbrook home. The Banijameel family, originally from Iraq, moved to Westbrook after living in Portland.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Additional Photos Below

Over at Saccarappa Elementary School, one of Tiffany Oliver's second-grade students was writing her name in Arabic on the white board. Written above it was the phonetic spelling of the word for good morning: Sa-ba-ha-clair.

"They teach us stuff all the time," Oliver said of her Arabic-speaking students.

Saccarappa, which serves kindergartners through fourth-graders from the district that includes Westbrook Pointe, has the biggest English-language program of the three elementary schools. Principal Brian Mazjanis has a feeling the additional English-language teacher proposed in next year's school budget will end up in his building.

In addition to the 48 families who already live at Westbrook Pointe, many of those on the waiting list for apartments are Arabic-speaking, said Bob Sawyer, the property manager.

At one point, he said, there were just as many Russian families living there, but most have moved on, some to buy houses of their own.

Singer, from the Brookings Institution, questioned whether Westbrook is "just a temporary stop" for the immigrants who have relocated there in recent years. "They may be moving in and out as they can move up," she said.

That's the hope of Amer Banijameel, whose family moved to Westbrook Pointe in 2010, after stints in Atlanta and on Allen Avenue in Portland.

Compared to the apartment, his house in Iraq was a palace, he said. Now, his 12- and 14-year-old sons have to share a bedroom.

But his kids are doing well in school and he doesn't see a reason to move right now.

"Maybe next month, maybe 10 years, maybe I spend all my life here. Who knows?" he said.

If there was an opportunity to have a bigger house, he could see moving to another state. If the violence subsides in Iraq, he might want to go back home.

The reason he would leave Westbrook would be the same as why he came.

"When I get more choice, more chance, better life," he said.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Fatimah Al Shuwaili, 8, and several of her classmates at Saccarappa Elementary School write in Arabic on a classroom white board. Saccarappa has the largest English-language program of Westbrook’s three elementary schools.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

The Tigris Market on Bridge Street in Westbrook, which is owned by Jabbar Jabbar's brother, sells Middle Eastern food and other goods to the city’s immigrant community.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)