The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine brings focus to cultural heritage with its upcoming exhibit “Yearning to Breathe Free: The Immigrant Experience in Maine.” The exhibit runs through April 1 at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta.

“Yearning to Breathe Free: The Immigrant Experience in Maine” brings together an historical overview of immigration in the state and a celebration of the diversity that currently exists in Maine. This exhibit includes a collection of information and objects from all over the state, inspired by individuals from all over the world. The Telling Room, Portland Housing Authority, Mano en Mano, Immigrant Kitchens, The USM Multicultural Center, Centro Latino de Maine, New Mainers Speak, the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Maine People’s Alliance, The Kennebec Journal, Maine Biz and many other organizations and individuals contributed to the exhibition.

HHRC program director David Greenham has been talking with organizations and individuals throughout the state for nearly a year in preparation for this exhibit.

“While we tend to see news stories that focus on small sections of the immigrant population, the fact is that immigrants have impacted Maine’s history since before we were a state, and our new immigrants are continuing that strong Maine tradition,” Greenham said. “Our exhibit is designed to continue the conversation about immigration in Maine, and serves as an opportunity to recognize that what is happening now with regard to immigration is perfectly in line with our history.”

Since the early 17th century people “from away” have recognized Maine as a place for the opportunity to prosper, to gain independence and to build a strong relationship to the land.

According to Greenham, while the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus,” immortalized at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, includes the line “bring me your tired, your poor…” Maine’s immigrants throughout history, by and large, reflect more of “bring me your entrepreneurial and ambitious” sensibility. From the workers in the slate quarries, pine woods, shoe shops, textile mills, to today’s diverse assortment of small business owners and operators, Maine’s immigrants have made a deep and lasting impact on the state. That trend has the potential to continue as many of the young people who are now coming to Maine are among the immigrant population.

“Yearning to Breathe Free: The Immigrant Experience in Maine” will be open through April 1. The Michael Klahr Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment. There is no admission fee and the center also includes a permanent exhibit about Michael Klahr, a hidden child during the Holocaust and the 80-minute film “Were the House Still Standing: Maine Survivors and Liberators Remember the Holocaust.” For more information on the Klahr Center and the programs of the HHRC, visit

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