Nsiona Nguizani, Brunswick’s cultural broker, officially started on Monday, but has been working with the families since they first arrived. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Nsiona Nguizani spent his first day as cultural broker visiting with the town’s newest immigrant families and started laying the groundwork for the months to come. After he left for the day, he drove straight to the Portland Expo to see what help he could lend to the families who are approaching their final day there.

“It’s a part of my life now,” he said Tuesday. “I’m an immigrant. I’ve been in the same situation as everybody coming here.”

Nguizani came to America in 2012 and was granted asylum. In his home country, he completed advanced studies in medicine and business and had a successful career as a project manager for medical non-government organizations, according to a biography from the Angolan Community of Maine, of which he is president. He moved between seven different states before settling in Maine, which he said he chose because it was safe and, as a father of three energetic young boys, seemed like a “good place to raise a family.”

He had to start his education over , first earning his GED and then an associate degree in business administration from Southern Maine Community College. Last year, he graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and economics.

“Nobody just leaves home, leaves everything behind, just to come to America, just for nothing,” he said Tuesday. “There is a reason why we are moving.”

Since June, more than 400 migrants seeking asylum have arrived in Portland, fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, primarily Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Most of the asylum seekers have been housed at the Portland Expo, a temporary emergency shelter, but they all had to be relocated by Thursday.

As of Tuesday, roughly 40 people had relocated to Brunswick, the majority housed in Brunswick Landing, with more expected in the coming days. Nguizani was hired as a cultural broker last week to help the families transition into a life here. He can also serve as a translator, as he speaks English, French, Portuguese and Lingala, and understands some others, including Spanish.

According to his job description, the goal is to help all families seeking asylum “establish independence and the skills to navigate their new home and the resources they need,” while serving to “bridge the cultural gap by communicating differences and similarities between cultures.”

This will be no easy task, as “almost everything” has changed for the new arrivals. In America, he said, “liberty” means little government involvement, being left to “do your thing,” but liberty, where they come from, is almost the opposite. School, college and health care are all free, he said. The school systems are run differently, the family structure is not the same, and even certain hand gestures carry entirely different meanings. For example, he said, beckoning with a crooked finger asking someone to come see you is harmless in America, but in his country, it would be demeaning, insinuating that you were the person’s superior.

It is a “360-degree turn” for these families, he said. “We all need to adapt.”

The biggest fear for people is the unknown, he said. They are afraid, and they want to feel welcome, but there is a huge learning curve for a system that is complicated and a language that is at this point still unknown. “It makes them worry,” Nguizani said, adding that he tries to tell them, “It’s normal, you’re going to make it.”

His first goal is to determine what resources the town has, what the issues are and what resources are still needed. For example, he is trying to find out if there are any local lawyers who specialize in immigration law so that 40 or more people do not have to go back and forth to the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland. He is also doing interviews and visits with people who are interested in becoming host families.

From what he has seen at the Expo and what he is seeing in Brunswick, there are “good people who are willing to help,” but they just do not know what to do. There is no precedent for a situation like this, and as the first town that has hired a cultural broker, Brunswick may be seen as a model for others in the future, Nguizani said.

“We are doing the best we can to provide any information that people want to know,” he said, suggesting that perhaps some kind of public event or forum where people can ask questions may be forthcoming. Some way for people to “get to know who are their new neighbors, where they are coming from (and) why they are coming.”

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