Why I'll never be a real Mainer
"You came up all the way from Boston?" That is *by far* the most common question I get on the job. Without fail, someone sees my news car with its Massachusetts plates and asks me that question every single day. And I get it: my car says in big, bold letters: NBC BOSTON. I call with a 617 area code. And my station is headquartered in another state. I've answered that question so many times I have perfected my response: "My station is based in Boston but we have a bureau in Maine. I work and live in Portland and cover Maine stories every day."
In most cases, I assume the person asking is trying to figure out my unique position as a regional reporter. They seem to want to know why a Boston station would be in their small town, taking interest in a daily news story. But sometimes I can't help but think some people are also trying to size me up. Why is she here? Is she one of us, or from away?
FROM AWAY: for my non-Maine readers, this is a term for anyone in Maine, but not born there. The term can apply to tourists and long-time Maine residents alike. By some standards, you can only call yourself a real Mainer if you were born here. But other standards are more strict. Some argue you're only a Mainer if your parents *and grandparents* were born here.
For the last seven years, I've lived in Maine, voted, paid taxes, lived in three different cities and reported in every corner of every county in the state. I live here -- I love it here -- but I'll never be *from* here. No matter how long I stay, I'll always be from away.
Maine is the only place I've heard people use that "from away" designation -- and the only place I've lived where the difference between native/transplant is pointed out so often. I'm from Pennsylvania, and I can't remember hearing people talk about who was from PA and who wasn't. It just didn't matter. But in Maine, I find that it comes up in everything from political attacks to small talk. People seem to want to know where you're from, and being from Maine carries some extra credibility.
For the most part, when people point out that I'm "not from around here," it comes across as a joke -- just some gentle ribbing. Often, there's a laugh about being a Steelers fan in the midst of some small talk and then the conversation moves on. It hardly ever bothers me. But on a few occasions it really has.
Not too long ago, I was covering a controversial story about a protest in Kittery. People were asking the Trading Post to follow the lead of Dick's Sporting Goods and remove assault-style weapons from their shelves. Any story about gun rights gets people fired up -- so I was prepared for the inevitable backlash when I posted about it on my professional Facebook page. And while I've been called all kinds of names and received plenty of insults on the job -- a few comments really stung. "Boston should worry about Boston, and stay out of Maine" one person wrote -- presumably referencing the "NBC Boston" in my username, which identifies the station I work for. I responded to some of the comments, giving my well-rehearsed explanation -- that I'm not actually from Boston, I report in Maine and have lived in Maine for seven years! But that didn't matter. "Go back to Boston!" another person wrote. I told them I lived in Portland. "Portland isn't Maine," someone said (presumably a nod to Portland's liberal reputation). It seemed like they were using my outsider status to attack me and the quality of my work -- as if I couldn't fairly report on the issue, simply because of where I was from.
At this point, I know much more about Maine than I ever knew about my home state of Pennsylvania. By my estimation, I have done at least 1,700 stories about Maine communities and issues. I've seen much more of this state than my boyfriend -- a lifelong Mainer! I put my heart and soul into my work -- but those comments made me feel like that didn't matter, so long as I was from away.
I truly believe most people use the term "from away" in a harmless way -- but it's not hard for me to imagine it sending an unintended message someone, like they'll never completely belong here. If someone chooses to live in Maine, it's usually because they appreciate it and want to contribute to the community -- not completely change it or take away from it. Maine could not only benefit from welcoming more outsiders -- but its very future may depend on it.
This is an aging state. In fact -- according to US Census data -- it has the oldest population in the nation. At the same time, young people are moving away for college and higher paying jobs -- having children in other states. If the trends continue, Maine's economy will be in serious trouble. The state is already experiencing a skilled worker shortage -- and the baby boomer generation hasn't completely retired yet. Various economic studies have recommended Maine embrace and train more immigrants to boost its population and fill critical jobs. Whether they are from Ghana or Greensburg, Pennsylvania -- people from away have an important role to play.
I should note that overwhelmingly, people have been extremely welcoming and kind since the moment I moved to Maine as a recent college graduate. I've gotten involved in the communities I've lived in, and I feel at home here. I love telling people I'm from Maine -- even if Maine doesn't completely claim me.