By Raymond P. Diamond

On June 1, Maine’s Afghan community convened at the Portland Expo to mark Eid al-Fitre, one of Islam’s major holidays. The celebration was held a few weeks after the official holiday marking end of Ramadan because of issues relating to venue availability, however over 500 people gathered and enjoyed traditional food prepared by the Afghan community, danced, took photos, and generally celebrated. 

The Afghan community has been present in Maine for over two decades; however, the size of the community grew in 2021, when the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, and hundreds of Afghans fled home. Some moved to Maine, swelling the population here, and this was what led to the establishment of an organized and connected community association.

The Afghan community of Maine is governed by a board of seven people, whose job is to reduce barriers to resources for those coming to Maine from Afghanistan, whether arriving as an asylum seeker, refugee, or holder of a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for Afghans, which is a special type of visa that can be granted to those coming to the U.S.who may have assisted the U.S. government abroad. 

Shamayel Kargar, president of the board and decades-long resident of Maine, and 

Fazel Qaney, who arrived in Maine seven years ago and is now a member of the board, spoke with Amjambo Africa on behalf of the community. 

They stressed how emotionally difficult the immigration process is for all arrivals, and that loneliness and isolation are inevitably part of the experience. So, they said, the board works to connect its community members and to help one another. “The community doesn’t want [families] to feel lonely and isolated,” Kargar said. 

Qaney agreed, saying, “Afghans come to Maine because of the community. … As a newcomer, you don’t know anything.” The culture is very family-oriented, and communal, so arriving in a strange, new place is scary, and without support, depression is a real issue. 

Kargar said that she has been in Maine since 1989, and her kids grew up in the state. “We’re very happy and grateful that we have our community [here in Maine], but we’re disappointed in our country [Afghanistan],” she said. 

At the gathering, people were able to enjoy the strong community that has developed in Maine despite the devastation that forced them to flee their homeland.  Gifts of appreciation were presented to the board members and volunteers who helped with the celebration.