By Lillian Lemu
The celebrations begin on August 4 with a free concert of Kinan Azmeh’s City Band at the Bandstand at Fort Allen Park on Portland’s Eastern Promenade. The concert is presented by Portland Ovations. On August 5, the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center and Mayo Street Arts will sponsor “Parade with US!” in support of immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. The parade will begin at 12:30 p.m. at Portland’s Monument Square. The organizers encourage everyone who wishes to join the parade to do so.
The City of Portland continues its tradition of welcoming immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers this summer with “A Message From Far Away,” a public art project sponsored by the Remote Theater Project (RTP) in partnership with Creative Portland, Mayo Street Arts, Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, and Portland Innovations. “A Message from Far Away” is part of “The Walk,” a four-month traveling art festival produced by Good Chance Theater project in the United Kingdom. Portland will be the only U.S. city connected to the festival.
“The Walk” follows the journey of the fictional 9-year old Syrian refugee, Little Amal, represented by a 12-foot puppet, symbolizing all young children who must journey to a better life on their own. The festival was conceived as an act of solidarity with displaced young children and a way to show they are not forgotten.
With the help of four puppeteers, Little Amal will “walk” from the Syria-Turkey border until she reaches the U.K. The journey begins in July and is expected to end in November 2021. Along the journey, Little Amal will be welcomed by artists, cultural institutions, community groups, and humanitarian organizations across Europe.
“There is a fascinating duality inherent to puppetry that makes it the perfect vehicle to tackle difficult topics … puppets like Little Amal spring to life at the intersection of the puppeteers’ intent and the audience’s imagination,” said Ian Bannon, executive director of Mayo Street Arts. “Audiences don’t just watch a puppet show. They help to create it in real time, imbuing it with a reflection of themselves.”
With most festival events taking place on the other side of the Atlantic, Remote Theatre Project organizers believed Portland would be the perfect U.S. city to host “A Message from Far Away.” Reza Jalali agreed that Portland is a natural fit. He is executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, one of the partners for the event.
“The greater Portland area is home to thousands of New Mainers, and for the most part it has welcomed and accepted many of the world’s displaced people. … These events will celebrate Portland’s generosity and grace, while showcasing the contributions made by immigrants from the past, as well as newcomers. As immigrants, we are proud of our contributions to Maine, be they cultural, economic, or political,” he said.
RTP’s mission is to bring together and support artists who are isolated either politically or geographically. Producing Artistic Director Alexandra Aron strongly believed the event should be held in a small city like Portland. “I felt that the event would get swallowed up in [a place like] New York. I really felt like it wasn’t going to have a big impact there, and I had an instinct that it would be more impactful in Portland … and I knew there was a need here to have more immigrant voices heard.”
Aron said, “Our relationship to ‘The Walk’ is through Artistic Director Amis Nizar Zaubi. I’ve been hearing about ‘The Walk’ for a long time, and we were thinking about ways RTP could have a remote interaction with this project.” The festivities will reach Portland remotely from Europe and connect in real-time through a live-feed video stream.
In Maine, Little Amal will interact with performers from the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus and will read letters written by teenage refugees and asylum seekers in Maine who have attended Zoom writing workshops led by Mudar Alhaggi, a Syria refugee living in Berlin. Clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh, also a Syria refugee, will perform with Pihcintu Girls Chorus. Both Alhaggi and Azmeh will participate in ‘The Walk.’
The celebrations begin on August 4 with a free concert of Kinan Azmeh’s City Band at the Bandstand at Fort Allen Park on Portland’s Eastern Promenade. The concert is presented by Portland Ovations.
On August 5, the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center and Mayo Street Arts will sponsor “Parade with US!” in support of immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. The parade will begin at 12:30 p.m. at Portland’s Monument Square. The organizers encourage everyone who wishes to join the parade to do so.
“It is an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the strength, grace, and resilience of New Mainers who have arrived here from across the globe,” said Bannon. “ ‘Parade With Us!’ gives us all a place to gather communally and revel in the joyful aspects of the story.”
The parade will end at 2:00 p.m. at Ocean Gateway, where attendees will be welcomed by a variety of puppet-making stations, food trucks, and live music. RTP’s performance with Little Amal will be presented on live-feed video, along with a presentation of the letters written by teenage New Mainers and music from the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus, which will perform with musicians from the Portland Symphony Orchestra and Kinan Azmeh’s City Band.
Everyone is welcome to participate in the parade, attend the events, try puppet making, and enjoy the food. Festival events are free. “All you need to bring are some comfortable walking shoes and water,” Bannon said.
Jalali said the community can help immigrant, asylum-seeking, and refugee communities integrate to their new Maine home. “Meaningful integration is a two-way street. Mainers could meet New Mainers halfway … volunteer, mentor, coach the newcomers to start businesses, which would ultimately create jobs for non-immigrants as well. Immigrants need allies. This is about building bridges and bringing down walls that separate us because of race, class, and immigration status. The parade will be a celebration of our shared humanity. Come to walk, dance, and make music with us!”
Many organizations are supporting the celebrations. These include Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus, Portland Symphony Orchestra, Welcome the Stranger, Portland Adult Education, Immigrant Welcome Center of Greater Portland, Mayo Street Arts, and New England Arab American Organization.