A Maine Immigrant Scourge

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Congregational Church, Yarmouth Maine courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The transcontinental railroads brought both of my parents to North America — my father from Denmark to Seattle, and my mother’s parents to Alberta, Canada from Ukraine. North America has always offered new lives to immigrants.

But not always without conflict. Long before they came, by the 1790s, early American churches were losing parishioners. Delancey Place’s January 6, 2017 blog features excerpts from the book, Taming Lust by Doron S. Ben-Atar and Richard D. Brown. Church ministers believed that the loss was due to the influence of Godless  “European immigrants … convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder and rape.”

The mixture of politics and religion led to explosive rhetoric. Fears of Christian decline blended with partisan warnings about  revolutionary radicalism.

the New England elite feared European radicals might possibly turn the U.S. into New World France. A reporter noted that “Most European immigrants were convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder, rape, and sodomy.” It was felt that the French Revolution had generated “‘evils’, which without experience, cannot be known.” Immigration had to be checked because ‘the fortune of every community must depend upon the character and conduct of its members.”

Senator Uriah Tracy stated that “these immigrants must never flood into New England because they posed political, cultural, and sexual threats.”

Maine Writer Elizabeth Strout Meets Immigrant Writers

“The novelist Elizabeth Strout left Maine but it didn’t leave her,” states Ariel Levy in the May 1, 2017 New Yorker.

Strout’s books resonate with me. Maine claims my heart too.

Strout’s people do not live in Maine tourist towns along the coast. The characters in Olive Kittredge, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, either cannot  leave the state that defines them, or or else they feel driven to leave it. The Congregational minister in  Abide With Me must work his way through the family tragedy with his daughter in the inland hamlet away from the coastal Maine town favored by his wife’s summer-season parents. Drama is understated, inexpressible. People cannot communicate their feelings. In one interview Strout states that when growing up she had a sense of “just swimming in all their ridiculous extra emotion.”

Levy says “a recurring theme in Strout’s novels is the angry, aching sense of abandonment small-town dwellers feel when their loved ones depart.” It is almost as if they are emigrating to another country.

My parents were both immigrants to the U.S; my father Hans Pederson from Denmark, my mother Doris Huchulak, a Ukrainian Canadian from Alberta. My Danish friend and fellow blogger, mariaholm51, sent this wrenching painting that shows the pain of immigration to the Facebook page currently celebrating my memoir, (same title for both)  “Mysterious Builder of Seattle Landmarks.”

 

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Edvard Pedersen, Emigrants at Copenhagen Harbor 1890

 

My January 22, 2016 blog, “Maine Nonprofit Helps Immigrant Kids” described one young immigrant’s experience at The Telling Room a Portland, Maine youth writing program. On a recent visit to The Telling Room, Levy tells us that  Strout met refugee and immigrant  high schoolers mostly from Africa and the Middle East.

“The students stood in a circle and told Strout what they were working on. ‘My name is Abass and i’m trying to define what home is,” a teen-ager from Ethiopia said.’ Steff rom Burundi told her, ‘I’m writing about how I find my voice in America.’ Another boy said, ‘I’m writing about second chances.'”

After wrenching leave-takings from towns, cities, or countries, lives becomes either better or worse for those who leave and those who remain. They are never the same.

 

Seattle Sparked the Yukon Gold Rush

 

 

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SS Excelsior leaves for the Yukon, 1897 Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

After the 1893 world-wide depression brought commerce to a halt, Seattle took off in 1897 when the steamer Portland struggled into port, her decks filled with prospectors guarding their sacks of gold. Soon headlines and flyers proclaimed the news around the globe that Yukon gold was there for the taking along the Klondike River.  The mad dash to claim the nuggets really  lasted not much more than a year.

The headlong rush to the Yukon came shortly after a depression where many who had found work again felt trapped in office, factory, or low-paying retail jobs. Eager hordes grabbed the chance to set off for the real frontier, the  vast Canadian wilderness that offered the bold an opportunity to earn their fortunes.

My father, Hans Pederson, a risk taking Danish immigrant, joined the exodus. “He was among the first to answer the call of the North when the manhood of the world stampeded toward the arctic and the sparkle of gold,” notes his obituary. He and a partner soon crammed themselves aboard a ship and joined the throng of prospectors who washed up on Alaskan shores like flotsam on the tides.

He didn’t stay long enough to make his fortune. He returned to Seattle, became a builder, and grew along with the city until the next depression in 1929 ended contracting along with everything else.

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