PORTLAND, Maine — Reza Jalali came from Iran to live in Maine 37 years ago and can’t remember a hotter, drier summer here than this.
‘I’m worried about my children,’ said the father-of-two and executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, a collaborative center helping newcomers with linguistic and economic integration, as well as civic engagement. .
That’s why Jalali is helping launch a new initiative to bring young climate change activists together with young New Mainers. He wants to help forge dynamic bridges between them – alliances that just might save the planet.
“By energizing young people, we hope to help them feel responsible for the future,” Jalali said. “I hope they can solve the problem where we failed. I hope it’s not too late.
To that end, Jalali is partnering with The Climate Initiative, a Kennebunkport-based nonpartisan science organization, to host a launch event during the city’s monthly arts walk on Friday. The mission of the nationally active organization is to empower young people to do something about the climate future of the planet.
The celebration of new Mainers and climate action begins at 5 p.m. in Congress Square and will feature guest speakers and live music. This is a fun party mixer, introducing activists and new Mainers to each other. Other events between the two organizations will follow in the future.
“This is not a protest or a march,” said the Initiative’s executive director, Jono Anzalone. “It’s something positive.”
Jalali said climate change is common ground for young Maine natives as well as newcomers. The future of the planet, both locally and globally, belongs to them both. It’s a perfect backdrop for collaboration.
“This is where immigration and climate change collide,” he said.
After all, global warming is what has caused many new Maine residents to leave their original homes and come here.
“Now with political and economic refugees, we have climate refugees,” Jalali said. “Even the Syrian civil war has roots in climate change,” Jalali said.
Rapper Zakaria Allaf, better known as Assasi, fled Syria at the start of the civil war in 2012. After a harrowing years-long international saga, he finally settled in Maine in 2016.
Assasi, who lives and works in Biddeford, will perform at Friday’s kick-off.
Because he raps in Arabic and English, Assasi said he felt responsible for showing up at events like these. He knows he can help bridge the gap between Mainers born here and those who came more recently.
“I want to be part of a noble event like this, to represent my culture and all the Syrian farmers who lost their farms,” Assasi said. “It’s nice to have my name attached to this.”
In 2021, German international media company Deutsche Welle reported that after a six-year drought, starting in 2006, around 800,000 Syrians lost their income and 85% of the country’s livestock died.
This forced an estimated 1.5 million rural people to move to cities in search of work that did not exist, causing major civil unrest.
“Those who remained were mainly poor farmers who became easy targets for terrorist recruiters from groups like the so-called Islamic State,” Deutsche Welle reported.
Jalali and Anzalone think it’s only a matter of time before climate change displaces people in the United States as well. They foresee poor Texans and Floridians coming here in droves from their hot, underwater, storm-ravaged hometowns.
These traveling Americans will likely be poor and people of color — much like most new Maine residents who come here from other countries, Jalali said.
“Climate change affects low-income Americans and black, indigenous people of color more than anyone else,” he said. “Rich people just take the insurance and move somewhere else. Low-income people don’t have that privilege.
Despite these dire visions and predictions, the couple believe there is still hope. That’s why they work together, now, for the future.
For now, Anzalone remains positive and focused on kicking off, while planning grant applications for future collaborations with the host center.
“This is an important step in celebrating the new voices of Mainer and the intersection of displaced and people on the move,” he said. “This is just the first step in a larger conversation.”