Not Just a Single Story

This month I was part of the Women in Travel Summit- 400+ Women Travel Influencers and Industry experts traveled to Portland, Maine for a conference on how to grow their travel brand. Their presence in Portland was palatable- excited, curious, and energetic, looking for the best, most authentic experiences Portland has to offer. But watching the #wits19 hashtag and seeing a continuous feed of lighthouses and lobster rolls, I’m not sure Portland is as easy to understand as we think.

Portland, and Maine in general, has had been branded with the lobster and lighthouse image for years. In recent years, Portland has expanded its brand to include a booming brewery and restaurant scene.

But do lighthouses, lobster, beer, and good food really capture Maine? Or are they artifacts of a single history, and indulgences marketed to a specific demographic? In a world where instagram photos are used to capture the essence of a location, we need to really consider what story the world is hearing and seeing. If you’ve seen seen Chimamanda Ngozi’s TED Talk, you know there is danger to a single story:

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity….When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”- Chimamanda Ngozi

Are lobsters and lighthouses becoming our single story? How can we expand the breadth and depth of Portland’s identity?

It’s not visitors responsibility to find the other stories, it’s our responsibility to show them. With that, here is a start— what to do in Maine if you are looking to explore more than lobster and lighthouses:

  1. To understand the life of a lobstermen, and other seafood professions, THEN get a lobster roll at Jays or Portland Lobster Company. To build your understanding, try out Lucky Catch Cruises, or visit Harbor Fish Market and ask questions about how often new lobsters come in, what happens to the lobster at the end of the day, how many lobstermen do they work with…

  2. Visit immigrant restaurants and grocers to understand the experience of New Americans in Portland- try out Maiz, Izakaya Minato and Cong Tu Bot, there are MANY amazing restaurants to explore, and these three were also written about in Bon Appetit’s article on Portland, Maine as the 2018 Restaurant of the Year. Ask your server questions, and observe everything from the decorations to the music.

  3. Check out Amjambo Africa! an online newspaper for and about New Mainers from Africa- the newspaper highlights press, policy, and events from festivals to block parties, to open mic nights. Dive in, you curiosity and presence will be appreciated.

  4. Explore East Bayside by following the Portland Mural Initiative map. East Bayside is a neighbor that has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Walk around the neighborhood and THEN visit breweries while you’re at it- Rising Tide, Austin Street, Lone Pine, and Oxbow, among others. Ask the taproom staff about the brewery scene, and the neighborhood.

  5. Appreciate the art scene- experience First Friday Artwalk (first Friday of every month on Congress Street), and visit Portland Museum of Art. If you have time, go out to Winslow Homer Studios on Prouts Neck and do the Cliff Walk to experience the landscapes that inspired some of his most dramatic paintings.

  6. Head up to LLBean in Freeport for a glimpse into all the outdoor recreation opportunities in Maine- be sure to wander around the hunting and fishing store and the hallway of vintage LLBean catalog covers- talk to employees, they are likely mainards with interesting stories. Try out one of the Outdoor Discovery Classes.

  7. If you make it up to Bar Harbor, make sure to visit the Abbe Museum, a museum that acknowledges, honors, and celebrates Wabanaki Nations culture and history. In Portland, Check out the Maine Historical Society, currently hosting an exhibit on Wabanaki Culture and history.

To all the WITs attendees- your energy to explore and understand prompted this post more than anything else- your love of lighthouses and lobster is appreciated, and please continue to treasure your memories and photos from Maine. When you come back, let me know how I can help you explore and understand even more.

To Portlanders and those working in Portland tourism- let’s expand to tell more than a single story. If you have ideas to add to this list, send me a message: :) Yes, our lighthouses are beautiful, and lobster is delicious— but we are so much more.

Jeanette Baum