A Mexican-American in Maine Responds to Governor LePage

By Pauline Campos 09/14/16

Shifting the focus from illegal activity to skin tone only reinforces my belief that I do not belong here.

LePage mural saying Racist, Homophobe, Moron, with Governor crossed out

The dust has started to settle. The words, however, remain.

“Homophobe. Racist.”

These words are part of a graffiti mural by an unknown artist featuring Maine Governor Paul LePage on a wall of the Portland sewage plant. The word “Governor” was written and crossed out. In its original iteration, LePage was featured in Ku Klux Klan garb and insignia, but the artwork has since been covered up, uncovered, and, as of this writing, LePage is now featured with Mickey Mouse ears with the words “Hate is Hate” and “No Hate”—the most recent changes to a mural that the city of Portland says isn’t coming down.

Words matter.

Words marked me as an enemy of the state. I am a Mexican-American in Maine. Words tell me that I do not belong here.

I’m a mother, wife, and writer. My favorite color is midnight blue. I hate spiders and I chew my ice cream, even if it’s just plain vanilla. All in all, I’m just an average woman with a kid living with my husband in northern Maine. But LePage and his words call me out as part of the problem.

LePage has a history of controversial and often racially-charged statements made in response to the state’s drug epidemic. Early in 2016, LePage landed in hot water when he spoke to a group largely made up of supporters about the heroin epidemic, blaming it on out-of-state drug dealers with names like “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty.” But he didn’t stop there, going on to say that many white girls are impregnated by these drug dealers, making a big problem bigger. He later pseudo-apologized by saying that his brain is slower than his mouth.

Most recently, he told the media he would refrain from public statements after he sent a threatening voicemail to a state senator whom LePage believed had called him a racist (Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook). The criticism came after LePage said that minority groups make up the majority of drug dealers in the state, even though minorities make up just five percent of the total population. He called Gattine a "c*cksucker" and told Gattine to prove he is a racist. LePage then showed the world the binder in which he has been collecting mug shots of arrested drug dealers, stating that 90 percent of his mug shot collection are blacks or Hispanics from out of state.

Maine lawmakers critical of LePage want him to be declared unfit for his role as governor, because of “temporary mental or physical disabilities.” Mental or physical health problems aside, shifting the focus only serves to detract from LePage’s history of bigotry. When LePage singled out blacks and Hispanics as the enemies of the state, likening both groups to enemies to be identified by a red dress, he wasn’t stating facts. He was spewing racist rhetoric many continue to ignore.

I happen to be olive-skinned with kinky curls. I have been and still am racially profiled in stores. I live in Aroostook County, known simply as “The County," and I am every day reminded that I am different. My world, hours north of Portland, is farmland and forced solitude. A naturally outgoing person, I rarely leave my home. I don’t belong out there, in this place where my very existence is nothing short of an anomaly. I find myself keeping a mental tally of any minorities I may come across when out grocery shopping with my daughter. I might use all the fingers on both hands down there. Up here, the only other brown face I see is usually my own reflection in my rearview mirror.

Diversity was something my husband and I never thought to research when we decided to move here. We are from Detroit. Back home, diversity was something we both took for granted. Diversity was something to be celebrated. Not so in Maine.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, LePage and his “just the facts, ma'am” justification for his words just don’t add up. LePage's assertion that blacks are nine times more likely to be arrested by Maine police is not backed up by the ACLU's own research that shows that blacks and whites commit drug offenses at similar rates. If, in fact, LePage's statistics are correct (the ACLU has filed a public-records request to see LePage's binder of minority mug shots), then Maine law enforcement has a big problem with unconstitutional racial profiling. Despite the evidence he claims he has collected, LePage denies that his state's police officers are racially profiling people. 

Major heroin-trafficking arrests by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency have more than doubled across the state in the last three years. MDEA agents charged 213 people for dealing in 2016. The number of arrests in 2013 was just 91. More alarming is the fact that there were more fatal overdoses in the first six months of this year than in all of 2013.

The problem is drugs. The problem is people dying. That’s the only problem that should ever have been addressed. LePage isn't going to solve a statewide drug epidemic by name-calling, racial profiling, and othering the mere five percent of minorities that have made Maine their home.

When you are not born in The County, the locals say you are “From Away.” When you are “From Away,” you will never truly belong. If my ethnic origin is to be likened to LePage’s analogy, I am one of the few wearing a red dress—an enemy of the state, called out by the governor himself.

It is true that Maine has a rampant drug problem. According to the Portland Press Heraldmeth dealers have a "strong foothold" in Aroostook County. Sudafed is now a prescription-only medication where I live, in an attempt to curb the problem. The opioid epidemic in southern Maine (Bangor and areas south) cannot be denied. Neither can the fact that LePage’s incredibly racist statements are unacceptable. Unraveling the causes of the current drug problem is complicated, but part of the solution requires apprehending criminals, regardless of race or ethnicity, who are involved in the drug trade at every level. Shifting the focus from illegal activity to skin tone only reinforces my belief that I do not belong here. LePage has successfully reminded me that I am, and always will be, “From Away.”

The dust has started to settle. But people are still talking. The graffiti art in Portland, I hope, is a sign of progress. Truths long ignored are finally being publicly discussed. It’s not a solution. But it’s a start.

Pauline Campos is a body-image and mental health activist and author of the Amazon best-selling memoir BabyFat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin tops, & Trying to Stay Sane. Her work also has been featured on TIME.com. She is a lifelong recovering bulimic, talks about her ADHD openly, writes Latina Magazine's relationships advice column, and blogs at aspiringmama.com.

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Pauline Campos is an artist, Aspie-Mom, and author of Be Your Own F*cking Sunshine: An Inspirational Journal for People Who Like to Swear. ADHD is her superpower. Pauline Lives in Minnesota, but will always be from Detroit. Find her at aspiringmama.com. Twitter: @pauline_campos.