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As Maine's Latino population grows, more seasonal workers are settling in Downeast

A community member reads a prayer during mass at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Cherryfield. Once a month, a team of clergy from the Hispanic Ministry of the Portland Diocese travels to Cherryfield to lead a mass in Spanish.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
A community member reads a prayer during mass at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Cherryfield. Once a month, a team of clergy from the Hispanic Ministry of the Portland Diocese travels to Cherryfield to lead a mass in Spanish.

Latinos account for one fifth of the American population, and the U.S. Census projects that number will grow to one quarter over the next two decades.

And while the Latino population in Maine is still one of the smallest in the country, it's increased by nearly 75% since 2010. One factor driving that trend in Maine is seasonal workers – many from the Mexican state of Michoacán – who have decided to stop moving around the country from job to job, and are settling down in Washington County.

On a Sunday afternoon in Cherryfield, about thirty people – mostly families with children - were filing into a small catholic church. A team of clergy and musicians from Lewiston and Portland had travelled here to lead a once-a-month Spanish mass.

Father Michael Sevigny
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
Father Michael Sevigny, with the Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Portland, sprinkling parishioners with holy water as two girls pass the collection basket during a monthly Spanish mass in Cherryfield.

The mass drew parishioners from Washington County’s growing Latino community. People like Salvador Zamora, whose family first came to Maine more than ten years ago from Michoacán, Mexico, to work the blueberry harvest.

Speaking in Spanish, Zamora said he stayed three or four months, then left to find fieldwork in other states.

Soon, though, Zamora said he returned, and decided to stay for good. He now lives in Harrington, where he works in carpentry and remodeling.

"I liked it," Zamora said, of Downeast Maine. "It's quiet, and I liked the work opportunities."

Others have also come to stay. According to the U.S. Census, the Latino population of Washington County has grown steadily over the last decade, to 869 people.

Hermila Vargas, of Milbridge, said she’s seen that growth firsthand since moving to the area 17 years ago.

"A lot of Hispanic people are arriving, from different places" she said, in Spanish, including more recent arrivals from Puerto Rico.

But, she she said, the majority of the community, like her, is from Mexico.

Vargas, a mother of three, said part of the reason she settled down here is that Milbridge is a good place to raise children.

"There’s a lot of places for them to play, to go for walks," she said. "It’s a place that’s safe and quiet."

Rosario Starratt, left, with the Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Portland, offers a communion chalice to a parishioner during the Spanish mass in Cherryfield this month. The Hispanic Ministry offers Spanish masses in Portland, Lewiston, Brewer, Skowhegan, and other towns around the state.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
Rosario Starratt, left, with the Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Portland, offers a communion chalice to a parishioner during the Spanish mass in Cherryfield this month. The Hispanic Ministry offers Spanish masses in Portland, Lewiston, Brewer, Skowhegan, and other towns around the state.

And some just got tired of travelling. José Ortiz, also from Michoacán, said he worked the blueberry harvest for decades.

Then, as soon as the harvest was over, he’d head off to the next job, in Florida, Texas, Iowa, and beyond.

But about six years ago, he said it was time for a change.

"I got tired of going all over the place," he said, in Spanish. "If they give me year-round work," he remembered saying to himself, "I’ll stay here."

He now works at a fruit packing plant, and lives, year round, in Milbridge.

Overall, state’s Latino population has grown to nearly 30,000 since 2010 according to Census data. That's an increase of roughly 75%.

The greatest concentration of Latino residents are in Cumberland and York counties.

The Spanish mass in Cherryfield this month drew about 30 people, mostly families with young children.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
The Spanish mass in Cherryfield this month drew about 30 people, mostly families with young children.