PORTLAND, Maine — Hundreds of Sudanese immigrants from Portland and beyond gathered at Portland High School Saturday in honor of Riek Machar, vice president of the one-year-old country of South Sudan.
Machar, who is in the United States for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, made Portland the last stop on a series of meetings with his countrymen that has swept through Texas, Arizona, Nebraska and Minnesota.
The Republic of South Sudan, located in eastern Africa, is one of the most war-torn countries in the world and the site of untold human rights horrors. Civil wars have ebbed and flowed there for decades, but in 2005, Sudan and South Sudan split under the terms of a peace treaty and on July 9, 2011, South Sudan became an independent country.
Machar, rather than encourage the Sudanese Americans assembled in Portland High School’s auditorium to return to Sudan or South Sudan, encouraged them to take advantage of opportunities that aren’t possible in their eastern Africa homeland.
“I don’t think many of you will go back soon, if you ever go back,” said Machar to an adoring audience. “The United States made a decision when they opened their doors gracefully to give you a home and a chance at life. We want to you to seize these opportunities.”
At the core of Machar’s advice was that Sudanese people living in Maine educate themselves and their children — and to expect their culture to change and eventually fade away.
“You may try to resist that but you will not be serving justice to your children if you do,” he said. “Your children are Americans. If you don’t adjust to this new reality, you will have problems with your children at home.”
Machar said South Sudan is still in the midst of working out numerous conflicts since its secession from Sudan, but that real progress is being made. Border security agreements have been established and he said oil pipelines that are critical to the region’s economy will resume flows in the next several months. Aside from the ongoing struggles on South Sudanese soil, Machar encouraged the audience Saturday to put the differences between them aside.
“It’s important that you organize yourselves as a community that has foresight and also a role in the redevelopment of South Sudan,” he said. “I’m speaking of making investments.”
Portland City Councilor and former mayor Nick Mavodones was on hand in support of Machar’s visit.
“Thank you for living here,” Mavodones told the audience. “You all enrich our lives and enrich our community in ways you couldn’t imagine.”
Machar reflected on how the event began, with the playing of the South Sudanese national anthem, followed by the American one.
“You are the first generation of the South Sudanese in the United States,” he said. “In 20 years, 30 years, the sequence [of the national anthems] is going to change. Your children will be Americans.”