Alyne Cistone speaks at College of the Atlantic as part of the Diverse Voices Series. ISLANDER PHOTO BY HENRIETTE CHACAR

Between two worlds and ME

BAR HARBOR — Alyne Cistone often can tell that people have lingering questions when they meet her. Her response: Yes, she pays her taxes and no, she is not a refugee.

Cistone is an attorney and College of the Atlantic trustee. She lives in Somesville and is originally from Kenya. Before moving to Maine, she was the youngest Kenyan to work on the country’s Constitution Review Commission.

She spoke at the college’s Gates Community Center Friday as part of the college’s new Diverse Voices Series. She hopes, she said, to inspire people to “be the change they seek in this dynamic and complex world.”

She began the talk by sharing a moment of panic she had experienced seven years ago, of being stranded in her car outside the Town Hill Market, with a car engine that wouldn’t run.

She had a few minutes before it was time for her to pick up her children from preschool, she said, but she was paralyzed by a deep sense of insecurity and fear, spurred by the fact that she was not only new on the island but also a person of color with an accent in a predominantly white community.

The only person she felt comfortable contacting in this situation was her husband, who was out of the country at the time.

She eventually mustered the courage to go back to the shop and explain her predicament to the owner, who immediately handed Cistone the keys to her own van so that she could pick up her kids.

Cistone remembers feeling overcome with emotions, ranging from surprise to deep gratitude, as she drove off with the shop owner’s car.

“My good Samaritan had seen me as another mom in crisis, and not in the way that I thought she should have.”

“Immigrants present the opportunity for us to practice being human first and American second,” she said.

“I was completely unaware of how this country was going to challenge me and transform me,” she said. It was a challenge to form a new identity while walking the tightrope between two very different worlds: embracing her own evolution in a new place while staying true to her roots.

“In essence, I was forming a new tribe in this new world.”

With her new tribe — her husband and two children — she has forged new traditions that incorporate American culture with a Kenyan twist, like building a Masai snowwoman.

Her children are a reminder that “every time my two worlds collide, love prevails,” she said.

She considers herself lucky to call Mount Desert Island her home, but she still faces a daily struggle of navigating through society as someone who looks different. Unlike in Cleveland, where she went to law school, she found people in Maine to be more curious than dismissive of her differences.

“Each of you can own a piece of my success, intended or unintended, by your acceptance and equally by your rejection, because both motivate me.”




Henriette Chacar

Henriette Chacar

Former Islander reporter Henriette Chacar covered the towns of Southwest Harbor and Tremont.
Henriette Chacar

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