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Minnesota Prairie Roots: Are we obligated to welcome diversity in Minnesota?

When you live in a community long enough—I’ve been in Faribault for 29 years—you know how people feel. And, I think it would be fair to say that many residents in my community are not all that welcoming of minorities.

An immigrant family in downtown Faribault represents the changing
face of our community. I took this photograph in October 2010.

I DON’T KNOW WHY I was surprised. I should have expected the results given the many racist comments I’ve heard through the years.

Yet, when results of an online poll conducted by The Faribault Daily News were published in Tuesday’s edition, I was still shocked or, more honestly, embarrassed by the numbers.

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The newspaper, after publishing stories on changing demographics in Faribault,  polled readers on this question: “Do you enjoy the increased diversity in Faribault?”

An overwhelming majority, 70.2 percent, responded with a “No.”

Only 20.8 percent voted “Yes.”

The other nine percent checked the “What increased diversity?” option.

Granted, polls like this, printed in each issue of the paper and then open for online voting, are not scientifically controlled and therefore could be substantially flawed. We have only the number of respondents, 312 for this question, and the tallied results, from which to draw conclusions.

However, when you live in a community long enough—I’ve been in Faribault for 29 years—you know how people feel. And, I think it would be fair to say that many residents in my community are not all that welcoming of minorities.

I hear it in the off-the-cuff negative comments about Somali men hanging around downtown or about the Hispanic family that moved in down the street. I hear it in the warning to avoid certain retail destinations at night. I hear it in the spewed words, “I don’t want any Somalians moving in next door.”

I read it in the comments submitted to the local newspaper whenever race or diversity is the subject of an article.

The words are mean, cutting, derogatory, and, most definitely, prejudiced.

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Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant,
a Somali restaurant.

Many times I find myself defending the Hispanic, Somali and Sudanese people who comprise most of the nearly 17 percent of minorities living in my community of 23,352.

My standard answer is something like this, “There are good white people and there are bad white people, just like there are good Hispanics (or fill in the blank with another race) and bad Hispanics. The only bad experiences I’ve had are with white people.”

That is almost true. Several years ago my husband and I, unbeknown to us, sold a car to a Minneapolis-based Latino gang member who then used our vehicle in a gang-related shooting.

I really struggle with individuals who negatively label an entire ethnic group. It is unfair and unjustified.

That said, many individuals, churches, schools and organizations in Faribault are working hard to welcome and assist our minority population. Such examples are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Center for Charitable Services and The Faribault Diversity Coalition. Unfortunately, The Welcome Center closed late last year.

 

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Different cultures, all the faces of today’s Faribault, mingled during the Fall Festival in October 2010. Our town’s current Black or African/American population is 7.5 percent.

But, really, efforts to embrace the newcomers in our community begin with each of us, on a personal level, in our hearts.

On my personal level, I’ve come to better understand other cultures because my second daughter is a Spanish language major who has lived and studied and done mission work abroad. She is currently a Spanish medical interpreter.

I try to attend ethnic events in Faribault like the annual summertime International Market Day celebration.

 

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault’s International Market Day celebration. Faribault’s Hispanic or Latino population numbers 3,026, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

I’d like to see The Paradise Center for the Arts, reach out to minority artists, and that is a project I hope to help the local art center pursue.

I’ve wondered, too, and this might seem odd to mention, but why do I seldom, if ever, see obituaries published in the local newspaper for minority members of our community? We need to recognize these seemingly small things that set us apart.

If we take small steps, first as individuals, in educating ourselves, then our attitudes toward each other can change. We will have a stronger, better community that is built on understanding and acceptance rather than on differences.

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A family matriarch oversees the making of pupusas from her chair at the International Market Day in Faribault in 2009. This is one of my all-time favorite portraits that I’ve ever taken.

CLICK HERE for 2010 U.S. Census results from Minnesota. Scroll down to Rice County, which includes Faribault, and shows a county minority population of 9,576 or 14.9 percent. Statewide, our minority population is 16.9 percent.

This post was written by Audrey Kletscher Helbling and originally published on Minnesota Prairie Roots.