Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The not-so-surprising results to a diversity question March 23, 2011

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

4 Responses to “The not-so-surprising results to a diversity question”

  1. Margaret Says:

    Hi Audrey,

    We have friends and neighbors of many ethnic backgrounds and we enjoy each other’s cultural backgrounds…. I have tutored adults from many cultures in English as a Second Language and have been enriched by each experience….. However, not everything is positive and in the real world, we all need to face some disturbing facts….. A Minnesota friend sent this YouTube clip to me and I would like to share it with you….. It’s about what multiculturalism in France is like today and how America is headed in the same direction…. You can view it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-eD59UcVMY

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Margaret, you’re right. Not everything is positive in the real world. As long as we are human, there will be issues. I viewed the video and it does provide some thought-provoking material. I don’t expect that we will all get along or that differences will disappear. We need to strive, though, to at least understand each other and build bridges whenever we can.

  2. Bernie Says:

    A Spanish Medical Interpreter? Wow! Good for your daughter.

    I’m not surprised at the results. It’s the same everywhere. It doesn’t make it right. Many folks forget that unless they are Native Americans, they are descendants of immigrants. The Irish were the big ethnic group to dislike for the longest time and many forget that. Now it’s the “group of the day” that everyone dislikes. It’s not right. All people can do is try to do what you are doing.


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