Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Words matter: Prejudice and acceptance in Faribault July 14, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:42 AM
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Faribault is home to a sizable Hispanic population. This file photo was taken at a downtown Faribault Mexican bakery, which has since come under new ownership. The bakery was once at the center of a controversy over its exterior color and was repainted when some local businessmen donated money for a new paint job.

EVERY TIME I HEAR a derogatory comment about an ethnic group, I am still surprised. I don’t know why.

Perhaps the fact that this is 2011, and not 1960, factors into my belief that people have overcome their prejudices toward those with skin colors different than their own.

Then I hear a statement like this: “Willow Street is becoming a little fill in a Spanish word here.” I hadn’t heard the word before, which is why I can’t remember it. But I know for certain that it was unkind and derogatory and cutting toward the Hispanic population that lives in my community of Faribault, specifically along my street.

I couldn’t allow the slam to go unchallenged, especially since it was spoken just as I was about to enter, of all places, my church for Sunday morning worship.

In an immediate moment of incredible self control, I responded by telling this clearly prejudiced individual that there are “good whites” and “bad whites,” just like there are “good Hispanics” and “bad Hispanics.” I knew I had to keep my response simple so he would understand. I also told him that my Hispanic neighbors are “good neighbors.”

With those words tumbling off my tongue, I walked into the sanctuary, attempting to dismiss my anger and focus on an attitude of forgiveness.

I also consciously shifted my thoughts to an exchange I witnessed a day earlier. As a Somali mother walked into a Faribault grocery store with her adorable preschool-aged daughter, a Caucasian couple engaged the woman in conversation. They inquired about the little girl and asked her name.

“Amira,” the Somali mother answered and smiled.

“That means ‘princess,’” the man said and continued to share a story about another Amira he knew. All the while, the mother beamed. When they parted, he told the pair, “God bless you.”

I was trailing behind, thinking how my Aunt Dorothy has always called me her “Little Princess,” even now, today, when I am in my 50s. That endearing nickname has always made me feel so loved. Words can make such an impact.

As the Somali woman continued down the grocery store aisle with her daughter tagging behind, I blurted, “She’s so cute.”

The mother of the little princess turned and rewarded me with a smile, a universal human expression that bonds all humans no matter their skin color.

In this file photo, a Somali family waits to cross a downtown Faribault street.

CLICK HERE TO READ one of many posts I wrote related to the exterior colors of two ethnic restaurants in downtown Faribault. The color of the Mexican bakery, which has since changed hands, generated heated discussion within the community in 2009 and 2010.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Words matter: Prejudice and acceptance in Faribault”

  1. I, too, marvel at the beauty and the strength of these families who travel thousands of miles from their native lands to look for an opportunity to raise their families in a land that offers freedom from the wars and brutalities that they witnessed every day. We here in our small towns and farms often do not see beyond the color of their skin or the strangeness of the way they speak and don’t realize that we too are the product of immigrants who were treated in much the same manner when our ancestors, under similar conditions, left behind all that they loved and knew, to also travel thousands of miles from their homeland and native tongue to become a part of our melting pot of a nation. I am impressed at the fortitude and strength of people from then and people from now who are able to do this. I, for one, think it makes our country a better country with all of our diversity of people and ideas.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well said. I thought the same thing, how my great grandparents traveled here from Germany and how, at one time, they, too, felt unwelcome. It would be wise for all of us to remember our immigrant roots.

  2. Amy Says:

    Last summer as I wandered all over the state, I noticed how many small towns have restaurants geared toward Hispanics, and how many small businesses now have signs in more than one language, and wondered how the assimilation was going. This is very interesting.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for that insight, Amy. I think you’re right re. the changes in Minnesota small-town dining options. This sounds like a story. I’m going to remember this in my travels and maybe work this into a future post.

  3. Amy Says:

    It was especially noticeable in the southwest, particularly in Luverne.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I know that southwestern Minnesota has many meat processing plants, including Gold’n Plump in Luverne, where minority workers are employed. I don’t mean to stereotype, but even in Faribault our immigrant population is primarily employed at places like the local turkey plant and canning company. Therefore, minority populations tend to be bigger in these towns and thus, I would assume that the number of ethnic businesses is also higher.

      I’d like to hear from you if you live in a small Minnesota town that has a smorgasbord of ethnic restaurants and/or other businesses. How has your community welcomed, or not welcomed, minorities? What are the issues? What are the successes?

      • Amy Says:

        This is why you need to be on Twitter. 😉

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I suppose, Amy, but you are talking to a girl slow to embrace technology. I just got a cell phone last fall, get my TV reception from an antenna, don’t own a dishwasher (is that technology?)… So, Twitter might be more than I can handle. 🙂

  4. dorothy Says:

    Hi to My Little Princess!!! Yes, love is where it is at. We are all in this world together. Having raised my family on the east coast in New Jersey, we always had peoples from other areas of the world. The boys had friends from India and Pakistan and other areas of the world and our country. They learned the togetherness of peoples at an early age. Some of these kids loved to be invited to stay for dinner after playing together after school. To them American cooking was delicious. It is a small world.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ah, Aunt Dorothy, you still manage to melt my heart with your endearing Little Princess nickname for me.

      And your comments are so spot on correct. Love is where it’s at and we are all in this world together.

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