Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault Festival offers opportunity to bridge differences & connect August 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:15 AM
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TODAY I’D LIKE TO EXTEND an invitation to you. Pull out your calendars right now and add this event to your schedule: International Festival Faribault, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 25, Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico’s national anthem last September during the International Festival Faribault at Faribault’s Central Park. The flags strung across the band shell represent the countries featured at the fest. This weekend’s celebration marks the seventh such international fest in Faribault.

There. Done. Right?

The scramble for candy after the pinata is broken at last year’s festival. Kids of all races participated with no concern for skin color or cultural differences. So refreshing to see.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos– chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk. You’ll find vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

OK, why do I think it’s important for you to attend this festival which features multicultural entertainment, arts and crafts vendors, authentic international cuisine, kids’ activities, a silent auction and more?

Simple. We as a community need to meet each other, to connect on a personal level, to understand each other if we are ever to overcome the very obvious cultural differences which divide us.

I met then 16-year-old Riyaam, an Owatonna High School student, at last year’s festival. She spoke openly about the prejudice at OHS and a white student’s single comment, “Somalis don’t belong here,” which led to racial clashes and tension. OHS has since instituted a policy of “you fight, you’re out.” It broke my heart to listen to Riyaam.

You know what I’m talking about, the differences in skin color and language, in culture and in dress.

There’s way too much suspicion and mistrust, cautiousness and prejudice toward the minorities living and working in Faribault. I’ve heard the derogatory comments about the Somali men who hang out on downtown street corners, the Hispanics who commit all the crimes, the immigrants who take away our jobs, the people who don’t speak English.

Seriously, these Somali men live downtown and the sidewalk is their yard.

“Mexicans,” and I’ve heard that word spit out of too many mean mouths, do not commit all the crimes in our community. Do you know any Hispanics personally? I do. They are probably the most family-oriented individuals I’ve ever met and we could learn a lot from them about the importance they place on loving and caring for one another.

And about those Somalis and/or Sudanese who supposedly steal our jobs—I expect most of us would not want to work the factory jobs they work. I mean no offense to the places which employ them, like the local turkey plant. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we likely never would work at these physically-demanding and not always pleasant jobs.

As for speaking English, have you, as an adult, tried learning a new language? Now attempt learning a new language in a foreign country. Not so easy. Think back to a few generations before you. I bet your great grandparents didn’t speak English. Even my own mother’s first language was German, not English.

The other evening while shopping at a local Big Box retailer, I witnessed how difficult it was for a Hispanic woman to communicate due to her limited English. I almost got on my cell phone to call my second daughter who works as a Spanish medical interpreter in eastern Wisconsin to ask her to interpret.

Did you know that, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, 17.4 percent of Faribault’s 23,352 residents have a language other than English spoken at home? Stats show 9.4 percent of our city’s residents are foreign-born.

Vendors, like Riyaam, peddled their wares at the 2011 festival.

Instead of criticizing those who speak and dress and live differently than the majority of us, let’s begin to understand them. Mostly, I think, our misconceptions, our prejudices, are based on fear. We fear what we don’t understand.

A young girl’s henna stained foot, photographed at the 2011 fest.

International Festival Faribault offers a common, public ground—a city park—on which to meet the minority individuals who call our community home. They are here to stay. Let’s get to know them. Engage in conversation. Show them you care, that you’re genuinely interested in learning more about them and their cultures. Once you’ve connected on a personal level, you will begin to view them as individuals and not by the color of their skin, the clothing they wear, the language they speak…

Xafsa, age 5, photographed at the 2011 festival.

FYI: Click here to link to the International Festival Faribault website.

While this post is directed specifically at the residents of my community, its content can apply to many communities. You’re all invited to Faribault for International Festival Faribault, no matter your community or country of origin. And just to be clear, many Faribault residents and organizations embrace the minorities who call our southeastern Minnesota city home. I in no way intend to mislead you into thinking we are all a bunch of bigots living here. However, neither am I going to hide the fact that obvious prejudices exist and are very much a concern in Faribault.

Click here to link to the post I wrote about last year’s International Festival Faribault.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling