Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My thoughts on the changing streets of Faribault November 6, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I DON’T LIVE on a Bay, a Circle or a Drive.

I live along Willow Street.

That alone should tell you that my home sits in an old neighborhood. After all, cities don’t name streets after trees anymore or even attach the word “street” to a new roadway. If there are willows growing along my street, I haven’t noticed them.

But I’ve noticed, in the 29 years my husband and I have been in our modest three-bedroom, one-bath Willow Street home, that there’s a certain stigma attached to our arterial street, to our part of Faribault.

And I’m not happy about that.

For example, a few evenings ago, we joined friends around a backyard bonfire. The conversation ebbed and flowed with intermittent laughter, until a friend remarked, “I see your neighborhood is getting more diverse.” I knew the comment stemmed from a drive-by shooting several months ago within two blocks of my home.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My defenses kicked in and I was prepared for an unpleasant exchange about the ever-growing cultural diversity of Faribault and the perceived “problems” in my neighborhood. My husband responded and the topic was dropped. I didn’t find myself, once again, championing for those of color, although you’ll never find me defending criminal behavior committed by anyone, whether white, black, green or purple.

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

A Somali family in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Honestly, I tire of the underlying, and often blatant, prejudicial jabs I hear and read about in my community. The Hispanic, Somali, Sudanese, Asian, African American and other minorities who now call Faribault home are here to stay. And some of them happen to live in my neighborhood. So what? Does this make my neighborhood less desirable? Apparently to some. Not to me, unless these neighbors disrupt the neighborhood with illegal and/or undesirable criminal activity and/or behavior.

And, believe me, I’ve had “bad neighbors” whose skin is white, just like mine.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Oftentimes I want to grab life-long locals by the shoulders and tell them that the Faribault they knew growing up is not the Faribault of today. These newcomers are here to stay. Welcome them. Get to know them as individuals and as families, for in so doing misconceptions and fears fall by the wayside. Be kind. Embrace them.

When I moved to the Faribault area in 1982, it took a long time for me to feel welcome and a part of the community. Sometimes I still feel like an outsider because I didn’t grow up here, don’t have family here, nor does my husband. I can only imagine how those of other cultures, those who’ve fled war-torn homelands an ocean away, must sometimes feel. Isolated. Scared. Unwelcome.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault's diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault’s diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Of those who suggest the newcomers just leave, I want to ask, and sometimes do: “Weren’t your great grandparents once new here, arriving from the Old Country, speaking in a language others could not understand?”

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Oftentimes, too, I want to grab life-long locals and others by the shoulders and tell them that my diverse Willow Street neighborhood is worthy of their respect. This is my home, my neighborhood, the place I choose to live, an important part of this community we call Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


36 Responses to “My thoughts on the changing streets of Faribault”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Great post! I always get my hackles up when a comment like that is made—just waiting for the person to further go into their diatribe about how bad things are because of the “element” that has moved into areas. I agree—if it weren’t for immigrants we would not have a country at all. I love being around different cultures —so much can be learned if we take the time. Lovely photos.

  2. Wonderful read. I am convinced that people are so troubled with change that it is almost debilitating for some. I don’t understand it at all. I don’t think being born, living and then dying in the same community is reality any longer.

    If there is one thing I am sure of, it is change is inevitable – get used to it! You can spend all your time denying and rejecting change or spend your time more wisely embracing it. Explore new cultures, meet new people and quite possibly become a more well-adjusted individual with a greater understanding of the world that surrounds you. It won’t hurt you I promise.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ll admit to being one who sometimes struggles with change, but certainly not on this issue.

      I don’t agree with many of the changes occurring in this country, especially with the level of government involvement in so many aspects of our lives. But I don’t want to get into a political debate/discussion.

      Anyway, I think you’re mostly right in your comment about being born, living and dying in the same community not being reality for most today. But there are still a lot of people in Faribault who have never left. Not that that’s good or bad, but I think it does broaden your horizons, etc. when you, at least for awhile, leave your hometown. A Faribault friend recently remarked to me how she wished her three adult children and their families didn’t live so far away. My jaw dropped. I told her how fortunate she was to have her trio in the Twin Cities metro, less than an hour away. Then I couldn’t resist adding that two of mine are 300 and 1,400 miles away respectively. She grew up in the Faribault area and so did her husband.

  3. JIll Johnson Says:

    Beautifully written and so true! I am a second generation Norwegian and am stunned to hear others with immigrant grandparents complaining about diversity. Good grief, how quickly we forget!

  4. Oh, Audrey. You’ll understand from our earlier e-mails today that I can so relate. No, our towns aren’t the same as they used to be “back when we were kids”…and that’s a good thing. America was founded by people immigrating here to find better lives. That is still happening and just because “those people” have different skin than ours it does not make them bad neighbors or citizens.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Gretchen, I just read your email and am in the process of responding. It’s tough, isn’t it, to see our newest immigrants treated with such disdain, distrust and prejudice?

      You summarize well the point I was making in my post.

  5. Kristen K Says:

    I love this! I’ll never forget the summer I spent in Spain while in college. I didn’t speak fluently, and felt that many of the local people looked down on me. I can imagine, at least a little bit, what today’s immigrants experience as they try to rebuild their lives here. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and talk to some of the local Somali immigrants–they have some amazing stories!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That’s an interesting point you make, Kristen, about walking “in another’s shoes.” We can certainly learn from experiences like yours in Spain. In the same vain, when I suffered from severe osteoarthritis in my right hip and then in the past two years developed sudden sensory hearing loss (leaving me nearly deaf in my right ear), I learned new empathy for those with disabilities.

      Good for you to take the time to sit down and listen to the stories of Somali immigrants in the Owatonna area. I have spoken with some young women from Somalia who live in Faribault and have been impressed by their positive attitudes despite the open prejudice they face here. These are strong women determined to make better lives for themselves with some even planning to enter the medical field so they can return to Somalia. Their strength is incredible.

  6. For some reason, WordPress wouldn’t let me comment so if suddenly you get two more comments from me I apologise. Bravo to you for saying what you beleive in. Too often we are presented with the opportunity but remain silent. Your article is very timely and needs to be read by everyone. I am reblogging this on The Window. Thank you very much!

  7. Reblogged this on The Window and commented:
    This article was written by a fellow blogger. Kudos to her for speaking out.

  8. I lived in a diverse community and then moved to where I am living now and it is not as diverse, which was hard for me to wrap my head around at first. I have lived in multiple states and diversity can be a great thing if you are open to it and who knows may even come to embrace it. I love learning about history and cultures, so I came at diversity with questions wanting to learn more and hopefully not from a judging viewpoint. I appreciate you sharing your viewpoint and for opening the conversation because it needs to happen way more than it does:) Happy Hump Day!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Renee. You, obviously, got to know the folks in your previous community, viewing the presence of diversity as an opportunity rather than a threat or a negative. Good for you.

      • I think some of it stems from being in Human Resources for 10 years, especially as a Recruiter. Plus I want to be an active member of the community I live in to and acting as a Community Service Chair has been a great experience these past months:)

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        That makes sense, that your job would influence your view. But I think you would still hold the same outlook, regardless of your career.

      • I do; professionally and personally.

  9. dee bjork Says:

    Good for you Audrey. Spread the love…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Just like you, Dee. You are a fine example to follow with your garden in downtown Faribault and your vocal efforts to make our newest residents feel more welcome. Thank YOU for all YOU have done.

  10. hotlyspiced Says:

    Immigration is happening in Western Nations at an ever-increasing rate. I’ve heard the fastest growing religion in the USA is now Islam. In our State, for the first time ever, one of the most popular names is now Mohammad. Sure, everyone is welcome however it should never come at a cost to our own culture or own way of life xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I simply want people to be kind and respectful of one another as human beings, no matter their skin color.

  11. Judy Onstad Says:

    I’m glad to hear you’re not prejudiced as I’m not either. Our little town has changed in the same way as yours. I’m from So.California where there were many cultures living together…. in spite of the bad rap it gets we all got along very well. However when we moved here to s.w. Missouri there were only white faces everywhere and not only was there prejudice towards other cultures and colors but even us white folks being new and even worse from Los Angeles were considered the “out of towners”. But since we arrived so have a lot of hispanics and now over the past five years a good number of Somalies. I still hear remarks made now and then but it’s nice to see the community has changed and become more accepting of different cultures. We now even have an African food store and around the corner a Mexican food store !

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’m chuckling here, Judy, because my eldest recently married a guy from California, who was living and working in LA. He relocated to Minnesota. We like him just fine, thank you.

      On a serious note, I am happy to hear that your community is becoming more accepting of other cultures. Sometimes it takes awhile. Faribault is coming around, I think, and efforts are being made to reach out.

  12. Ann Vohs Says:

    Thank you for your post. I too feel like you-I often hear negative comments. Today, you and Milo Larson had wonderful messages regarding welcoming new people to our community. All of us have sometime in our life have felt that we did not belong. It is up to each one of us to remember that and look for ways to be kind to each other.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are absolutely correct, Ann. We need to remember those times and learn from our personal experiences and use our knowledge in a positive way. I know there are many in the Faribault community who are reaching out to our newest neighbors, welcoming them and assisting them. For that I am grateful.

      It starts with each of us, as individuals, looking, as you say, for ways to be kind.

  13. Karla Says:

    You are awesome, Audrey. That is all.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Karla. You have brought me to tears with your kind words.

      Words. They are, indeed, powerful.

  14. Karla Says:

    And I love your point about having a hard time feeling like you fit in, even after all this time, in Faribault. My family is not from Faribault. We moved here from out-of-state about 25 years ago. It was hard then, and there are many times even now, that “outsider” feeling kicks in. I can’t imagine the isolation for immigrant families.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You get it, Karla. For the most part I feel integrated into the Faribault community. But there are still times, even after 30-plus years of living in the area, that I still feel like an outsider. Not often, thank goodness. But occasionally.

      I imagine moving to Minnesota from out-of-state would have be even more challenging. And from another country? Double challenging.

  15. Milo Larson Says:

    Hi Audrey,
    I like your blog, what a coincidence that I wrote about this subject today on Facebook. I was watching “America the story of us” the last two weeks while on the treadmill and that series and some comments on a Facebook last week about how our town is going to hell because of the Somali’s downtown bringing fear to the people and now today the comments on Facebook about your blog on how the town has changed for the worse because of all the immigrants is making me sick.

    This whole world is changing I wonder how these people can expect our town to be in a bubble and keep all their pure white town to not be affected. There is going to be bad in the new cultures just as there is bad in our white community. But the good they’re bringing in outweighs the bad.

    I came to town in 68′ and until I became involved in the church, then service clubs, then the chamber I too felt like an outsider. Since being involved I’ve been accepted except when I was president of the Diversity Coalition in the 2000 decade and then I was out of favor from a lot of people. I persevered but it took a toll on mind and body for awhile.

    If you’re on Facebook you can read my story today at: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200511027373113&set=a.1028766694345.4039.1680682320&type=1&theater&notif_t=like

    Or look for my name on Facebook: Milo Larson, I write about how everyone that made a difference overcome fear in the last 400 years and we’re still growing so we still have to educate ourselves about the different cultures and overcome the fear.

    Thanks for your great blog today and keep up the work.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:


      I am not on Facebook and today that sounds like a very good thing. But I did read your FB post (thanks for the link) and very much appreciate and agree with your post. I, too, am frustrated with the negative attitude toward our Somali (and other) immigrants. “Our town is going to hell…” Unbelievable. I just do not understand this type of thinking.

      I applaud and thank you for all you have done for this community to make our newest neighbors welcome. Just when you think one step is taken forward toward understanding, acceptance and building relationships, it’s 10 steps back. That can be wearing. But persevere. You are doing, and have done, the right thing.

      My church family, too, has been a great source of strength and comfort in making me feel at home in Faribault. They are my community within the community. There are so many kind and wonderful people in Faribault and I truly believe they outnumber those who choose to speak in unkind voices.

  16. sandi jones mom of 3 Says:

    Growing up in St Paul in an all white neighborhood as a young child and in a public school. I went to an ALL white school. And then suddenly, during 3rd grade,12 colored kids were forced to go to our school that were bussed from a different neighborhood, to help defeat racism. I quickly made friends with a girl named Robin. I NEVER chose friends by their color. I chose friends because of their personality and such little things. As a young child, I did not care what color their skin was. Growing up seeing racism around narrow minded and ignorant adults in our neighborhood made me feel angry. Then I thought, thank God I am white because somehow I felt sorry for minorities because of silly colors of our skin. And I knew that color is beautiful, any color. God created ALL people. And Bible teaches us to “love our neighbor and do unto others etc” Anyways, when I brought My New awesome friend Robin home to my neighborhood, excited to help her make new friends, I sadly learnt what racism was. UGLY!!! I understood why racism is evil and NOT of God’s plan. Also, I attended a private daycare, and June wanted to take in a Vietnam 2 yo babyinto her daycare bsns. But before she took him in, she asked all her parents how they felt about their child with a Vietnamese baby. Amazingly, if they had a problem with baby Fred, then June clearly told them that she would not turn him away no matter what. However, ALL the parents were excited for baby Fred too. so I seen both positive and negative attitudes of ppl towards color/ethnicity etc. I do not care what color you are, or how rich/poor you are or where ppl choose to live. All I care about is a responsible community working together and educating one another for the good of the future generations to come. If ppl hate others because of color/ethnicity, then why live in America? America is the “melting pot” because of FREEDOM!!! My heart was ripped out when I brought Robin to my neighborhood because I had no idea that ppl would hate her because of her color!!! I played with her anyways, I did NOT care about others judgements and I was not going to be like others filled with hate, but rather with compassion and love!!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sandi, thank you for taking the time to post this thoughtful, insightful and deeply personal story. You have touched my heart with your words and, more than words, your actions in embracing your friend Robin. You set an example we should all emulate.

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