Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Faribault: How connecting & listening can trump ignorance & fear December 17, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A snippet of businesses along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

A snippet of businesses along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

I NEVER EXPECTED the conversation to turn away from college as I chatted with a young man Saturday afternoon on a downtown Faribault street corner. But it did. One minute we were talking about his future and life in southeastern Minnesota. And then he was asking me what I thought of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.

But first, I’ll back up and explain how I even struck up a conversation with this 20-something. He noticed my long-lensed camera as he strode down the sidewalk toward me, hamming it up for the camera. I didn’t click the shutter button. Now I wish I had. Just to show you this millennial with the wide smile and warm, welcoming persona.

Mike Fuchs guided his horses along Central Avenue on Saturday afternoon for free rides in Santa's Wagon.

Mike Fuchs guides his horses along Central Avenue on Saturday afternoon for free rides in Santa’s Wagon.

I felt I owed him an explanation. So I pointed to the horse-drawn wagon traveling along Central Avenue, the reason I was there with my Canon DSLR. Together we admired the team of horses.

Then I noticed his University of Minnesota sweatshirt and I asked if he is a student. He was, for a semester. He’s lived in Faribault for awhile, found people mostly friendly, but the town too small.

Soon he’s moving to South Dakota’s capitol city with his dad. I inquired about his future; he’s interested in business. “Promise me,” I said, “that you’ll go back to college.” He nodded, then high-fived his youthful brown palm against my aging white hand. It’s one of those spontaneous moments in life that I will always remember. He appears to be the type of person who will accomplish his goals and I told him so. I genuinely meant that and he thanked me.

Then he brought up Donald Trump, expressing his deep concern over Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from coming into the U.S. I told him exactly what I think of this Presidential candidate and how I fear for our country if he is elected President. I should have listened more than I talked. But I sensed that it was important for this young man to know that I, for one, don’t support Trump’s proposal. I don’t want to start a heated political debate here because that’s not the point of this post.

Adding to the artsy aspect of Car Cruise Night, was this colorful attire worn by Faribault

I photographed these Somali women walking through downtown Faribault during a Car Cruise Night in July. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

The point is that I connected with this young man. I’ve heard way too many stories and reports in my community of locals afraid to come downtown Faribault, where many Somali families live. Complaints range from Somalis hangings out on street corners to a lack of respect, unpleasant odors and more. I didn’t feel afraid or uncomfortable. Not on this Saturday. Or any other day. I was treated with respect and always have been.

This teen represented Somalia at the International Festival Faribault

This teen represented Somalia at the August 2015 International Festival Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

How many people, I wondered, pause to speak one-on-one with our newest immigrants? Sometimes that’s all it takes to begin to break down barriers, to understand one another, to see someone as an individual rather than a person of a different color, faith or ethnicity.

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 2012.

Look into eyes. Listen to a voice. Hear hopes and dreams. Connect.

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FYI: Click here for a must-see photo collection of Somalis living in Minneapolis. I found this link on Bob Collins’ NewsCut column at Minnesota Public Radio.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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30 Responses to “In Faribault: How connecting & listening can trump ignorance & fear”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    It is definitely a “balancing act”. One whose misjudgment could result in unfortunate consequences. Although Faribault’s ethnic population wants nothing more than to be assimilated into our wonderful country, there are those (who dominate the Mpls settlement) who use our country’s freedoms to plan/accomplish(?) destructive goals. To sort between the individuals is nothing short of needing God-wisdom/sight. We must be wise, not naive; discerning without being critical; cautious without dragging our feet when action must be taken that is unpleasant. The “days of innocence” have been ushered into the history books on that Sept. 11th day that brought the reality of the world “out there” to our very doorstep.

  2. Jennifer Hernandez Says:

    Thank you for this, Audrey. As a middle school teacher who works with youth from immigrant families, I can attest to the fact that Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric is very much on the minds of Minnesota youth. Also, kids are kids. No matter their family background. Talk to them. Listen to them. They have a lot to teach us.

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    Sound words accompanied by great advice.

  4. Sweet Posy Dreams Says:

    So many people fear change and are suspicious of anything different from themselves and their traditions/beliefs. It’s sad and also troubling when it affects politics and the making of laws. I really like the final picture of the two women’s eyes. Could be in National Geographic.

  5. Almost Iowa Says:

    For the next ten months expect a flurry of wedge issues designed to be heard by different people in different ways. What Trump called for was, it is hard to find an exact quote was:

    “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States until elected leaders can “figure out what is going on.”

    Notice that the statement has two parts. The first is a bellicose statement directed at Muslims in general, the second part is directed at the President and Congress.

    The media jumps on the first part as proof that he and his supporters are racists and ignores the second. Trump’s supporters brush off the first part and focus on the second as proof that the media and elites are not honest with the American people.

    Trumps is a master of wedge issue. It is like he speaks in tongues and depending on your tribe, you hear something different.

    But Trump is not only master of this, so is Hillary. The Clintons have always been a political disco ball that reflects a million images.

    These people will always be with us and they will always elevate themselves by dividing the rest of us. The only way to avoid corrupting our souls with hate is to treat each other with generosity and kindness and see ourselves in the eyes of others.

  6. miekestrand Says:

    Audrey, Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. This is such an important message, especially in the current political climate. Thank you for advocating understanding and empathy.

  7. cheryl schrader Says:

    For what it is worth, I have had the honor and opportunity to spend a fair amount of time in the Somalia community all over this great state. As a result I have good Somalia friends.I have never been treated with anything but respect by Somalia men, women and children, boys and girls alike. I can tell you in, talking with them, some of them at length, they are a peaceful people who have been displaced by circumstances, almost always tragic, and just need a chance to provide for themselves and their families. In my opinion, the hate talk we have in this country has got to stop.

  8. Each and every one of us are just trying to live a good life 🙂 To hope, wish and dream. To connect and be a part of something bigger than ourselves (i.e. community). To learn, grow and experience. I am guilty of judging and being judged and it is human nature at times to do so. However, being open to the experience is a pretty great thing too, especially in meeting new people and learning more about their history.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. westerner54 Says:

    Lovely post. Thank you!

  10. Don Says:

    The old saying “History Repeats Itself” is so true. WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam etc. all had some roots in hating other people, be it their color, their lifestyle, their beliefs etc. We as a society must be careful or we validate the “old saying”.

  11. Jackie Says:

    Sounds like you had a wonderful connection with this young man, it’s just so heartwarming to hear how you listened and conversed. You really have a heart for all people and for you little community in Faribault. Such a good example on how we should be toward each other, no matter our color, race or religion. We need to LOVE…as Christ loved us first! Thanks for you post Audrey.

  12. Sue Ready Says:

    You do your readership and community a great service by raising awareness and empathy for immigrants resettling within our communities. Consider what a stressful time it is for them given the current political climate that seems to breed hate and fear. We do need to reach out to them to make them feel more welcome.

  13. Lisa Simons Says:

    Absolutely lovely post. I’m so glad that young man disagrees with Trump’s xenophobia and discriminatory beliefs. And I’m thankful you ended the post the way you did. I agree 100%. Final note: Yesterday, I went into the Somali restaurant next door to Eastman’s to get Somali tea, my favorite. A dad recognized me as a local teacher who taught some of his kids years ago. He bought my tea. 😊

  14. chlost Says:

    Thank you. People are afraid. They are afraid of the “young”. They are afraid of the immigrants. They are afraid of “different”. The only way to allay the fear is talking and getting to know one another as humans. Your story, your photos do a wonderful job with that.
    And those who stoke the fear to use it to their own advantage should be ashamed.


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