Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Welcoming signs of change in Faribault August 30, 2018

One of many photo signs extolling virtues and posted in the downtown Faribault business district.

 

I INTENTIONALLY CHOSE ONE BLOCK in the central business district of my southeastern Minnesota community to look for Faces of Faribault—Downtown posters in storefronts. I found several placards featuring photos of downtown business people and a chosen virtue. But I also discovered much more. I found inspiring quotes and welcoming signs that show a city working hard to effect a change in attitudes, to embrace all who live here, no matter their ethnicity.

 

Many Somali immigrants live in apartments above downtown Faribault businesses. They often gather on street corners to socialize. That has resulted in complaints from some locals who claim to feel unsafe and intimidated. I’ve never felt that way, choosing instead to say hello and smile. I recognize that, because these immigrants are not living in ground level apartments, they need an outdoor space to meet and talk.

 

We are a diverse community of some 23,000. Home to Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics, Somalis, Sudanese, Asians and more. It’s been a struggle for newcomers to gain acceptance, for locals to adjust to immigrants settling here to work, to start new lives. Differences in language, in social behavior, in dress and more have created a sense of unease. And conflict.

 

On the Sunday afternoon I shot these images, a couple celebrated their wedding at the 3 Ten Event Venue, recently opened in an historic building in the heart of downtown Faribault.

 

It takes effort to connect, to begin to understand one another, to see each other as individuals rather than as locals or foreigners, to celebrate our differences.

 

 

I applaud business owners who are reaching out with strong messages of acceptance posted right there on their shop windows. In a small-ish city like Faribault, there’s always the risk of losing business over taking a stand. But it’s the right thing to do, to declare that The only thing that should be separated by color is laundry.

 

 

Or to say, We stand with refugees and immigrants in our community.

 

 

One of many photo virtues signs posted in shop windows throughout the downtown business district as part of Faces of Faribault.

 

Yet another Faces poster.

 

These are positive signs, as are those Faces of Faribault posters, a project initiated by Cindy Diessner, who serves on The Virtues Project—Faribault Steering Committee. Her Faces endeavor is funded by an Artists on Main Street grant.

 

 

When we get to know each other as individuals, then the walls that separate us fall. We begin to understand that we are all just human. We may differ in skin color, language, dress, customs and more. But we still live under the same sun, the same moon.

 

FYI: A St. Paul-based theater company will present a free one-act play about an immigrant family’s daily struggles to follow the American dream at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 12, at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. A cast Q & A and an appetizer reception follow the performance of Help Wanted by Teatro Del Pueblo. The nonprofit, Latino theater company promotes cultural pride in the Latino community and cultural diversity in the arts. The play is based on a true story.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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14 Responses to “Welcoming signs of change in Faribault”

  1. donaldmarkritchie Says:

    Thank you for this powerful, beautiful post.

  2. As an immigrant to The Netherlands I can relate to many of the issues that face those who immigrated to the USA. Just as soon as I open my mouth it opens me up to being different. People are people everywhere and when each of us tries to overcome the negative images that so many try to focus upon the us as immigrants it can be a huge task. For your community to actively try to educate and open the doors to understanding is really forward thinking. Thanks for highlighting this community initiative as an example for others hopefully to follow.

  3. A wonderful post on a sentiment that is so needed.

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    I have run into a lot of people who oppose the settling of immigrants in their community. Sometimes their points are legitimate: there are impacts on schools and social and medical services that are not always properly planned nor compensated for, and in Austin especially there is still ill-will over the breaking of the P9 Union at Hormel that many blame on the influx of low-wage workers.

    Then there are the bigots and there will always be bigots.

    And sometimes it is hard to talk even to people who have legitimate concerns. For them, we must make clear that policy is one thing and people are another and that everyone, no matter who, is deserving of courtesy and respect.

  5. I love the laundry sign! What a great community

  6. Norma Says:

    Oh Audrey. Your comments brought tears to my eyes because I love all of your comments. Some of the feelings, I have also experienced, but my love for God has changed a lot of those negative feelings. Thank you so much for your beautiful words.

  7. valeriebollinger Says:

    It’s very interesting to know Faribault is working hard to integrate all peoples and make them feel welcome…even more -educate the community. Way to go Faribault.

    • I’m excited about the progress Faribault is making in welcoming our newest residents. It’s taken awhile to get there. Just down the street from me, Habitat for Humanity is building a six-bedroom home for an immigrant family of eleven. One of the daughters was struck last year by a vehicle while crossing the street on her way to school. She is now wheelchair bound.


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