Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The positive steps toward embracing diversity in Faribault January 18, 2019

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I took this photo, reflecting Faribault’s diversity, during a downtown event several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FARIBAULT IS A COMMUNITY EVOLVING. Changing as our population diversifies and we are no longer a place of mostly European and Scandinavian peoples. Rather, my southeastern Minnesota city is now home to people of many colors. We are increasingly diverse.

 

1960s vintage art that represents, to me, the colorful and beautiful diversity of my community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

An article published last week in the Faribault Daily News stated that from 2010 to 2018, the population of students of color in the Faribault School District increased from 25 percent to 55 percent. That’s a remarkable change in just eight years.

 

Faribault Community School is hosting two more Harboring Voices Choir evenings on January 22 and 29. Led by St. Olaf College students, the gathering gives adults and kids an opportunity to sing together in a community setting.

 

Equally as remarkable is the shift I’ve noticed in attitudes, in efforts to welcome our newest families. I’m hearing fewer negative comments about Somalis, Hispanics and other immigrants. I’m not saying those attitudes don’t still exist. It’s just that I don’t hear that animosity as much or sense such strong resentment toward these newcomers.

Why the change?

 

One of the virtues highlighted as part of The Virtues Trail Project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

After time, people become more accepting as they adjust and as newcomers assimilate into the fabric of Faribault. I think much of that can be attributed to the kids, who see their classmates as classmates and friends, not defined by their skin color.

 

This notice is posted, among the one above and the one below, on a community bulletin board at Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault.

 

But adults have also made concerted efforts to help locals and newcomers accept one another. The Virtues Project Faribault, the Faribault Diversity CoalitionFaribault Community School and the creators of 1855, a local history series on Faribault Community Television, are all making a difference. I am grateful for their efforts.

 

Faribault celebrates MLK Day on Monday as noted in this notice posted at the library.

 

My great grandparents emigrated from Germany to America. They faced challenges in language, culture and more. It’s important to remember our immigrant roots. But no matter our ethnicity, our language, our culture, our skin color, we are all just people…with hopes and dreams. And voices.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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