Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating Faribault’s diversity at international fest July 10 July 8, 2021

Flags representing the many countries from which Faribault residents came are displayed at a past International Festival Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

DECADES AGO, in high school and then in college, I studied the German language. I grew fluent in the native tongue of my forefathers. I felt a sense of accomplishment as my skills advanced. I decided I would major in German in college, until I determined journalism would be a better path. I’ve never regretted that decision because I love words, no matter the language.

My second daughter, though, pursued a foreign language major, earning her college degree in Spanish (much more practical than German) and then becoming a Spanish medical interpreter. Until the pandemic ended that career.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior when I photographed them in 2012 at the International Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I share this to lay the foundation for my personal appreciation of other cultures. I’ve never traveled internationally and not all that much domestically, so I welcome the opportunity to experience other countries and cultures locally. From 10 am – 4 pm this Saturday, July 10, diverse cultures focus the 16th annual International Festival Faribault in Central Park.

Pupusas served at the 2011 International Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Cambodian art at the 2015 fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Attendees marked a world map with their countries of origin during a previous festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The fest is promoted as “a global bazaar-style event featuring food, music, dance, presentations and goods from around the world.” I’ve attended several times, although not recently, and always enjoyed this Neighbor Meeting Neighbor celebration. Many of those participating in the fest are local residents, shopkeepers and vendors.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Faribault truly is an ethnically diverse community with a size-able immigrant population and with long-time residents rooted in many countries. Founding father Alexander Faribault, for example, was of French-Canadian and Dakota heritage. Our newest residents come from places like war torn Somalia.

A recently-completed mural in downtown Faribault, LOVE FOR ALL, celebrates our city’s diversity. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2021.

While we’ve struggled in the past to accept one another, I feel like things are settling, that we are beginning to celebrate our differences and recognize the value of those differences.

Downtown Faribault during a Car Cruise Night in 2015 reflects our diversity. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Newcomers to Faribault are here to stay. They live, work and play here. Attend school. Own businesses. And that’s reason to celebrate. We are a stronger community because of our diversity.

Cambodian dancers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.
A young girl’s henna stained foot, photographed at the 2011 fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I encourage locals and people from out of town to attend Saturday’s International Festival Faribault. International dancers, music, a flag ceremony, arts and crafts, kids’ activities (including the popular pinata breaking), henna and food from around the world will be among the offerings. Perhaps someone will represent the German heritage by serving sauerkraut and brats or pumping out polkas on an accordion…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Weekend events celebrate art, diversity & food October 8, 2020

The pottery of Tom Willis, displayed at a past Studio ARTour. He will be among six artists at Studio #7, 10754 Farrel Avenue, Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ART, FOOD, FUN and more food. All will focus events in the Faribault area this weekend. And even though I’m uncertain yet whether I will attend any—because of my COVID-19 comfort level—I want to pass along this community information. These are all worthy events which I’ve attended in past years.

First up is the annual south central Minnesota Studio ARTour, featuring the work of 16 regional artists either in studios or, in Faribault, also at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Some of those studios will be open from 4-8 pm Friday in addition to weekend hours that start at 10 am and continue until 6 pm on Saturday and until 5 pm on Sunday.

The tour is scaled back from previous years, but still includes a variety of artists who paint, shape clay into pottery, practice the Norwegian art of rosemaling, engage in fiber art, design jewelry, create with photography and more. I’ve always appreciated the opportunity to meet these artists, to view their work and where they work.

Promotional info for the tour emphasizes that health and safety come first and that participants—yes, that includes everyone—must wear a mask and that hand sanitizer will be used. Some artists will set up outdoors.

A previous flag ceremony featured national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Likewise, the Faribault Diversity Coalition, organizers of the 15th annual International Festival Faribault, promises plenty of safety protocol during the 10 am – 4 pm Saturday fest at Faribault’s Central Park. If you’re comfortable attending, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the diverse people who call Faribault home. The fest is aptly billed as “Neighbor Meeting Neighbor.”

This celebration of our cultural diversity includes a full day of entertainment from Native American, Guatemalan and Aztec dancers to Guatemalan and Hispanic singers and more. Other highlights include a Naturalization Ceremony and a Flag Ceremony, both in the early afternoon.

And there’s more—arts and crafts, kids’ activities, informational booths and food. Let’s not forget the food. Food from around the world. The fest offers a great opportunity to try ethnic foods.

My plate full of food from a past Trinity harvest dinner. Not all foods served are on this plate. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Food centers the final local event I want to highlight. That’s the annual Trinity North Morristown Harvest Dinner from 11 am – 1 pm Sunday. I’ve attended this annual church dinner many times and highly-recommend it for the outstanding food. For only $10, you’ll get a meal of turkey, ham and all the trimmings that tastes like it came directly from Grandma’s kitchen.

This year the meal is take-out only with tickets sold on the adjacent Fourth of July picnic grounds and meals then handed out via drive-through on the south side of this rural church. I’ve always enjoyed the dining-in experience of cramming inside the church basement for good food and conversation among this friendly crowd. But, because of COVID, there will be none of that nor will there be a craft or bake sale.

Life goes on, pandemic or not. Just, please, if you attend any of these events, mask up (whether indoors or out), social distance and keep your hands clean. If you’re sick or have COVID symptoms or have been exposed to anyone with COVID or COVID symptoms, stay home.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

International Festival showcases, celebrates the many cultures of Faribault September 28, 2018

The diversity of Faribault as photographed at a downtown car show several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DIVERSE. MY COMMUNITY OF FARIBAULT fits that label with a multi-cultural population. We are a place of European descendants, of Hispanics, of Somalis, of African Americans, of Asians and more. A place of peoples descended from immigrants and a place of peoples who are new immigrants.

The Faribault Diversity Coalition celebrates the cultures of our southeastern Minnesota city at the free 2018 International Festival from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Saturday at the Washington Recreation Center, 117 Shumway Avenue.

 

Attendees mark a world map with their countries of origin at a past International Festival.

 

Through food, dance, music, art, games and more, our cultural differences will be highlighted, celebrated, embraced.

 

At a past International Festival, I sampled this spicy Somali food and loved it. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

While I can’t attend this year’s fest, I have in the past. It’s a great opportunity to meet others, to engage in conversation, to learn about other cultures. And to sample food. Vendors will serve ethnic foods like Somali sambusas, Cambodian egg rolls and culturally-themed cupcakes. Food lends itself to kickstarting conversations and connecting cultures.

 

A flag ceremony featured national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated at a previous fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The Diversity Coalition’s Passport Project, funded with an Artists on Main Street grant, debuts at the fest. FDC Director Gordon Liu terms it a mini cultural museum—with quick facts, basic phrases and a brief history of selected countries—to be displayed in the FDC storefront window.

 

Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

High School students Samuel Temple and Logan Ledman, who produce the 1855 history series for local public cable TV, will show their documentary “Peoples of Faribault” and then stick around for a Q & A. I’ve watched that show and recommend it to anyone who truly cares about understanding the cultures of my community.

There’s much to be gained from attending an event like the International Festival. It is an opportunity to learn, to break down walls built over differences in language, dress, culture, faith and more. When those barriers are broken, then we begin to see each other as simply people. People who happen to live in this place we call Faribault. Our home.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Striving for harmony among cultures in one Minnesota community October 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:16 PM
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An immigrant family in downtown Faribault.

 

SATURDAY AFTERNOON I shot this image while passing through downtown Faribault. It was a split-second decision to lift the camera from my lap and aim through the windshield. I had wanted for some time to photograph the newest residents of my town of 22,000. Technically, this photo is lacking.

But from the standpoint of depicting the changing face of my mid-sized Minnesota community, it’s perfect.

We are no longer just a city of German, Irish, Scandinavian, Polish, or, in Faribault’s case, strong French descent. We have become a community of color and of varying cultures. Hispanic. Somali. Sudanese. Asian.

 

 

Choosing pastries in a downtown Faribault Mexican bakery.

 

 

Los 3 Bakery in Faribault was painted in this shade of green until about a year ago when some local business owners objected to the bright color. They donated money to repaint the building a subtler green.

 

 

Different cultures, all the faces of today's Faribault, mingled during the recent Fall Festival along downtown's Central Avenue.

 

As much as I would like to say that we all embrace, accept and respect each other, I would be lying. I’ve heard the derogatory remarks, the ignorant comments, even among friends and acquaintances. Crime connected to “Mexicans.” Groups of Somali men hanging out downtown. Too many people living in one house.

Such unfair general categorizations and culturally uninformed biases raise my ire. Who are we to make sweeping judgments about an entire ethnic group? After all, I typically pronounce, didn’t our grandparents or great grandparents arrive here, in the land of opportunity, from many different countries?

Exactly.

Fortunately, many Faribault residents realize that and understand that we need to welcome our newest residents. We have, for the past 15 years, had the Faribault Diversity Coalition to lead the way in helping our immigrants. The Welcome Center opened its doors as a vehicle to facilitate the process.

Two weeks ago, though, the FDC and The Welcome Center announced that they would disband in December due to a lack of funding. That disheartened me, although I understood and knew how hard the two groups had struggled to continue.

Then last night, to my absolute surprise, I received a mass e-mail from Milo Larson of the Diversity Coalition announcing that he (and others) had a change of heart. While the Welcome Center will, indeed, close, the FDC will continue.

He wrote, in part:

“…There is more need now more then ever to keep our town, state and world a more harmonious and informed place.

“As I’ve said so many times the past 10 years we are communicating with real people, with hearts, souls and feelings. Just because some are from different cultures, different color skin, different religions, doesn’t mean they are numbers on a sheet of paper.  They’ve all had child hoods, most have had problems with bullies in school, abused by parents, gone hungry, homeless, not wanted in the country they were born in or this country because they are different.

“We must find compassion & respect in working and living with these newcomers as well as with ourselves. We are not asking for money, just your heart and time. Surprising what a smile and hi will do to everyone you meet on the street, I don’t care what culture or if they understand you or not. That my friend don’t cost a dime.”

I simply have to admire a man with his level of commitment, passion and compassion. Larson is the kind of person you want as a friend or living within your community. He doesn’t care if your skin is black or white or purple or green.

NOW, I WANT TO BACKTRACK a minute to the photo at the top of this page, the one of the immigrant family. I am going to admit my ignorance here. I do not know whether the family is from Sudan or Somalia. But I expect that if I asked Larson, he could tell me. There is much we can all learn from each other, for we are all here, on this earth, together.

 

 

The 2009 International Market Day in Faribault sponsored by the Faribault Diversity Coalition.

 

 

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

 

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling