Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Part II: A close-up look at the International Festival Faribault August 25, 2015

Attendees watch the flag ceremony staged in the Central Park Bandshell.

Attendees watch the flag ceremony staged in the Central Park Bandshell.

THE FLAGS OF AMERICA, Sudan, Honduras, Ireland, Norway and 13 other countries, plus the United Nations, whipped in the wind Saturday afternoon at Faribault’s Central Park as folks gathered to celebrate my community’s cultural diversity.

A Cambodian

Cambodian refugee Sam Ouk, right, holds his country’s flag.

It was a day of connecting cultures through the International Festival Faribault.

Cambodian dancers.

Cambodian dancers.

An Aztec dancer

An Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancer.

An Aztec drummer.

An Aztec drummer.

Connecting through music and dance,

KIds (and some adults) created flags.

Kids (and some adults) created flags.

Attendees marked a world map with their countries of origin.

Attendees marked a world map with their countries of origin.

River Bend Nature Center showed up with several critters, including a snake and turtle.

River Bend Nature Center showed up with several critters, including a snake and turtle.

hands-on activities,

One of many vendors offering ethnic foods.

One of many vendors offering ethnic foods.

One of my favorite foods, a spicy wrapped Somali

One of my favorite foods, a spicy Somalian Samosa.

Vendors of Cambodian food.

Vendors of Cambodian food.

sampling of ethnic foods,

Cambodian art.

Cambodian art.

Supplies for face painting.

Supplies for face painting.

Lots of kids got their faces painted.

Lots of kids got their faces painted.

Cambodian art.

Cambodian art.

art,

The bouncy house, a popular place for kids.

The bouncy house, a popular place for kids.

The bouncy house was a popular spot for the youngsters.

Inside the bouncy house.

An impromptu dance.

An impromptu dance.

play

Author Joseph L. Mbele

Joseph L. Mbele, author and Associate Professor of English at St. Olaf College in Northfield, marketed his books and represented Tanzania at the festival.

and more.

Months-old Santiago was there with his family.

Months-old Santiago was there with his family.

This teen represented Somalia.

This teen represented Somalia.

Five-month-old Audrianna was at the fest with her parents and siblings.

Five-month-old Audrianna was at the fest with her parents and siblings.

From babes only months old to elders, this event drew all ages interested in meeting those people who call my southeastern Minnesota community home.

Kids run, adults mingle and all learn about each other.

Kids run, adults mingle and all learn about each other.

We are no longer mostly just the descendants of European immigrants. But rather, we are a mix of peoples—some from war-torn lands—who have settled here. Saturday’s festival offered the opportunity to learn more about one another.

Kids could color graphics on a map of Minnesota that highlights points of interest.

Kids could color graphics on a map of Minnesota that highlights points of interest.

And that is good. For when we learn, we begin to understand each other. We begin to see each other as neighbors living in this place called Faribault, Minnesota.

A steady flow of attendees

A steady flow of attendees browsed the merchandise, sampled food and more.

FYI: Please click here to read my first post about the 10th annual International Festival Faribault.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How Faribault celebrated its cultural diversity on one day in August August 22, 2015

The flag ceremony featured national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated.

The flag ceremony featured national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated.

FRIENDS, FLAGS, FOOD, FUN…all melded in Faribault Saturday for the 10th annual International Festival Faribault.

Representing the country of Sudan.

Representing the country of Sudan.

Despite a fierce wind that ripped tent poles from the ground and hastened events along under a forecast of stormy weather, nothing could quell the enthusiasm for this gathering.

Friends

Friends

Friends

Friends

Festival, friends 3

Friends

Smiles abounded. Everywhere.

The festival was truly a family event for all cultures.

The festival was truly a family event for all cultures.

It was a feel-good family event,

Pork and plenty of cilantro.

Pork and plenty of cilantro.

an opportunity to try ethnic foods,

An Aztec dancer

A dancer from Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancers.

An Aztec dancer's costume details.

An Aztec dancer’s costume details.

Aztec dancers

Aztec dancers

a place to be entertained by skillful dancers,

Kids used markers to create flags from their native countries.

Kids used markers to create flags from their native countries.

an educational day,

Flags representing Faribault residents lined the sidewalk.

Flags representing Faribault residents lined the sidewalk.

Henna art

Henna art

Attendees watch the flag ceremony.

On stage and off, cultures mingled.

a mingling of the many cultures that call Faribault home.

A candid moment: just two boys on bikes.

A candid moment: just two boys on bikes.

I am grateful for festivals like this in my southeastern Minnesota community. When I see the togetherness, especially among the children, I have hope.

Beautiful henna art.

Beautiful henna art.

Hope that we can see beyond the color of our skin,

Just a kid having fun.

Just a kid having fun.

beyond the differences in language and dress and food to that which unites us—the fact that we are all people, just people.

FYI: Please check back for more photos from the International Festival Faribault.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Festival celebrates Faribault’s cultural diversity August 20, 2015

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

Faribault is becoming an ever diverse community as shown in this photo from a recent Friday evening Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

Neighbor meeting neighbor.

I like that phrase tagged by the International Festival Faribault planning committee to an event celebrating my community’s cultural diversity.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary for this photo taken at a previous fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

When we personalize, then we begin to see beyond the differences. We see individuals rather than skin color or clothing. We hear the person and not the language. We connect. We become neighbors.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault's International Market Day celebration.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancers performs at a previous International Festival Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, August 22, the Faribault community comes together in Central Park for this 10th annual celebration of diversity. International Festival Faribault aims to promote an understanding between cultures and to unite the community with music, dance, art, ethnic foods and merchandise.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata during the 2012 festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. I won first place for this image in the “personal heritage” category of the 2014 Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest.

I’ve attended the festival numerous times and delight in this opportunity to meet others, to sample ethnic foods, to listen to music, to check out the art and more. My favorite has always been observing children gathered to break pińatas. It is then that I see the possibilities for Faribault. We can learn from these kids who care not about differences but rather are focused as one on a single goal.

On Saturday, let that goal be neighbor meeting neighbor.

A woman, without my prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Art showcased by a vendor at the 2012 festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s the International Festival Faribault entertainment schedule:

  • 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. – Steve Huber on acoustic guitar
  • 11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.- Otto & Celia – Guatemalan singers on keyboard; Patti Letona – Guatemalan singer; and Eliana Tobar – El Salvadorian singer
  • 11:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. – Selvin – Guatemalan dancer
  • 11:45 a.m. – noon – Children’s Dance Performance by Florecitas de Dios
  • noon – 1 p.m. – Ollin Ayacaxtly Aztec Dancers
  • 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. – Flag Ceremonies (national anthems and salutes)
  • 2 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – South Sudanese music and dancers
  • 2:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. – Cambodian dancers
  • 3 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. – Hula Hoop Performance by Adrienne Lee
  • 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Breaking of piñatas

FYI: Admittance to International Festival Faribault is free.

 

Minnesota Faces: Friends February 27, 2015

Portrait 9: Nimo and Nasteho

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

“They assume I’m a terrorist.”

I’ll always remember that statement shared with me 2 ½ years ago by a then high school senior who asked me to photograph her and a friend at the International Festival Faribault.

Nasteho, a native of Kenya, posed with Nimo for this beautiful portrait of the pair. They were among students volunteering at the fest.

What Nasteho told me that August day in 2012 broke my heart. She’d been subjected to ongoing insults from a customer in her workplace, felt stares at the grocery store, been flipped the bird while driving. All because of the way she dressed, her skin color and her ethnicity.

“There is no respect for Somalis,” she concluded.

I couldn’t disagree with her. I’d heard the negative comments, too, about Faribault’s newest immigrants.

Despite the outright prejudice Nasteho had already endured at such a young age, she did not appear bitter or angry, only desiring of respect and understanding. She seemed wise beyond her years. Poised. Thoughtful. Well-spoken.

I recall thinking, if only those who hold disdain for Somalis could meet Nasteho. They would see her as the beautiful, young and spirited woman I photographed.

It is the personal connections that bridge differences. I believed that then. I still believe that now.

#

This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating my community’s many cultures at International Festival Faribault August 21, 2014

IN A SOUTHERN MINNESOTA COMMUNITY which is growing ever more diverse, the need for understanding among cultures seems not an option, but a must.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

If we’re to live and work and play in the same town, then we need to meet one another, to educate ourselves, to be open to the differences that define us.

International Festival Faribault presents an opportunity to do just that from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, August 23. Via music, ethnic food, art, children’s activities and more, the cultures of our diverse community will be showcased and celebrated in Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico's national anthem last September during the International Festival Faribault at Faribault's Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico’s national anthem during a previous International Festival Faribault at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

At the hour-long flag ceremony, which begins at 11:30 a.m., the flags and national anthems of 18 nations, from the U.S. to Somalia, South Sudan, Mexico and more will be presented. It’s a moving ceremony that visually impresses the diversity of those who call Faribault and the surrounding area home.

A Mexican dish (help me out if you know, but I think tortillas) was wrapped in banana leaves. My husband and I tried this.

A Mexican dish wrapped in banana leaves. My husband and I tried this at a past fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And then there are food booths, where you can sample ethnic dishes from countries like Somalia, Honduras, Norway and more.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia during a past fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Others will vend native art.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos-- chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk.  You'll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos– chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk. You’ll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve attended this festival several times and each time have left with a better understanding of my neighbors. The key is to visit with folks who are from a country other than your own. Don’t just buy a chuchito or a tamale or some other food and walk away. Chat it up with the vendor.

Faribault High School seniors Shukri Aden, left, and Khadra Muhumed.

At a past fest, I spoke with then Faribault High School seniors Shukri Aden, left, and Khadra Muhumed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am convinced that personal connections are the key to understanding and overcoming the barriers that separate cultures.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversing and connecting at a previous fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Long-time residents and newbies alike must reach out to one another to bridge the gaps of misunderstandings and preconceived notions that exist. And they do. Exist. I hear the prejudicial comments way too often. We must learn to respect one another.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

One of my favorite fest portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It is the kids who give me the most hope. They don’t seem to notice the differences in skin color, language and culture. And they are a primary focus of International Festival Faribault. The local United Way will give away children’s books. There will be a children’s dance performance and a bouncy tent.

Happy children all focused on the same goal: breaking the pinata.

Happy children all focused on the same goal: breaking the pinata near the Central Park Bandshell. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But the highlight, in my opinion, is the breaking of piñatas at 3:30 p.m. I’ve witnessed this event several times with children of many ethnic backgrounds standing side-by-side. Their smiles are wide. And so are those of the adults observing how piñatas can bring together cultures. Together.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault's International Market Day celebration.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at a past fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s a schedule of festival events:

10 – 10:45 a.m.: Otto & Celia, Hispanic singers on keyboard
10:45 – 11 a.m.: Selvia, Guatemalan dancer
11 – 11:30 a.m.: Ollin Ayacaxtli Aztec Dancers
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Flag ceremony
12:30 – 1 p.m.: Children’s dance performance by Florecitas de Dios
1 – 2 p.m.: River Mill Band performs (combination of newgrass and folk)
2 – 3 p.m.: South Sudanese music and dancers
3 – 3:30 p.m.: Hula hoop performance by Adrienne Lee & Jugglers
3:30 p.m.: Breaking of piñatas and end of silent auction

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Additionally, non-profits will be at the festival to focus on immigrants. Rice County Public Health will give guided tours of the Faribault Farmer’s Market (also happening at the park during morning hours) in Somali and Spanish. The American Association of University Women will offer children’s activities. HealthFinders Collaborative, the Faribault Diversity Coalition, Greater Upper Nile Community Services & Development and more will also be at the fest. A silent auction features about $3,000 in donated items.

To learn more about International Festival Faribault, click here. And then click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting cultures at the International Festival Faribault August 22, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico's national anthem last September during the International Festival Faribault at Faribault's Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico’s national anthem during the 2011 International Festival Faribault at Faribault’s Central Park. The flags represent the diverse cultures of Faribault.

ITS PURPOSES ARE TO PROMOTE understanding between cultures and to unite the community.

This Saturday, August 24, the International Festival Faribault will strive to do just that through song, dance, ethnic cuisine, children’s activities and more from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Central Park.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, left, and Nasteho Farah whom I met at last year’s fest.

I’ve attended the fest, now in its eighth year, several times. Each time I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for other cultures and for the challenges new immigrants to my community face. That hasn’t necessarily come simply via sitting on a park bench and watching ethnic dancers or listening to ethnic music. Nor has it come from purchasing food unfamiliar to my Minnesota taste buds.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

A precious little boy photographed next to a vendor’s table during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

Rather, I have learned the most by interacting, one on one, with those whose skin color and backgrounds differ from mine.

Therein, in my opinion, lies the key to understanding and uniting. The ability to see each other as individuals breaks down barriers, dispels untruths, brings people together. International Festival Faribault offers an ideal setting in which to connect personally.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from the 2012 festival.

So to the residents of my community, I issue this challenge: Attend the festival and connect with at least one person you don’t know. If you’re the descendant of German immigrants, strike up a conversation with someone from Somalia. If your roots are in Mexico, introduce yourself to someone with Scandinavian ancestry. You get the idea.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress, entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault in 2009. The event has since been remained International Festival Faribault.

In between that mingling, be sure to take in these scheduled activities:

10:30 – 11 a.m., Contemporary Spanish music by Miguel Tobar of Medford, also the program MC

11 – 11:30 a.m., Flag Ceremonies

11:30 – noon, Central American dances presented by Florecitas de Dios, a children’s dance group from Owatonna

noon – 1 p.m., Aztec dancers

1 – 2 p.m., Juggling act

2 – 4 p.m., Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo from Owatonna shows selected creatures.

2 – 3 p.m., Contemporary, gospel, pop and country music by Edy Valentine of Faribault

3 – 3:30 p.m., Somali dancers from the Twin Cities

3:30 p.m., breaking of pinatas and end of silent auction

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of a group of children waiting to swing at the pinata during the 2012 festival.

Besides all of that, you’ll find a busy children’s area with a bouncy castle, games, face painting, hula hooping and more. One of the sweetest parts of this festival is to observe children, no matter their skin color, dress or culture, scrambling for candy from a broken pinata or sitting side by side at a picnic table coloring. They don’t care about cultural differences that seem to wedge into the minds of adults.

The United Way Red Truck will also be on the festival grounds with free children’s books to give away. I’m all for anything that encourages reading.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos-- chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk.  You'll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos– chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk. You’ll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Come hungry as vendors will sell ethnic foods of Central America, Somali, Ethiopia, Norway, Germany and more. Craft vendors will also be on-site.

International Festival Faribault truly does offer all of us the opportunity to embrace one another, to understand and to unite.

FYI: Click here and then here to read my blog posts from the 2012 festival.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream for my Minnesota community January 21, 2013

I HAVE A DREAM for my community of Faribault, Minnesota.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

Skin color matters not during this pinata breaking at the International Festival Faribault held in August 2012.

And that dream is for those who live here to see beyond differences in skin color, language, culture and religion.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

One of my favorite portraits from the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

I dream that someday my neighbors, and I use that term in the general sense of the word, will recognize that we are, no matter our differences, each human beings who deserve respect.

The scramble for candy once one of three pinatas is broken.

No barriers here as Faribault kids scramble for candy at the 2012 International Festival Faribault,

I dream that someday prejudice will vanish.

The ever-changing/growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post commencement gathering outside the school.

The ever-growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post 2012 commencement gathering outside the school.

I dream that long-time residents will begin to understand the difficulties local minorities—Somalis, Sudanese, Latinos and others—face in assimilating into a new culture, a new community, a new way of life.

International flag ribbons were tied to trees in Central Park during the 2011 International Festival..

International flag ribbons were tied to trees in Central Park during the 2011 International Festival..

I dream the descendants of immigrants will remember that their forefathers were once newcomers to this land.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends and Faribault residents, Nimo Abdi and Nasteho Farah, photographed at the International Festival Faribault 2012.

I dream that someday I will speak with a young Somali high school student and the words she shares will not be words of heartbreaking prejudice.

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

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

I dream that locals will stop fearing the Somali men who gather on downtown street corners, the street-level front porches of their Central Avenue apartments.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the festival.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

I dream that the minority population will no longer be lumped together into the category of those who commit the most crimes within my community.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary.

I dream that all of us, no matter our color, can begin to connect on a personal level. For when that happens, the barriers begin to fall, the differences slip away, and the prejudices vanish.

#

I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE you with the impression that Faribault residents are a bunch of racists. We are not. But to claim that we are all accepting of one another, to deny that bigotry exists, would be inaccurate. I’ve heard all too many negative stories and comments, even from friends and acquaintances, about our minority population.

Faribault is an ever-changing community of diversity. One need only drive or walk about town to see that.  While 75 percent of our population is white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hispanics or Latinos comprise 13 percent and black or African Americans seven percent of our residents.

We can form all sorts of committees, outreach and other groups to ease newcomers into Faribault, to advocate understanding and acceptance. These are necessary and commendable efforts. Yet, if we as individuals do not open our hearts, and that applies both to long-time residents and immigrants, nothing truly changes. We need to connect on a personal basis. For in shaking a hand, greeting one another by name, engaging in conversation, we begin to view each other as individuals, then as friends.

I am not so naive as to believe any of this will come easily or quickly. Change begins with something as simple as a smile, holding a door open, a kind word, an unwillingness to hear a prejudicial comment and then let it slide…

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

We can choose to support the ethnic businesses which are making our community a more diverse and interesting place to shop and dine. I’d like to see minorities actively and visibly involved/represented in the Chamber of Commerce and Faribault Main Street program. How about a campaign to showcase ethnic businesses to locals and visitors?

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful art from Kenya and Somalia at the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

Perhaps our local arts center could connect with minority groups, integrating them into the arts scene via gallery showings, classes, diverse cultural events and the sale of their art in the arts center gift shop.

Ethnic musicians could be featured during the weekly Faribault Parks and Recreation Department summer band concerts in Central Park.

The Faribault Farmers’ Market could invite minorities to vend their ethnic art, crafts and food. The relaxed atmosphere of the Farmers’ Market offers an especially neighborly environment in which to connect people and cultures on a personal level.

My ideas are nothing novel. Perhaps some have already been tried, are in the works or are on the table…

#

CERTAINLY EFFORTS ARE being made to reach out to our newest residents, although one of the most valuable assets, The Welcome Center, closed several years ago due to lack of funding. Somali Community Services reaches the Somali population, at least.

A newly-formed group, Faribault’s Task Force on Cultural Diversity, has brought community leaders (including clergy, business representatives, healthcare and law enforcement professionals and others) together to address diversity-related concerns. I contacted Mayor John Jasinski, who is spearheading this committee, for an update, but have not yet received a response.

A woman, without my prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Without prompting, this woman took this mask from a table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

The nonprofit International Festival Faribault organizes an annual outdoor fest aiming “to promote understanding between diverse cultures within Faribault, uniting the community with music, dance, ethnic foods and merchandise.”

HealthFinders Collaborative, which began with a healthcare clinic for the underinsured and uninsured in rural Dundas, recently opened an additional center in downtown Faribault.

St. Vincent de Paul Center offers financial assistance, food, clothing and other basic necessities to those in need.

Ten Faribault churches have joined to create the Community Cathedral Cafe, serving a free meal from 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

Divine Mercy Catholic Church has a Hispanic Ministry Program that includes, among many other aspects, annual summer masses at two Faribault trailer parks.

Within Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Nile Our Savior’s, a Sudanese congregation, holds Sunday afternoon worship services at 1 p.m in the Nuer language.

Buckham Memorial Library offers a free online language program (Mango Languages) with 40 foreign languages and 12 English as a Second Language courses.

This list certainly is not all-encompassing. Our schools are reaching out, too, through nonprofits like Children’s Dental Services. I expect many individuals, whether via one-on-one tutoring, donations or other gifts are also assisting Faribault’s minority population.

Yet, more can be done. And it starts with each of us, in our hearts, on a personal level.

*NOTE: Some of the organizations listed above are not geared specifically toward assisting local minorities, but rather toward anyone in need, no matter their ethnicity.

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Historic buildings along Central Avenue.

Historic buildings along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IN CELEBRATION of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and his “I have a dream” speech, I’d like to hear:  What is your dream for your community?

And what are your thoughts on anything I’ve presented in this post.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting, conversing and celebrating cultural diversity at Faribault festival August 28, 2012

This woman represents El Salvador during the International Festival Faribault on a drizzly Saturday. Flags suspended from the Central Park band shell in the background show the countries participating in the event.

DESCRIBING AN EVENT like International Festival Faribault within the confines of a blog post or two seems daunting. How do I adequately convey the essence of this fest celebrating the cultural diversity of my community?

You can view my first effort by clicking here and reading “Yearning for respect & equality, ‘no matter what color you are.’”

Now, as I scroll again through the many photos I took during the fest (when rain wasn’t drizzling upon my camera), I ponder which images to share, what words to pen.

Cultures connecting on the band shell stage between musical acts.

And “c” words—like color, connecting, communicating, conversation, coloring, candy, culture, care, colorful clothing—pop out at me as I view my photos.

I should perhaps add “confusing” to that list because I felt overwhelmed when trying to photograph the wood carvings from Somalia and Kenya peddled by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali.

A woman, without prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Suddenly, it seemed, everyone wanted to pose for a picture. And I much prefer candid to set up shots. I obliged, though, because it seemed the easiest thing to do.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia.

Then Lul Abdi, who had grabbed a wooden platter and giraffe, and held them up for me to photograph, asked me to write in my blog that an election is coming up in Somalia and I should tell everyone to vote for whomever it is she supports. Bashir Omar translated my answer—I don’t write about international political issues.

While this back-and-forth translation was occurring, I felt befuddled because, when too much noise (in this instance lots of conversation going on around me and music in the background), is coming my way, my brain doesn’t process anything. That issue is related to the 70 percent hearing loss in my right ear.

Despite the difficulties, this muddle served as an aha moment. Imagine if I was Lul, struggling on a daily basis to understand those around me. Life would be challenging.

Busy artists at the kids’ activity table.

But sometimes we all speak the same language. And I saw, rather than heard, that on Saturday, at the festival, especially among the children. They sat side-by-side painting at the kids’ activity table, bounced side-by-side in the bouncy tent, stood side-by-side in line to take turns swinging at pinatas.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

Differences in color and culture and language mattered not to these children. They shouldn’t matter to any of us. Therein lies the message I most want to communicate to you today and which was communicated so well via International Festival Faribault.

Happy children all focused on the same goal: breaking the pinata.

All around me, children and adults of all colors mingled.

The boy on the right was biking past Central Park and stopped to watch the activities at a distance.

The scramble for candy once one of three pinatas is broken.

AND HERE ARE SOME ADDITIONAL BONUS PHOTOS:

Masks displayed at the food vendor representing El Salvador.

Waiting at the bouncy tent.

A Mexican dish (help me out if you know, but I think tortillas) was wrapped in banana leaves. My husband and I tried this.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary.

Necklaces and other jewelry from Kenya and/or Somalia and for sale at the festival.

Kids painted and colored, etc., elbow to elbow at the always busy kids’ activity table.

Some mischievous face painting was also part of the fun.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Yearning for respect & equality, “no matter what color you are” August 26, 2012

I HAVE PHOTOGRAPHED them from a distance, their long skirts swaying as they walk across Central Park toward me.

Now the young women are standing before me and I am confused for a moment until Nasteho Farah tells me she wants to look her best and asks me to photograph them again.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

I agree as I already envision the portrait possibilities—the expressive brown eyes, the warm skin tone, the way Nimo Abdi leans toward her friend, her hijab brushing Nasteho’s cheek. They are beautiful young women and I take only one shot, knowing I’ve captured a memorable portrait.

I love this image of  a fest performer and her single audience member for the message it portrays– the one on one connection that helps us understand one another, no matter our culture or skin color.

These Faribault High School students are among those participating in the International Festival Faribault on Saturday, an event designed to connect cultures through music, arts and crafts, kids’ activities, international cuisine, education and, on a personal level, conversation.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician performing in the band shell.

After I photograph the friends, we talk about their experiences living in Faribault. And what Nasteho shares with me so upsets me that I apologize to her for the utter disrespect shown to her and her friend, who stands silently listening.

The native of Kenya, a Faribault resident for five years and prior to that a resident of Rochester, Owatonna and Waseca, says she is criticized for the scarf she wears, for her culture, for her…

“They assume I’m a terrorist.”

Her words temporarily stun me and I can feel my jaw drop.

She doesn’t define “they” specifically, but says the insults, the prejudice, happens randomly—in school, in the streets, even at work.

A group of young Somali dancers perform on the band shell stage during the festival.

When I ask for examples, Nasteho mentions the middle-aged man who comes through the drive-through at McDonalds in Faribault where she works. He tells her she should stop wearing her head scarf. She’s talked to her manager about it and he’s been supportive. For now, she mostly tries to ignore the customer’s spiteful comments.

When she walks into other businesses, like the grocery store, she feels the stares. When driving, she’s been flipped off.

“There is no respect for Somalis,” Nasteho assesses.

Yet, she doesn’t seem visibly angry, choosing instead to speak up or to take the position that those who choose to attack her or her culture do not know her or understand her.

I admire Nasteho’s positive attitude. She tells me she didn’t experience prejudice living in Rochester—a larger and more diverse community—but that it’s been much harder in a smaller town like Faribault. She was too young to remember what life was like in Owatonna or Waseca.

Faribault High School seniors Shukri Aden, left, and Khadra Muhumed.

Faribault High School students Shukri Aden and Khadra Muhumed, who are volunteering with STOPS, Students Together Offering Peer Support, at the International Festival, have also been subjected to hurtful comments from those who tell them to go back to their own country or that they smell.

“I try to talk to them,” says Shukri, who has lived in Faribault for seven years, since she came to the U.S. at age 12.

She wants everyone “to be equal no matter what color you are…to get to know each other.”

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia for sale at the fest.

And this FHS senior has dreams—of going to college to become a nurse and then returning to Somali to help those in need.

On this Saturday, at this International Festival, the words of these young Somali women evoke mixed emotions within me. I am saddened by those in my community who fail to see beyond the scarves, the culture, the skin color, the language.

Mother and daughter check out the artwork from Kenya and Somalia.

These women are not terrorists. They are someone’s daughters. They are high school students. They live here, work here, shop here, worship here.

Despite the clear prejudice which angers me, I feel hope. These young women possess a maturity and poise beyond their teenage years. They yearn for understanding, for respect, for the personal connections that define them as individuals.

And on this Saturday afternoon they are trying, through their volunteerism at the International Festival Faribault, to, as Nasteho says, “bring everybody together.”

A mother’s love and care, the same in any language, any culture, any skin color.

CHECK BACK FOR A FUTURE post with photos from the seventh annual International Festival Faribault. Thank you to the organizers and participants in this festival who are trying to connect cultures, to make Faribault a better place to live, no matter your culture, skin color or country of origin.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling