Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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


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


We’re not hyphenated Americans… September 12, 2011

Xafsa, age 5

THEY ARE THE FACES, the hands, the feet, the voices of a new Faribault. Not the community of only French or Germans, Scandinavians or whatever ethnic groups shaped and defined this southeastern Minnesota city for so many years.

Today the face of Faribault is changing with one-fifth of the population identifying itself as non-white in the 2010 U.S. Census. Most of those minorities are Latinos and Somalis, “drawn by the opportunity to live in a small town and work in food processing plants, especially meat-packing plants,” according to a recent research report, “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” conducted by students and staff with the St. Olaf College Political Science Department. To read that report, follow this link:


I can’t possibly attempt to summarize the contents of that report here. But it is packed with information that should be a must-read for every member of my community. We can all learn a thing or two or ten or 20 from this research project.

But mostly we can learn from meeting our neighbors at events like the International Festival held Saturday in Faribault’s Central Park. I’ve attended this meld of ethnic cultures several times already and each time enjoyed interacting with my neighbors whose skin color differs from my own.

That all sounds nice, politically-correct, and exactly what you’d expect me to write in a public venue like this blog. But I am sincere in my appreciation to the volunteer organizers of the International Festival and to those who participate. We just need more Caucasians to attend.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico's national anthem on the band shell stage.

From the food and merchandise vendors to the musicians and everyone in between, I had ample opportunity to educate myself about Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Somalia, Holland and Norway. My husband and I sampled ethnic foods from five vendors.

We sampled pupusas right off the griddle.

My husband and I tried Guatemalan chuchitos-- chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk.

Faribault resident and one of the organizers, Peter van Sluis a Dutch citizen who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years, says the festival offers “a chance to mingle with different cultures.”

For me that mingling was most evident when children gathered under shade trees just south of the Central Park band shell to break piñatas. It didn’t matter if their skin was the beautiful color of sun-baked clay, or a nearly-black deep brown, or pale white. They were all kids, just kids, waiting to whack that swaying treasure-trove apart and then scramble for candy.

After the pinata was broken, the kids shared the candy.

While waiting for the piñata busting, I made a point of scanning the adult faces. I saw smiles—smiles nearly as wide as the brimmed hat worn by the man donning an El Salvador T-shirt. That’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. Viewing kids having fun has no color barriers.

Riyaam, 16

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention my chat with Owatonna High School student Riyaam, a stunning Somali teen who was peddling shoes, skirts and other merchandise at a table. Well-spoken and seemingly mature beyond her 16 years, Riyaam and I talked about clashes between whites and Somalis at OHS which she says has led to a new policy of basically, “you fight, you’re out.”

She told me how the angry voice of a single white student, who declared, “Somalis don’t belong here,” triggered those racial tensions.

As she spoke, her voice became more agitated, edged with emotion. I wanted to reach across the table and hug her and I wish now that I had.

But I didn’t and it is too late for that now, but not too late to encourage Faribault residents to make the effort to meet the Somalis, the Sudanese, the Latinos and other immigrants who now live among us. It is easy to dismiss and stereotype an ethnic group if you’ve never made the effort to personally meet them individually.

A member of the Faribault-based band Circles and Squares, of which two members performed at Saturday’s International Festival, nicely summarized, I thought, the goal of the gathering: “Remember, we’re not hyphenated Americans. We’re friends.”

Well, said.

National flag ribbons were tied to trees in Central Park during the celebration.

Vendors peddled their wares at the festival.

Shoes from Somalia on display at Riyaam's table.

A woman from El Salvador cooked at her food both.

Sanji, 18 months, plays with toys in the kids' activity area of the fest.

Hoop maker, performer and teacher Adrienne Lee teaches a Girl Scout the art of hoop dancing. The Girl Scouts were among the non-profit groups with booths at the festival.

A young girl's henna stained foot.

Colorful skirts for sale at Riyaam's booth.

THE ST. OLAF RESEARCH, which included interviews with 39 Faribault community members, states: “Most interviewees agree that Faribault’s immigrant and native-born communities operate alongside each other; coexisting peacefully, but not acting as a single integrated community.”


The report continues: “They do not agree about what should be done to unite these groups.

“We found Faribault leaders thus enmeshed in the long-standing American debate about which people ought to change and how much.”

A colorful, detailed wall hanging/blanket represented El Salvador at one booth.

FYI: International Festival, Faribault, a recently-formed non-profit, has set its number one goal “to promote understanding of different cultures by organizing an annual event,” says Peter van Sluis. Secondly, the group wants to raise money and assist other non-profits.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling