Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My thoughts on the prejudice that threads through my Minnesota community April 19, 2018

A photo and comment by a visitor posted at the “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail” exhibit at St. Olaf College in 2015, used here for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

TWELVE YEARS AFTER my then 12-year-old son was struck by a car while crossing the street to his school bus stop, my husband and I are still occasionally asked whether the driver in the hit-and-run has ever been found. The answer: No.

I’m OK with that. Caleb was not seriously injured and enough time has passed since the May 12, 2006, incident that my anger has subsided.

But now my anger has risen anew—not at the driver but rather at a recent comment made by an acquaintance. “Was it a Mexican?” the man asked of the unknown driver.

 

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate in the “Selma” exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

How do you respond to something like that—something so totally ignorant and racist and uncalled for that it makes my blood boil to think that someone in this day—2018—would even think that, let alone speak it. Why that assumption? What led him to believe the driver was a “Mexican” versus a Caucasian or even a green alien from Mars?

I can’t tolerate this type of blatant racism. About Hispanics. About Somalians. About anyone. Just days ago I heard negative comments about Somalians as it relates to parking issues in Faribault’s downtown business district.

 

A St. Olaf College student/staffer studies an image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the “Selma” exhibit in April 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I didn’t grow up here. Once I was an outsider trying to fit into Faribault, where generations of families live, where many people are inter-related, where young people stay upon graduating from high school or return to after college. I’m not saying those are bad things. Faribault’s a wonderful place to live. But I suspect the hometown factor, the deep roots, may have something to do with the “was it a Mexican” type attitude some locals hold toward newcomers, especially those of color. There’s fear in the unknown, fear in change, fear in the prospect of a community becoming something different than it has always been.

 

Kids used markers to create flags from their native countries during the International Festival Faribault in August 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only.

 

Change oftentimes does not come easily. Yet, that’s no excuse for sweeping negative assumptions and racism. I am thankful for the efforts of many within Faribault who welcome newcomers. Like the Faribault Diversity Coalition and individuals who tutor, assist, teach, embrace immigrants and, yes, even welcome outsiders like me from Redwood County, Minnesota. I arrived here 36 years ago knowing only my new husband (also a non-native). It took awhile for me to fit in, to find my place here.

Today I consider Faribault home. I love this community and the many dear friends I’ve made here. But I don’t appreciate the underlying and sometimes overt prejudice I occasionally see and hear.

“Was it a Mexican?”

No, my son was struck by a blue 4-door Chevrolet Cavalier or Corsica. Driver unknown. Race unimportant.

#

ON THE SAME TOPIC:

I find especially notable a comment made by Faribault Public School Superintendent Todd Sesker during an “AM Minnesota” interview with Gordy Kosfeld on KDHL radio. During that Monday morning interview, Sesker discussed the issue of 400-plus students open-enrolling outside of the Faribault School District. The district plans to survey families and learn why these students are choosing to attend schools elsewhere.

 

The ever-changing/growing diversity of Faribault High School shows in this post commencement photo taken in May 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Sesker says, in part, “We know some of the rumors that are out there and some of the people that are complaining about our schools. We know about the cultural differences…”

“…the cultural differences…”

That tells me a lot.

According to 2018 enrollment by race/ethnicity data published on the Minnesota Department of Education website, more than half of the students in Faribault Public Schools are of a race/ethnicity other than White. Here’s the break-down on the three largest ethnic groups among the district’s 3,777 students, according to the MDE: 24.2 percent are Hispanic/Latino, 23.8 percent are Black/African American, and 47.4 percent are White.

I suggest you listen to the radio interview with Sesker by clicking here. Discussion on the open enrollment issue begins at about minute 13.

 

NOTE: All comments are moderated. Please be respectful in your comments and discussion. I reserve the right as author of this personal blog to decide whether or not to publish a comment.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pride and Prejudice March 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Different cultures, all the faces of today's Faribault, mingled during the Fall Festival.

Different cultures mingled during the 2011 Fall Festival in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

8:45 a.m. on Saturday:

A Somali man sweeps the sidewalk in the 300 block of Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault before shops open at 9 a.m.

Late Saturday afternoon:

A woman throws money at a Somali teen working as a check-out clerk at a downtown Faribault grocery store. Throws, not hands.

Why am I writing about these two events observed last Saturday in my southeastern Minnesota community of some 23,000 with a significant Somali population?

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am sharing this because an undercurrent, OK it’s not even an undercurrent, of prejudice exists in Faribault. If your skin is any color other than white, you are open to possible disdain and contempt.

Vendors, like Riyaam, peddled their wares at the 2011 festival.

A Somali woman peddles her wares at the 2011 International Festival in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve heard it all:

They are taking our jobs, taking government hand-outs, hanging around where they don’t belong. They smell. They dress weird. They don’t know how to drive.

Two weeks ago a young man left his car running, unattended, while tending to business in a residential area of southwest Faribault. Afterward he commented that he shouldn’t have done that because of “the Somalis.” He’s from Northfield, a neighboring town.

Really?

Banadir, a Somali restaurant, is located in historic downtown Faribault.

Banadir, a Somali restaurant, is located in historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

For awhile, complaints ran rampant about Somali men hanging out on Central Avenue street corners. People said they were afraid to go downtown. These men live downtown above businesses, some of which are Somali-owned. Sidewalks are their front porches, their place to gather and converse. This is part of their culture, to meet and talk.

I wish those who continually criticize our newest immigrants could have seen the Somali man sweeping a downtown sidewalk. His efforts show respect for and pride in community.

A 60-something white woman throwing money at a Somali teen simply doing her job shows lack of respect.

No matter our ethnicity/skin color, we really need to just respect each other as human beings.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Speaking up against prejudice in my Minnesota community April 28, 2014

AWHILE AGO, I DECIDED I would no longer remain silent.

And Saturday afternoon, while purchasing a Betsy Bowen print and greeting cards at the Northfield Senior Center thrift store, Used A Bit Shoppe, I spoke up.

While I waited for my framed print to be wrapped in newspaper, I chatted with the friendly woman behind the counter. We talked about the spinning glasstop table crafted from three monkey statues—“hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”—and the other unique recycled merchandise in this jam-packed shoppe.

I’d never been here, I told her, didn’t even know that this place existed, that I didn’t live in Northfield. The business had moved not all that long ago, she said, to this larger location.

About that time a hulk of a man wedged in beside me and interrupted, adding that he remembered the old store, that he used to live in Northfield and now lived in neighboring Faribault.

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.

But he wanted to return to Northfield, he said, “because of all the Somalis in Faribault.” Disdain colored his words.

He’d just said the wrong thing to me.

I turned, looked him in the eye, and told him I did not appreciate his disrespect for Somali people.

That set him off. I can’t recall every word spoken, but I do remember the bit about his grandmother being a war bride and speaking seven languages. Not once did he explain why he so disliked Somalis. Not that an explanation would have mattered.

As his agitation grew, I began to feel threatened.

“Sir, I don’t want to argue with you,” I said, attempting to diffuse the situation. “I’m just sharing my opinion.”

“I don’t like you forcing your opinion on me,” he responded, ever-growing anger tinging his voice. “When they (Somalis) respect me, I will respect them.”

He finally walked away, edging toward a cluster of other shoppers, including my husband, who’d overheard bits of the mostly one-sided conversation.

I turned back to the elderly clerk, picked up the four dollars and some odd cents change she’d laid on the counter.

“Welcome to Northfield,” I said. “Oh, that’s right, he’s from Faribault. I feel sorry for people like him who cannot respect others.”

Then I exited this shoppe where a “speak no evil” monkey hunches with a hand clamped across his mouth.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My thoughts on the changing streets of Faribault November 6, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I DON’T LIVE on a Bay, a Circle or a Drive.

I live along Willow Street.

That alone should tell you that my home sits in an old neighborhood. After all, cities don’t name streets after trees anymore or even attach the word “street” to a new roadway. If there are willows growing along my street, I haven’t noticed them.

But I’ve noticed, in the 29 years my husband and I have been in our modest three-bedroom, one-bath Willow Street home, that there’s a certain stigma attached to our arterial street, to our part of Faribault.

And I’m not happy about that.

For example, a few evenings ago, we joined friends around a backyard bonfire. The conversation ebbed and flowed with intermittent laughter, until a friend remarked, “I see your neighborhood is getting more diverse.” I knew the comment stemmed from a drive-by shooting several months ago within two blocks of my home.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My defenses kicked in and I was prepared for an unpleasant exchange about the ever-growing cultural diversity of Faribault and the perceived “problems” in my neighborhood. My husband responded and the topic was dropped. I didn’t find myself, once again, championing for those of color, although you’ll never find me defending criminal behavior committed by anyone, whether white, black, green or purple.

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

A Somali family in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Honestly, I tire of the underlying, and often blatant, prejudicial jabs I hear and read about in my community. The Hispanic, Somali, Sudanese, Asian, African American and other minorities who now call Faribault home are here to stay. And some of them happen to live in my neighborhood. So what? Does this make my neighborhood less desirable? Apparently to some. Not to me, unless these neighbors disrupt the neighborhood with illegal and/or undesirable criminal activity and/or behavior.

And, believe me, I’ve had “bad neighbors” whose skin is white, just like mine.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Oftentimes I want to grab life-long locals by the shoulders and tell them that the Faribault they knew growing up is not the Faribault of today. These newcomers are here to stay. Welcome them. Get to know them as individuals and as families, for in so doing misconceptions and fears fall by the wayside. Be kind. Embrace them.

When I moved to the Faribault area in 1982, it took a long time for me to feel welcome and a part of the community. Sometimes I still feel like an outsider because I didn’t grow up here, don’t have family here, nor does my husband. I can only imagine how those of other cultures, those who’ve fled war-torn homelands an ocean away, must sometimes feel. Isolated. Scared. Unwelcome.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault's diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault’s diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Of those who suggest the newcomers just leave, I want to ask, and sometimes do: “Weren’t your great grandparents once new here, arriving from the Old Country, speaking in a language others could not understand?”

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Oftentimes, too, I want to grab life-long locals and others by the shoulders and tell them that my diverse Willow Street neighborhood is worthy of their respect. This is my home, my neighborhood, the place I choose to live, an important part of this community we call Faribault.

© 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.

#

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

 

A Minnesota arts collage, from theater to poetry September 15, 2012

FOR A FEW SECONDS THERE, I searched the dictionary of my brain for that word which temporarily eluded me. Collage. That would be it.

Remember when that art form was especially popular, when, as a school assignment, you had to scrounge up ten zillion magazines and then snip out images themed to a specific subject and glue it all in a jumbled mess onto a piece of paper?

Today I present a collage—not a jumbled mess, though—of art.

Let’s take the biggest focal piece first. A Hudson.

A Hudson, like this one I photographed several years ago at a Faribault car show, centers “The Car.” Do not expect, though, to see a real Hudson on stage, only the shape of one.

The Hudson centers the stage at the Paradise Center for the Arts during a production of The Car by Carol Wright Krause. My husband and I saw this play by the Faribault-based The Paradise Community Theatre Friday evening. I’d rate it as one of the best I’ve ever seen performed locally.

Here’s a summary of the play written by director Gabe Talamantes:

The Car is about a family’s car, which as Ed (a character in the five-person drama) puts it “is a miracle of modern American engineering.” This miracle car is a character in itself, a highly theatricalized version of a 1954 Hudson. It takes us on a journey into the lives of the Banners and the challenges an all American family faces as they struggle through two decades of change at home and abroad. We will see how they choose to overcome such difficulties.

Now, why am I so enthusiastic about The Car? Because it moved me to tears. When a theatrical performance can evoke such a strong emotional reaction from me, I will embrace it with unbridled enthusiasm.

That break-down moment for me came near the end of the play, when Vietnam War veteran Hal Banner (played by Todd Ginter), broke down in the arms of his father, Ed Banner (Chuck Larsen). He was no hero, Hal said, pointedly telling his father that he (Ed) would never understand the horrors of war. And then Hal got specific, talking about seeing the eyes of those he killed.

That’s when the tears trickled down by cheeks and I struggled mightily to keep from sobbing. In that moment, I heard my Korean War veteran father, not Hal/Todd. My dad, too, spoke of seeing the eyes of those he killed on the front lines in Korea.

Later, when I congratulated Todd on his performance, he told me that he had talked to several veterans in preparation for his role. And it was the eyes which they spoke of and which he knew he needed to emphasize in that heartrending father-son conversation. It is easily the most powerful moment in the play.

I wondered how many audience members might be veterans and at that moment suppressing war memories and feelings, as my father did.

But this play is about so much more than war. It also addresses the issue of prejudice when Hal brings home a Japanese wife, portrayed by Carrie Jendza whose mother came here from Korea some 40 years ago. Carrie presents a stunning performance as do Susan Dunhaupt as Ed’s wife, Geneva, and Faribault High School sophomore Emily Remmey as Beth Banner, Hal and Sumiko’s daughter.

The prejudice starts right away when Ed Banner insists on calling Sumiko the Americanized “Sue.” He slides in references to “slant eyes” (there’s the “eye” thing again) and other derogatory comments.

In real-life, prejudice is an issue in Faribault, home to many Latino, Somali and Sudanese family. It is no secret that prejudice exists in my community. You can read about it in a previous post by clicking here.

I didn’t spot a single minority in the audience Friday evening,  not unusual despite Faribault’s sizable minority population.

There, that’s all I’m telling you about The Car, other than to advise you to see this powerful and memorable production. It’s community theater at its best for the superb acting and the unforgettable messages delivered.

Faribault artist Vivian Jones created this watercolor, “It Was Grandma’s Car,” for the current “car pARTS” show.

Additional performances of The Car at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue, Faribault, are set for 7:30 p.m. on September 15, 20, 21 and 22 and at 2 p.m. September 16. Call (507) 332-7372 or click here to reach the Paradise website. According to info published in the theater program, production of The Car is made possible through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support Grant.

While you’re at the play, be sure to check out the exhibit, “car pARTS,” in the Carlander Family Gallery.

The Beat logo.

NOW LET’S PLACE another piece in that art collage. On-air poetry.

In July, Northern Community Radio began airing poetry on its weekday morning show during a segment called The Beat.

On Monday my poem, “Her Treasure,” will air on 91.7 KAXE (89.9/Brainerd) and on 90.5 KBXE. Now I won’t be able to listen to whomever reads my poem between 7:30 a.m. – 8 a.m. and again between 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. Faribault is well outside the coverage area which extends from Thief River Falls to Hermantown to Pierz. Eventually, though, I’ll be able to listen to the reading of my poem online.

You can listen to The Beat via online streaming. (I’m not smart enough to figure that out and my former in-house techie now lives at NDSU in Fargo.)

I’m in the company of some mighty fine poets, from novices to Minnesota’s 2011 poet laureate, Joyce Sutphen, to well-known Minnesota writer Will Weaver. You can check out the current listing of The Beat poems/poets by clicking here.

The poems chosen for airing were selected through a juried process.

Connie Ludwig, right, and I pose for a photo with her watercolor, “Pantry Jewels” (above my head) inspired by my poem, “Her Treasure.” This photo was taken in April at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

Just, FYI, “Her Treasure” is the same poem featured in “Poetry Artist Collaboration XI” at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota last April. To read my poem, click here.

I love this whole concept of The Beat, of Northern Community Radio’s “daily reminder that, in Minnesota, poetry matters, and Minnesota poets prove that every day.”

You can expect a forthcoming detailed post from me on this project funded by Minnesota’s Arts & Cultural Heritage monies.

The cover of last year’s The Talking Stick 20.

NEXT, LET’S PLACE the third piece in this arts collage. More poetry, plus fiction and creative nonfiction.

Today I’m missing out on a book release party for The Talking Stick 21 in the Park Rapids area. This anthology, published by The Jackpine Writers Bloc, represents some fine writing by Minnesota writers. You can, referencing back to The Beat, listen to the poetry of Sharon Harris, a Jackpine member and one of the key producers of the collection.

I’ve been published in two previous volumes of The Talking Stick (including receiving an honorable mention for my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” in volume 19) and will be published again in this newest volume. My poem, “Broken,” was chosen from among 275 submissions for publication.

To learn more about The Talking Stick, click here. To learn more about The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, click here.

THAT’S IT. Now, go ahead, add your own pieces to this art collage via your comments.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The not-so-surprising results to a diversity question March 23, 2011

 

An immigrant family in downtown Faribault represents the changing face of our community. I took this photograph in October 2010.

I DON’T KNOW WHY I was surprised. I should have expected the results given the many racist comments I’ve heard through the years.

Yet, when results of an online poll conducted by The Faribault Daily News were published in Tuesday’s edition, I was still shocked or, more honestly, embarrassed by the numbers.

The newspaper, after publishing stories on changing demographics in Faribault,  polled readers on this question: “Do you enjoy the increased diversity in Faribault?”

An overwhelming majority, 70.2 percent, responded with a “No.”

Only 20.8 percent voted “Yes.”

The other nine percent checked the “What increased diversity?” option.

Granted, polls like this, printed in each issue of the paper and then open for online voting, are not scientifically controlled and therefore could be substantially flawed. We have only the number of respondents, 312 for this question, and the tallied results, from which to draw conclusions.

However, when you live in a community long enough—I’ve been in Faribault for 29 years—you know how people feel. And, I think it would be fair to say that many residents in my community are not all that welcoming of minorities.

I hear it in the off-the-cuff negative comments about Somali men hanging around downtown or about the Hispanic family that moved in down the street. I hear it in the warning to avoid certain retail destinations at night. I hear it in the spewed words, “I don’t want any Somalians moving in next door.”

I read it in the comments submitted to the local newspaper whenever race or diversity is the subject of an article.

The words are mean, cutting, derogatory, and, most definitely, prejudiced.

 

Downtown Faribault businesses include Banadir Restaurant, a Somali restaurant.

Many times I find myself defending the Hispanic, Somali and Sudanese people who comprise most of the nearly 17 percent of minorities living in my community of 23,352.

My standard answer is something like this, “There are good white people and there are bad white people, just like there are good Hispanics (or fill in the blank with another race) and bad Hispanics. The only bad experiences I’ve had are with white people.”

That is almost true. Several years ago my husband and I, unbeknown to us, sold a car to a Minneapolis-based Latino gang member who then used our vehicle in a gang-related shooting.

I really struggle with individuals who negatively label an entire ethnic group. It is unfair and unjustified.

That said, many individuals, churches, schools and organizations in Faribault are working hard to welcome and assist our minority population. Such examples are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Center for Charitable Services and The Faribault Diversity Coalition. Unfortunately, The Welcome Center closed late last year.

 

Different cultures, all the faces of today's Faribault, mingled during the Fall Festival in October 2010. Our town's current Black or African/American population is 7.5 percent.

But, really, efforts to embrace the newcomers in our community begin with each of us, on a personal level, in our hearts.

On my personal level, I’ve come to better understand other cultures because my second daughter is a Spanish language major who has lived and studied and done mission work abroad. She is currently a Spanish medical interpreter.

I try to attend ethnic events in Faribault like the annual summertime International Market Day celebration.

 

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances at Faribault's International Market Day celebration. Faribault's Hispanic or Latino population numbers 3,026, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

I’d like to see The Paradise Center for the Arts, reach out to minority artists, and that is a project I hope to help the local art center pursue.

I’ve wondered, too, and this might seem odd to mention, but why do I seldom, if ever, see obituaries published in the local newspaper for minority members of our community? We need to recognize these seemingly small things that set us apart.

If we take small steps, first as individuals, in educating ourselves, then our attitudes toward each other can change. We will have a stronger, better community that is built on understanding and acceptance rather than on differences.

 

A family matriarch oversees the making of pupusas from her chair at the International Market Day in Faribault in 2009. This is one of my all-time favorite portraits that I've ever taken.

CLICK HERE for 2010 U.S. Census results from Minnesota. Scroll down to Rice County, which includes Faribault, and shows a county minority population of 9,576 or 14.9 percent. Statewide, our minority population is 16.9 percent.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling