Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Lul & her family need our help October 20, 2017

We each have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of others via our words, our actions, our gifts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY DEAR READERS,

I know you to be kind, caring and compassionate. So I am asking, if you wish and are able, to help a family in my Minnesota community.

Lul Ahmed and her family need your assistance as the 13-year-old recovers from injuries sustained after she was struck by a Lincoln Navigator on the way to her bus stop Tuesday morning. As of Thursday afternoon, she remained in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

As you might expect, the Ahmeds face financial challenges now with missed work, travel and other expenses.

I don’t know the family. But that doesn’t matter. They are in need and I can relate, in a small way, to their experience. Eleven years ago a car struck my then 12-year-old son as he crossed the street on the way to his bus stop. Unlike Lul, he received only minor injuries.

The Faribault Diversity Coalition, a remarkable group in my community fostering acceptance and working with local immigrants, is accepting donations of cash and gas or grocery cards for the Ahmeds.

Donations may be dropped off or mailed to:

 

Faribault Diversity Coalition
324 Central Avenue N.
Faribault, MN. 55021

 

Mark gifts for “Lul’s Family.”

I’d like to take this a step further and ask that you also include a get well or other card of support for the Faribault Middle School eighth grader and/or her family. I so appreciated encouraging words and cards after my son was struck in 2006. I expect the Ahmeds would feel the same.

Thank you, dear readers, for considering my request. We have the power, through gifts and words, to comfort, help and support a family, to show them compassion and kindness.

Audrey

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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