I live in a small town in South Western Minnesota it is a great anthropological laboratory. In my little community of 11,000 inhabitants, sixty different languages are spoken. I challenge you to find a wealth of diversity most any where else. I was born completely amazed with all that surrounds me and Worthington has not disappointed.
I have enjoyed learning a few of the customs of people from Laos, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Nicaragua, Guatemala and many other nearly obscure nations…..by U.S. standards. I find it a source of pride that I get invited to the Laos New Years celebration.
These people have become numerous in my community. They have rented my apartments, they have filled commercial buildings that in most communities of our size would have long been vacant. They are buying new cars in my community, they are fixing cars in my community.
I have watched them over the decades. They are no longer “new comers” they are the population that is replacing my parents and grand parents as our own children “out migrate” to the big cities.
As I walk around the lake they no longer refrain from eye contact. They are feeling more confident, they embrace my community, they make it their own. I see it in their eyes as we cross paths, they don’t look down any more, they look me in the eye and nod or say hello, buenos dias, kamaylaha, de tujot.
They have come to feel more comfortable in my community. Who am I to say “this is my community?” It is everyones community. If you are here, surviving, renting, owning and engaged, we are part of this community.
I travel three to four months each year through many social biomes. I know the wealthiest zip codes in all the U.S.A. and frequent many of them as I exhibit at art festivals. These communities have much to offer in Schools, Education, Shopping, Arts and Humanities. They seem to have it all. I earn part of my own living from them.
What I see, that they don’t see, is their lack of diversity. I have immigrant friends that find pride in owning their first (sixty year old) two bedroom home, they have a family of five. I have immigrant friends that have enough discretionary income to repaint their house and do landscaping in their yards. Some of my friends still struggle to have their car fixed and it ends up in the driveway on blocks.
The toil and struggle is a part of everyones journey. Your journey was made much, much easier because of your immigrant relatives. Your father? Your grand father? Your great grand father? No matter, your distant family immigration is just a blink of an eye.
Sudanese friends confided in me that their parents back home have shunned them. They have gotten married in the U.S.A. and a dowry of cattle was not given to the parents back home in the Sudan. They are from the “deep south” of Sudan….along the White Nile. They lived close to Juba quite far from Malakal and traditional customs were not observed. The parents were not rewarded for the giving of a bride. Old worlds, new customs all are intermixed in our community. They now live in the U.S. and have broken some traditional bonds and created some new ones. They have broken traditional wedding customs and you can sense their unease. They have two children Atung and Ahey. The name Ahey-meaning the color of the cow.
Animals also mean something to us. However, we explained to our Sudanese friends that our friendship doesn’t rest on the exchange of cattle. For the first time, they were confident enough to laugh about it.
These are just a few of the folks that help sustain our fragile rural economy. My community is home to a diverse spectrum of cultures. Though I leave for extended periods of time, my return is always a heartening experience. A welcoming community full of old, full of new, a sociological, anthropological laboratory. I tip my hat the the French, the Statue of Liberty could not beam brighter or stand taller than in my community.
As the decades play out, a noted contemporary philosopher named Ram Dass once said, “We are all just walking each other home.”
Bill Keitel-UnVarnished Essays-Area Voices