Three billboards located across the Metro invite members of two of the state’s largest immigrant populations, Somalis and Latinos, to the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” in their own language. The Fair’s slogan, translated in Somali as “Waa Kulankii Minnesota Wayn” and in Spanish as “La Gran Fiesta De Minnesota,” is a way for Fair organizers to more actively engage with and represent Minnesota’s changing population.
“The State Fair belongs to everyone in Minnesota,” said Brienna Schuette, the Fair’s Marketing and Communications Manager. “We wanted to reach out to new immigrants, make them feel welcome and introduce them to this state tradition,” as well as “re-welcome the long-time members of those communities.” For Schuette, “these groups are a part of the state’s fabric and culture, which is exactly what the fair celebrates.”
This is not the first time that the Fair has attempted to reach Minnesota’s more recent immigrants. In the early 2000s, they published advertisements and announcements in newspapers and at restaurants amongst the various immigrant communities, but this is the first time the attempt has been made on such a wide scale.
Fair organizers worked with a number of Somali, Latino, and Hmong advisors for the campaign, and it was Hmong input that made them decide to not make a billboard in Hmong. According to Schuette, these advisors told the fair that “written Hmong is not universally accepted or understood and may not be the most effective way to disseminate the information.” Schuette was quick to point out, though, that a number of the English billboards were placed in Frogtown and other parts of the Cities with large Hmong populations.
While the Fair will have to wait to judge the success of the billboards in drawing Hmong, Somali, and Latino Minnesotans to the Fair, there are plenty of other “international” aspects of the Fair that all types of Minnesotans can experience.
The most visible is the International Bazaar, located at the intersection of Como and Underwood in the southeast part of the grounds. This site encompasses entertainment both on the Bazaar stage and on the smaller Festival of Nations stage.
The 12 artists and groups performing at the Bazaar stage are each given three sets over the course of the day. The first artist performs at 11:30, 12:45, and 2:15 p.m, while the second artist performs at 4:00, 5:15, and 6:30.
The only artist of the three who seems out of place is “Stevie Ray’s Comedy Troupe,” which performs on August 29 and 30. The rest of the performers, however, show an range of styles and origins befitting the stage’s name. These include the Togolese Yawo, the recently honored reggae singer Innocent, the Andean folk music of Atahualpa, as well as Irish, Russian, and even blues musicians, all of whom place this stage firmly within the “world music” genre that has become increasingly popular over the last 25 years.
The Festival of Nations stage is geared more towards cultural demonstrations. These are performed throughout the afternoon on each day of the Fair, at 12:00, 1:30, 3:00, and 4:30 p.m. On this stage you can see demonstrations of Japanese Kimono dress and Thai vegetable carving, an Italian organ grinder, and dance styles with roots in Armenia, Ireland, Lebanon, and China.
While some of these groups are coming to Minnesota specifically for the Fair, the majority call Minnesota at least one of their homes.
Despite these international performers, many people I spoke with about this article were surprised to learn about the billboards, and some questioned whether the Fair even had international aspects to it. In fact, Schuette said that the only responses received from the billboards were my emails for this article. Further, it might be difficult to expect Somalis (and other Muslims) observing Ramadan to partake in an event traditionally focused on stuffing your face with all manner of fried-and-on-a-stick foods.
Still, Schuette is confident in the Fair’s efforts at reaching everyone who resides in the land of 10,000 lakes.
“We celebrate Minnesotans,” she says. “We do not attempt to celebrate any one ethnic group. As Minnesota goes, so goes the Minnesota State Fair.”
Justin Schell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and grad student in Minneapolis, working on a book and documentary about immigrant, refugee, and diasporic hip-hop here in the Twin Cities. For more on the project, see 612to651.com.
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