My town is different than your town


Bluestem Prairie Editor’s note: An article published last Thursday in MinnPost, Which Minnesota counties have the highest concentrations of foreign-born residents?, stated:

In Minnesota, it is not suprising that the Twin Cities has the highest percentage of foreign-born. And though it is not wholly accurate to categorize a county in this way, it does give an interesting view into the state

Curiously, the county with the largest concentration of foreign-born residents isn’t Ramsey or Hennepin County, but rather Nobles County, on the Iowa border in the decidedly non-Twin Cities Southwestern Minnesota; the fourth and fifth ranked counties (Watonwan and Olmsted, respectively) are also located in Greater Minnesota.

Our observation about this fact caused Worthington businessman Bill Kietel to offer this July 2013 post about his town in the Minnesota county with the state’s highest concentration of foreign-born residents for crossposting on Bluestem.

This article is reposted from TCDP media partner Bluestem Prairie. Check out the links below for other recent Bluestem Prairie stories:

My town is different than your town: A guest post by Bill Kietel

My town is different than your town. You might go many places and travel far and wide. I have an interesting community that allows me to enjoy the far flung reaches of the world right in my own back yard.

Recently the news is all about “immigration” and our national concerns for security. I find “security” in my own back yard and in my community. Before you respond to the hype and fear about immigration (legal or undocumented) let me tell you about my community.

I am a small business man who has modestly prospered in this curious setting. I have come to embrace the fine people that are immigrating to my community. They have become the life blood that has allowed our community to continue to prosper in a time when the demographics are completely against us.

Our community is located just south of the mythical “Lake Wobegon,” but we’ve begun to defy those demographic characteristics.

Our accommodation of the newest immigrants started about 25 years ago with Vietnamese and Laotian peoples. It has continued throughout the decades and has been of great benefit to this community, a community that would have demographically drifted off the chart because of an aging population.

Many of my Lao and Vietnamese friends are here because they stood up for American ideals, risking both their lives and the lives of their families, much to their credit. In quiet moments, I have heard their stories; they have have brought tears to my eyes, and I have a profound respect for them.

American Idealism? I have not sacrificed like they have sacrificed. If they would tell you their stories, you would have a new found respect for the immigrant experience. Immigration doesn’t happen because things are dandy. Immigration happens because people are at the limits of their own (moral) tolerance.

Today , I can take my three-block walk to work and say “Hello” to my neighbors in many different languages: Sai Bai Dee (Lao), Buenos Dias (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador ), De Tu Jot (Sudanese) Djow Go (Vietnamese), Ka May La ha (Ethiopian), Mengalaba (Karen). These are perhaps crude renditions of their words, but speaking the greetings allows me a comfort zone with my new neighbors. I have them sign an atlas in my store, which allows me the ability to understand where they have come from, and oftentimes, it allows me to understand some of their travails.

They all enjoy and appreciate my attempt to speak in their native tongues (they laugh at me), as they continue to become assimilated into our community. We are a small community and we strive to make sure that no one is anonymous.

Assimilate: they have! I am convinced that these new immigrants have saved my community. They have purchased homes, they have purchased cars, they have kept our grocery stores busy. They have created their own grocery stores. Many have started their own businesses, some try and some fail–for that I think more of them, not less.

They are the new graduates at the local community college. They have become the New Worthington. There might be a few people that consider this immigration a threat–those folks are prone to fear a loss of their standing within their perceived place within our community. The good news is that the majority of folks around these parts recognize that this “immigration thing” is of great value to our community.

If you are looking for the latest trendy shopping mall or strip mall (filled with brand named stores), Worthington might not be the place for you. We do have many standardized big box stores; however, if you are looking for a real “WORLD MARKET” experience, I encourage you to come and visit Worthington.

It won’t be completely standardized with all the generic brand name stores, but if you have a truly adventuresome spirit, you can enjoy a real World Market experience. Ma and Pa stores are sprouting up as we speak, and they embody the new entrepreneurial spirit of Worthington.

Immigration has never been clean and tidy; it has a learning curve. My community, Worthington has stepped up to the plate and embraced that spirit of accommodation. We learn from our friends, we learn from our new found immigrants, we learn from being able to say, “I don’t understand you, explain to me, again.” That is what it means to be accommodating. We aren’t afraid to understand our new neighbors. We recognize that “They” are “Our” new beginnings. We have been re-invented and though we do make mistakes, we recover and strive to learn from them. We have every reason to stand tall and be proud.

Worthington has benefited from its new found immigrants and I suspect history will eventually write a new chapter about this community and its accommodating spirit.

About the author: Owner of the Buffalo Billfold Company, a purveyor of exquisite handmade leather goods, Bill Keitel is a force of nature in the civic life of his community. Read his Forum Communications’ Area Voices Blog, UnVarnished Essays-Road Notes, for more of his essays and notes.

Map: Nobles County, Minnnesota (red square on map). According to the interactive map (though not the text) posted in MinnPost’s Which Minnesota counties have the highest concentrations of foreign-born residents?, Nobles County has the highest concentration of foreign-born residents of any Minnesota county. It’s also arguably the windsurfing capitol of the state.

Crossposted from UnVarnished Essays-Road Notes