Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Island of Diversity


Twenty-five years ago Pelican Rapids was known for its excellent music program. The band students that showed up at competitions were some of the most skilled players in the area. I vowed that if I ever could raise my kids some place, I would give that town first consideration.

Fast forward to 2004, and I was back in the area looking for a place to live. Pelican's housing looked inexpensive. I asked the real estate agent, and he referred me to some parents who had children in another school.

"Oh, I don't know if I would send my kids there," they warned me. "They have had a whole bunch of ethnic groups move in, and I've heard there are gangs in that school."

We settled on a different town, but I missed the diversity I had grown to love in the cities in which I used to live.

Today I heard the truth from people who live and work in Pelican Rapids.

"I absolutely love this district," said Stephanie, a new co-worker of mine. "My kids' lives have been so enriched with all of the different cultures. Our house after school is filled with a rainbow of colors."

"I love Pelican, too!" said another woman across from me. She proceeded to talk about how she felt more at home in that town than in the bigger city near her. It was the friendliness of the people that attracted her to the community.

Pelican has become an island of sorts. In a state of oodles of homogeneous villages and towns, Pelican has embraced diversity. A Mexican supermarket caters to some local residents. Other racial groups mix on the street. Ethnic cooking classes have broken out; and a Mexican restaurant has begun to win over local palates.

This is remarkable in an area of the country where some whites will still refer to anyone of a different race as, "You people..." This is the land where people will say that a town has really gone downhill because there are people of other colors moving in. This is the area of the country where seeing a black person on the street will spark someone to say, "Gee, what a shame." For some reason the residents of this community has leaped past the bigotry to find peace and harmony.

There's no doubt that bad moments exist. Recently a white student roughed up another student of color, took his backpack into the bathroom and urinated on it. The mother who told me this wrinkled her nose in disgust. "If there is bullying, it's from the white kids to the others," she said. Perhaps it is true, and perhaps not. Bad things happen between same colored students all the time.

There will be the usual growing pains when cultures collide. But as long as good events are springing up, such as the International Friendship Festival planned in June, the area has hope. No doubt those students who emerge from that school will be much better prepared after graduation for the real world beyond their little town.

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