Weeds: The world is changing. Make it for the better

I write often about The World That I Grew Up In. There were great things about being a kid in the Sixties on a farm in the middle of Brown County. I was blessed to be in a safe home with parents who loved me. I got to be outside a lot. There were seasons that meant each day was unique. Sleepy Eye was small enough to be comfortable, yet big enough to have interesting characters.

It was a great place to grow up. But I wouldn’t want to live there.

I mean I wouldn’t want to live there now. That particular time and place doesn’t exist anymore. Things change. Some good changes, some not so good. There are choices we are given. To be in a non-changing world isn’t one of them. A static world would a dead world.

The World That I Grew Up In was simple for a kid to maneuver. Everyone was Catholic or Protestant. Everyone descended from western Europe. The rest of the world was far outside my vision. It was deceptive in that way. Even as I was going to Chisey’s with my dad for a Nesbitt’s, young men from Sleepy Eye were off in Vietnam.

I belonged to a Weekly Reader club where once a month I got a small book about some country. I pored over each one when it came. They fascinated me, but Egypt and Argentina might as well have been Mars and Venus. It was an exceedingly small piece of the planet where I grew up and, in hindsight, isolated. I never really talked to a Black or Hispanic or Asian person till I was in college. Nor a Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu person.

New Ulm was the big city where once a year we would go to eat at the Red Onion. I learned later that New Ulm was the “most ethnically homogenous community of over 10,000 in America.” Hanska with its Norwegians is what passed for diversity in The World That I Grew Up In.

Not surprisingly, change has come. Technology, communication, and transportation mean our world is “smaller” now. More people move more distances. Since being an adult, a significant number of Hispanic people have moved to Sleepy Eye. They are essential parts of the workforce around here. At first, many came seasonally. Now hundreds are full time members of our community.

Increasing numbers of Hispanic men, women, and children are common through the Midwest. Other groups have arrived, too. Hmong, Laotian, Somali, Congolese. It is very much the case that the world is coming here. They are following the same pattern of the Germans and Scandinavians.

A small amount of analysis tells us this trend will continue. The Euro-centric families I grew up are smaller now. That is not just true here. It is a fact that North Americans and Europeans are having fewer children. Africans, Asians, and Mideasterners are having more. We know with certainty that the world our children and grandchildren will live in will be more African, Asian, and Mideastern. It is not a matter of accepting or opposing this. It simply is.

Before Christmas, I was in Worthington and had some time to kill. I parked downtown and went walking. It was a brisk, late afternoon. In the early dark of the season, warm light coming from store fronts illuminated the sidewalks. Nearly every building had light. Most held some business. That is not common in Midwest towns where empty storefronts are pandemic.

As I walked, I could see many of these had Hispanic or Asian roots. They were inviting in the chill air. I stepped inside a few, buying some snacks and a few Christmas gifts. There were people around, too. It struck me that it felt like stepping back in time to see a rural Main Street that active.

Later I looked up some information about Worthington. After decades of population decline, Worthington began to grow in the Eighties. At first, churches sponsored new people coming. Then more came for jobs. The hog processing plant was the big draw, but there were other ag-related positions. Now it turns out that one third of Worthington residents are foreign-born. It is not a coincidence that Main Street is alive there. A quote said that the city takes pride in being a welcoming community. I’m sure that is not a universal sentiment. But it is the dominant one.

I suspect cities and towns fall in a range when it comes to how open they are to new people. As the number of farms and size of families shrink in the Midwest, it will be a defining factor for communities going forward. Those that embrace change and welcome new people are many times more likely to thrive.

A few weeks back, The Journal reported about a piece of hate-mail that Alma Marin received. I know Alma a little bit. Her family is from Bolivia, and Alma is an American citizen. She is exactly the kind of good and decent person New Ulm will need to have a prospering future.

Suffice it to say, the letter was disgusting, with lines like, “Whites earned our freedoms not some taco, unfriendly, smelly Spaniards.” Letters in support of Alma were printed in the following days. That was encouraging. Unfortunately, the stench of the anonymous writer’s thoughts lingers. Sadly, it takes two-parts love and virtue to staunch one-part hate and vile.

The line I quoted is so un-American as to be absurd. “Whites” are a part of America, but if that is all there is to America, we will be known for nothing of value by historians. It is because the writer is so absolutely wrong that America remains a beacon. If it is only meant for white Christian Europeans, we might as well dismantle the Statue of Liberty and scrap it out for copper.

The writer can wish all he wants that the New Ulm would remain the way it was in the 1950’s. That will not happen. Long after the writer has gone to meet his maker (and that should be an interesting conversation), New Ulm, Brown County, and our nation will be changing and different and hopefully thriving because of it.

(Speaking of the afterlife, I also think there will be a special place in hell for politicians and commentators who demonize groups of people and sow fear and paranoia.)

I stumbled across this recently. Anne Frank once said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Contrast that to the letter that was sent to Alma. Each of us each day chooses whether we will make this a better world. Or not.

COMMENTS